Paul Ricœur

A phenomenological hermeneutics of meaningful action

Authored by: Timo Helenius

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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Paul Ricœur’s (1913–2005) philosophy can be described as a hermeneutic phenomenology that extensively covers questions pertaining to action, agency, volition, intention, trying, reasons/causes, explanation, freedom, and responsibility. Ricœur’s philosophy of action is distinct from the analytic discourse, however, in that it generally sees the question of action not conceptually but hermeneutically as the question of meaningful action. In this sense Ricœur’s philosophy of action functions simultaneously at several levels; embodied action and practical action are tied in with the activity of interpretation that also calls for an analysis of its own. This second question, in short, is about the readability and understandability of action that Ricœur resolved to explore under the heading of reconfigurative emplotment. As in the case of meaningful texts, meaningful action exposes an actively engaged hermeneutic subject who narrates his or her situated being through interpretative action: “I see in the plots we invent the privileged means by which we re-configure our confused, unformed, and at the limit mute temporal experience” (Ricœur 1984: xi). Action that carries some significance or meaning indicates of an actively interpreting subject who is personally involved and engaged in the intersecting embodied, temporal, practical, social, institutional, linguistic, and cultural spheres of one unified experience of one’s life.

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