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Ricoeur, Paul 1913–2005

Ricoeur, Paul 1913–2005

((Jean) Paul (Gustave) Ricoeur)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born February 27, 1913, in Valence, France; died May 20, 2005, in Châtenay-Malabry, France. Philosopher, educator, and author. One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Ricoeur employed hermeneutics and phenomenology, among other disciplines, to seek answers concerning the human condition and the problem of the existence of evil in a world that espoused high moral ethics. Orphaned as a young boy, he grew up in France, where he was raised by his very religious, Protestant grandparents. In 1932 he earned a degree from the University of Rennes, followed by a philosophy degree from the Sorbonne in 1935. During the 1930s, Ricoeur was a high school teacher in various cities in France. When Germany started World War II, he enlisted in the French army but was soon captured and imprisoned. He spent the years 1940 through 1945 as a prisoner of war, but used his time productively, studying and translating the works of German philosophers, teaching classes at the camp with his fellow French intellectuals, and pondering the existence of evil that led to such a devastating conflict and the mass murders of entire groups of people. When the war ended, Ricoeur worked as a researcher for several years at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He then entered academia as a philosophy professor at the University of Strasbourg until 1957, when he moved on to the Sorbonne as chair of the philosophy department. In 1967, when the University of Paris-X at Nanterre was founded, he agreed to teach at the new campus. The next year, Ricoeur left abruptly, shocked by the sometimes violent student protests and dismayed to find himself the object of the students' rancor (they dumped garbage on him). He spent the next three years at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, before finally returning to Paris. From 1970 until he retired in 1981, Ricoeur continued to teach at Nanterre while also spending winter terms as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. After retiring, he continued to teach at Chicago until 1992. With the exception of his years at Strasbourg, where he first began vigorously publishing books that drew on various schools of philosophical thought and contributed regularly to the left-leaning journal Esprit, Ricoeur had said he enjoyed his years at Chicago the most. In France, where Marxist philosophy dominated, Ricoeur was considered too conventional, but in America his interest in the history of philosophy and the relationship between existentialism and more objective, analytical thought gained considerable acceptance and appreciation. Ricoeur was interested in how people perceived their reality, how this is shaped by textual experience, and thus how misinterpretation and perception can distort the will to commit evil acts. A prolific author who wrote or edited over sixty books during his lifetime, Ricoeur was especially known for such books as the multivolume Philosophie de la volonte (1950–60; translated as The Symbolism of Evil in 1967; revised edition, 1986), Histoire et verité (1955; second edition translated as History and Truth in 1965), La Metaphore vive (1975; translated as The Rule of Metaphor in 1977), Essays on Biblical Interpretation (1980), Soi-meme comme un autre (1990; translated as In Oneself as Another), and La Memoire, l'histoire, l'oubli (2000; translated as Memory, History, Forgetting in 2004). The recipient of numerous awards for his work, including the Hegel award, the Grand Prix de l'Academie Française, the Balzan prize for philosophy, and, in 2004, the Kluge Prize from the American Library of Congress (shared with Jaroslave Pelikan), his last book was published posthumously as The Course of Recognition (2005).



Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2005, section 3, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005, p. B12.

New York Times, May 24, 2005, p. 23.

Times (London, England), June 1, 2005, p. 54.

Washington Post, May 23, 2005, p. B5.

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