Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics ofSuspicion: A Brief Overview and Critique
G. D. Robinson
Hermeneutics is both science and art. In many ways this beguilingly simple statement is responsible for themodern ferment in hermeneutics - a process begun with F. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and his attempt togain meaning through understanding the mind of the author; given significant impetus more recently in theseminal work of Hans-Georg Gadamer and his call for a dialectic between the horizons of the text and reader;and radicalized in the increasingly reader-response oriented hermeneutics of today.
The French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, while essentially operating from within the reader oriented end of thespectrum, is uncomfortable with the intrinsic subjectivity associated with such hermeneutics and seeks towalk the fine line between a call for objectivity (grounded in some way in the text), and yet at the same timeseeking to remain "open" to what the text may have to say. Ricoeur's hermeneutic of suspicion represents hisattempt to retain both science and art, whilst disallowing either an absolute status; "Hermeneutics seems tome to be animated by this double motivation: willingness to suspect, willingness to listen; vow of rigor, vowof obedience." Distilling the essence of Ricouer's hermeneutics here stated, A. Thisleton notes that:
The first addresses the task of 'doing away with idols,' namely, becoming critically aware of when we projectour own wishes and constructs into texts, so that they no longer address us from beyond ourselves as "other."The second concerns the need to listen in openness to symbol and to narrative and thereby to allow creativeevents to occur "in front of" the text, and to have their effect on us.
It is this hermeneutic of "critical openness," of "suspicion and hope" that I wish to examine briefly below.
It is hoped that by examining Ricoeur's own heroes of suspicion, how his hermeneutic applies to certaingenres of text, the implications of suspicion with respect to epistemology, and finally, how a hermeneutic of suspicion works out in a suspicion of ideology, that both the strengths and limitations of such a hermeneuticfor Biblical studies will be made clear.
Paul Ricoeur's Masters of Suspicion
In his highly influential work,
Freud and Philosophy
, Ricoeur (1970) draws attention to three key intellectualfigures of the twentieth century who, in their different ways, sought tounmask, demystify, and expose the real from the apparent; "Three masters, seemingly mutually exclusive,dominate the school of suspicion: Marx, Nietzche, and Freud."