On Paul Ricoeur’s Poetics of the Will By Randolph Dible “Poetry is more than the art of making poems.

It is poiesis, or creation in the largest sense of the word. It is in this sense that poetry is equivalent to primordial dwelling; man dwells only when poets exist in the world.”1 -Paul Ricoeur Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) is a philosopher whose works spanned some of the most disparate fields of knowledge in recent hermeneutic philosophy in his quest for the meaning of being. Throughout his career he has contributed to numerous topics of philosophical interest, often changing his methodology and style of presentation to match the contents. His technique of ‘distanciation’ (investigating the context of a particular text) accounted for an apparent disparity despite the actual continuity of the most grand themes. In his early opus, La Philosophie de la volonte, The Philosophy of the Will, for instance, he begins with a descriptive phenomenological style to present the essence of the phenomena of the will in Volume One, and continues on to a decryptive, hermeneuticphenomenological style concerning the empirical facts of the will in Volume Two. Throughout these volumes he foreshadows the projected style and content of the elusive unwritten third volume, the Poetics of the Will. Later, in an altogether different study, The Rule of Metaphor, and again in Oneself as Another, the religious theme becomes latent while he, continuing previous analyses in wholly new contexts, brings the word, its expression, and the constitution of the self, to the forefront. Ricoeur is famous for saying “Le symbole donner a penser:”2 the symbol gives rise to thought. This would have been the guiding theme for the Philosophy of the Will, but
1 2

Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 467. Cf. Freud and Philosophy, pp. 38 (a phrase he takes from Kant’s Critique of Judgment).

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he left this, the most intricate of works, undone. Consistent with Ricoeur’s criteriology of symbols as he developed it both in Symbolism of Evil and throughout his career, one may chose to view all forms of human experience as comprised of symbols of varying degrees. These degrees are universal “primary symbols,” the primitive form of symbols, such as defilement, sin, and guilt; or “symbols of the second degree,” symbols arranged in narrative form; and, lastly, “symbols of the third degree,” the conceptual, rational or speculative poetics of analyzing the myths. 3 Such is the substance of the hermeneutic phenomenology he is famous for developing. Part 1: Symbolics Symbols are open to interpretation and provoke a spontaneous hermeneutics. While words are a species of symbols whose designations are limited by their definitions, symbols are ciphers open to indefinitely many possibilities, depending on the freedom of poetic license. Ricoeur writes, “No doubt a symbol is, in the Greek sense of the word, an ‘enigma,’ but as Heraclitus says, ‘The Master whose oracle is at Delphi does not speak, does not dissimulate; he signifies.’ 4 Furthermore, “...Enigma does not block understanding but provokes it; there is something to unfold, to dis-implicate in symbols.”5 Indeed, Ricoeur modeled the projected ontology of the Poetics after the reconciled ontology of Gabriel Marcel and the paradoxical ontology of Karl Jaspers. Ricoeur’s use of symbol comes from the notion of cipher in the third volume of Jaspers’

3 4 5

Cf. Symbolism of Evil, pp. 10, and “The Symbol: Food for Thought.” Freud and Philosophy, pp. 18, and Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 296. Freud and Philosophy, pp. 18, and Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 296.

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Philosophy, devoted to transcendence, the inspiration for Ricoeur’s Poetics.6 More than provoking understanding en masse, the Poetics of the Will was intended to incite immanent ethical conduct through what he called “the genesis of desire.”7 In contrast to the abstract mentality of the moral dictation of duty found in Kantian ethical maxims, the ethics of Ricoeur promises through hope, a completion, a fulfillment in an object of desire The specific symbols of the ‘new man’ and the ‘second birth and regeneration’ are to be taken from the symbol of Christ, that has become thoroughly sedimented into an idol by Christianity, and was in the first place itself taken from the symbol of its antitype in Adam, by the first Christian theologian, St. Paul. The symbolic significance of Adam, in turn, is that he was created in ‘imago Dei,’ in the image of the God, the ultimate symbol. Ricoeur is interested in revitalizing not only religious sentiments surrounding these symbols, but philosophy itself. We human beings may be treated as our own primary symbols. Under the designation ‘Man,’ for instance, St. Paul declared that it is “in Adam” that we collectively have sinned. Our ontological significance as beings can be appreciated through the sympathetic participation in myths, through the mediation of myths and their ultimate critical demythologization (the baptism of the fire of critical reflection), opening the being that we participate in to fresh realizations of meaning. Poetics is the medium for truly fresh critical reinterpretation of symbolic powers through semantic innovation or the productive, creative imagination. We will now look at how this sense of poetics as a ‘genesis of desire’ can come out of the

6 7

Faith and Philosophy in the Writings of Paul Ricoeur, pp. 216. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 346-347.

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‘semantics of desire’ developed in Ricoeur’s Freud and Philosophy.8 Ricoeur intended to create, in the Biblical sense, but also in philosophical form, a new poem of creation and revelation, drawing its symbolic power for good from the existent materials of the Philosophy of the Will, a body of works that articulate the diabolic depths of a phenomenology of penitential confession through the symbolization of evil. For instance, Ricoeur says, “One can suppose that the symbolism of evil is always the contrary of a symbolism of the good or salvation or that a symbolism of salvation is the counterpart of a symbolism of evil.”9 The significance of the orientation of the symbol is secondary to its essential structure. If we can imagine a good creation and a drama of a fall from grace, we can just as well imagine an end to be feared and an ascension from disgrace back into blessedness: “Imaginative projection is only one means and one stage of the giving of a worldly form to the beyond in terms of the here and now.”10 Ricoeur acknowledges that the semantics of the imagination of possible being is not limited to mere fantasy. It also includes science, whose models are themselves metaphors, shorthand for paradigms of functional parameters, organized in narrative, mythical form. Ultimately all imaginal form is derived from empirical experience starting with the body and its concrete environs. Within the the different levels of interpretation “semantically as well as mythically, the symbols of evil are always the obverse side of a greater symbolism, a symbolism of salvation.”11

8 9

Freud and Philosophy, c.f. pp. 322. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 316. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 391. Freud and Philosophy, pp. 39.

10 11

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Symbolism of Evil performed an exegesis of the myths of evil, an exegesis which left a task for the philosopher who participated in it and was thereby able to perform his or her own higher-order exegesis, which this time may be oriented toward transcending evil. The Poetics of the Will was to be more than a post-Biblical Genesis. It was to be a revolutionary philosophy and primordial poetry of transcendence. This leads one to speculate as to its form. The mystery of the unwritten third volume donates just such speculation. Its territory is somewhat mapped out by the preceding of the project, but leaves much to the imagination. In addition to supplying inklings of reference to this project that dwelt in the young Ricoeur’s ambitious heart, speculative and necessarily creative reconstructions of the form of the project can produce an image of it. We can begin to envision the proposed ‘second Copernical revolution’ and ‘post-critical naivete’ he sought to incite. The result is a preliminary imagining of what Ricoeur might have included in his unwritten Poetics of the Will. Part 2: Volume I, Freedom and Nature The first volume of the Philosophy of the Will published in 1950, is called Le Volontaire et l’involontarie, (in English; Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary). The second volume of the Philosophy of the Will was published in 1960, and is collectively referred to as Finitude et culpabilite. It was published jointly in two parts; L’Homme Fallible (in English; Fallible Man), and La Symbolique du mal (Symbolism of Evil). One may look to Freedom and Nature for the foreshadowing of the Poetics of the Will, and use the indications at the conclusion of Fallible Man as a direct indication of the Poetics. The structure of the projected Poetics is informed by a more

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explosive but enfolded, crooked arrow of references to the ultimate diabolic symbol ‘the Evil Infinite’ at the heart of Symbolism of Evil, whose zig-zag structure of references to ‘the Evil Infinite’ we shall re-write backwards. Ricoeur indicates this can take place in a reading of the Evil Infinite’s converse, sometimes called ‘originary affirmation,’ ‘the objectival synthesis,’ or ‘the surplus of meaning.’ From this we can begin to make out the long sought-after structure of Transcendence towards which Ricoeur aimed. The Freedom and Nautre, the first volume of the Philosophy of the Will, is an application of phenomenology to the fundamental functions of the will: choice and decision, motivation and action, consent and refusal. It is an ‘eidetic’ analysis, in Husserl’s sense, an intentional analysis which defers existential considerations in order to discern the essential (eidetic) description of the form of man’s fundamental possibilities. In each of the primary functions of the will, the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of willing are discovered to be mutually limiting. Decision is limited by involuntary motivations, action by the means beginning with the body and the habits of nature. Even consent is found to be limited by ‘the absolute involuntary’ of existence and its priority over the phenomena of the will, namely by the fact that I did not will myself into existence. A key to Ricoeur’s investigation can already be found in Freedom and Nature in the chapter on decision and motivation, where he projects “a philosophy of value” which entails “an ethic.”12 This leads to his wondering, “How can we trace the ultimate tangents of reference, and what does ‘ultimate’ mean? Anxiety about the ground of value


Freedom and Nature, pp. 66.

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seizes me; for the question ‘what does ultimate mean?’ inevitably leads to another- ‘is there an ultimate in value?’... The Grund becomes Abgrund.”13 In essays collected in Conflict of Interpretations after the publication of the extant Philosophy of the Will, Ricoeur expresses a ‘fundamental’ or ‘originary ethics’ which we will look at later.14 A key contextualization of the Poetics of the Will arrives in the context later developed in “The Hermeneutics of Symbols,”15 an essay about Fichte’s first truth, the ‘thetic judgment:’ “I am, I think.” In Freedom and Nature, Ricoeur, like Gabriel Marcel, one of his most immediate influences, struggles with the Cartesian dualism which we still think in terms of, if not ontologically, then semantically in the problem of embodied consciousness. Ricoeur clarifies that there is “a chain of cogitos which constitute the reflective tradition.”16 The Cartesian, he says, is “only one of the summits- even if the highest” of them.17 He refers to the Socratic cogito (“Look after your soul”), the Augustinian cogito (the “inner” man distinct from the flux of “external” things and “higher” truths), and the Kantian cogito. “The Fichtean “Self” is, without any doubt, the most significant instance of modern reflective philosophy; as Jean Nabert remarked, there is no contemporary reflective philosophy which does not reinterpret Descartes through Kant and Fichte. And the “egology” that Husserl later attempted to graft onto

13 14 15 16 17

Freedom and Nature, pp. 74. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 337 - 342. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 327. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 236. Ibid.

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phenomenology belongs to this line.”18 In Freedom and Nature, Ricoeur places the proposed Poetics of the Will in this context of progressing beyond Descartes: The ultimate consequence of the Cartesian revolution seems to us to lie here, in the discovery that the originality of consciousness with respect to all objectively conceived nature is such that no cosmology can any longer engulf this consciousness. The ‘Poetics’ of the will can hereafter rediscover the desire for God only thanks to a second revolution which breaks through the limits of subjectivity, as the latter had broken through the limits of natural objectivity.19 This second revolution he calls ‘Copernican’ because from within the Cartesian revolution (that is, after it), superadded to it, the Cartesian deduction is subtracted while its truth remains in the form the Fichtean “Self.” But the empirical deduction of the “I am” from the activity of mediating thought is displaced, just as the earth was displaced in the Copernican revolution, to make way for a necessary yet enigmatically impossible transcendental deduction of the “I am,” of a subjectival synthesis, deduced from the necessity of a superjectival synthesis beyond any totality of existence, and thereby goes from center to cipher. What Ricoeur, following Malebranche, and contrary to Descartes, adds to the Fichtean first truth, the ‘thetic judgment,’ and so to reflective philosophy in general, is the recognition that the “I think, I am” is posited as a feeling. “I am, I think” is naively thought to be deduced from the mediating thoughts of reflection on representations of objects as a corollary apperception of a subject, but this is only a feeling, not an idea
18 19

Ibid. Freedom and Nature, pp. 191.

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which would be understood essentially in terms of light and vision. It is not an intuition concerning a substantial soul, and it is not self-knowledge. Rather, Ricoeur thinks “The first truth—I think, I am—remains as abstract and empty as it is unassailable. It must be ‘mediated’ by representations, actions, works, institutions, and monuments which objectify it; it is in these objects, in the largest sense of the word, that the ego must both lose itself and find itself.”20 In the following selection, Ricoeur reaches beyond the nostalgic feelings of one’s own birth and prehistory in his explanation of the Platonic doctrine of recollection by proceeding through the primary structures of the absolute involuntary; beyond the given character, beyond the given unconscious, and beyond one’s own prehistory. This he later calls “a renewal of the [Platonic] theory of recollection.”21 He says that men are “born into the heart of language within the light of the Logos” and we can reach back to this birth through “a renewal of the ancient doctrine of recollection.”22 He proposes that it is through the interpretation of the symbolism of the sacred that we will reach the source of knowledge, Eros, the ‘desire to be.’ This is how we will overcome our forgetfulness of the Sacred and bring about its recollection or manifestation, through hermeneutics.23 For this, we are required to go more into the philosophical expression of this as what he calls a fundamental or ‘originary ethics.’ In the following selection, Ricoeur characterizes the Poetics in terms of the Platonic doctrine of recollection:
20 21 22 23

Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 327. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 319. Ibid, pp. 322.

Cf. “The Hermeneutics of Symbols and Philosophical Reflection” 1 and 2, Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 287 – 334.

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This beginning which escapes memory, which is not rationally conceivable, which biology hides in the success of generations, this beginning must finally be suggested at the heart of consciousness as the fleeting limit beyond my oldest memories…. Innateness of knowledge, according to Plato, is attested in the myth of prior life, of reminiscence. The non-temporal nature of intelligible character according to Kant expresses itself as a choice of myself prior to my life; finally, Divine Omnipotence, which is like a transcendent beginning, is the primordial past of predestination. This will be one of the themes of the Poetics of the Will.24 Ricoeur begins Freedom and Nature with a description of the method he will employ, including the bracketing of the phenomena of the fault for this eidetic analysis of the functions of the human will, as well as the bracketing of the converse notion of transcendence. So far this has been bracketed within Freedom and Nature, and now we will be removing the brackets and delving into the fault in Fallible Man: The fault is an event with immense possibilities. At its outer limits it is a discovery of the infinite, an experience of the holy in reverse, of the holy in the demonic; it is sin in the strongest sense of the word…. It is related to God, it is before God, going beyond subjectivity by its very excess. Only later, among the fruits of the Spirit, can harmony be presented as a new ethic.25 The discovery of the infinite is articulated in myth of the Fall. The ‘Evil Infinite,’ or the false infinite, shows itself in the myth as the wrath of God. Yet it is actually the lack, the Nothingness of necessity, the gaping hole of infinite possibility, the negativity of
24 25

Freedom and Nature, pp. 441-442, n. 99. Freedom and Nature, pp. 22.

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finitude which motivates all voluntary action as a refusal to consent to involuntary Nature. This is what is meant by the genesis of desire, as well as the discovery of the infinite in the fall from finitude. Moreover, he writes, “The false infinite needs to be placed in brackets to bring to light the authentic infinite of freedom, the infinite of which Descartes says that it makes us like God. . . The possibility of consent cannot be understood unless we abstract that deification of willing which is in fact its demonization.”26 This “Evil Infinite” and the “paradoxical coexistence of freedom and the fault”27 will be seen in Symbolism of Evil under the theme of the superimposition of the fundamental nature of freedom (innocence) and its bondage (fault). In a footnote here, Ricoeur states that the reminiscence of innocence and the hope of freedom are so intertwined that “the Poetics and the Empirics of the Will constantly interact.... the fault itself, in penetrating the region of the holy, already participates in the Poetics: the sinner is closer to the saint than is the just man.”28 As absurd as it may sound, Ricoeur argues it must be accepted that the sacred and the profane necessitate each other, and operate on the same essential structures. Even so, no description of innocence is possible, only of broken innocence. We cannot dissociate the fault and Transcendence. The concrete experience of Transcendence is what saves and liberates freedom from the fault (“Captivity and

26 27 28

Freedom and Nature, pp. 24. Ibid, pp. 26-7. Freedom and Nature, pp. 26, n.13.

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deliverance of freedom are one and the same drama”).29 The vision of innocence and the affirmation of Transcendence are linked by a subterranean affinity: “There is a Genesis only in the light of an Apocalypse.”30 But Transcendence, innocence, is not accessible to any description, not contained in the method of pure description, of descriptive phenomenology, but only in the later hermeneutic phenomenology beyond the eidetics where the fault and transcendence are accessible by the removal of the eidetic brackets. In the transition from descriptive to hermeneutic phenomenology we transition from description of the pure to decryption of the obscure. The indetermination of the whole in which I am involved and within which I was born and will die is the cipher of Transcendence. 31 Ricoeur develops hermeneutic phenomenology in the light of the cipher of Transcendence, as a worshiping, one could say, of Lux-cipher. Indeed, the second Copernican revolution, the second coming of philosophy, marks a transition from center to cipher. This indicates a tendency to the deification of a will to die and become, a Genesis that is anthropogenesis upon the demythization of the accusatory agency, such as

29 30 31

Freedom and Nature, pp. 29. Ibid.

“Hence the idea of the whole itself disappears as the sum obtained by addition of parts. I cannot give an accounting of being in which I am included. The world is where I entered in being born. It is not an enumeration of objects—about which, in addition, I do not know whether it is finite or infinite—but the indeterminate encompassing my subjectivity. I do not know the whole, I am in the whole…. And yet the Whole has a different meaning which is the hidden meaning of Stoic philosophy and the reason for the detour of consent. The beginning of philosophy is a Copernican revolution which centers the world of objects on the Cogito: the object is for the subject, the involuntary is for the voluntary, motives are for choice, capacities for effort, necessity for consent. The whole is the horizon of my subjectivity in the sense of this first Copernican revolution. This entire work is carried out under the sign of that first Copernican revolution…. But the deepening of subjectivity calls for a second Copernican revolution which displaces the center of reference from subjectivity to Transcendence.” Freedom and Nature, pp. 471-473.

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the Evil Infinite.32 But this anthropogenesis may be re-inserted into a post-critical rewriting of the myth by a decision of man that is a deicision of God. This is the postcritical myth towards which the Poetics of the Will aims. The origin of the post-critical myth, if forced, would no longer be the murder of the mother chaos, the Sumerian Tiamat, nor the more elaborate and anthropotropic Orphic titanomachy in whose ashes philosophy itself first arose like a Copernical newt of the first degree. Instead we could suggest a second degree newt, a new iconoclasm33 in the wake of the onto-theological God of classical philosophy,34 the hermeneut baptized in the fire of Lux-cipher, in the hermeneutic alchemical transformation of critical reflection. From the rich soil of classical philosophy, in the desert of formal, univocal, technical languages and symbolic logic, to transit beyond the age of information, a new species of thought, a new genre, or to spite the critical antipathy which suspends poetic license, a new Genesis. It will suggest the way of a living eschatology. But perhaps the cipher of Transcendence is only a cipher to thought itself, whose dialectical vacillations we shall find in their purest form in the drama of creation. To feeling, Transcendence is only a new direction. This axiological undertow, recurrent and building in Ricoeur’s thought, is found in the ‘surplus


Cf. “The Demythization of Accusation” in Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 335: “The result of this renunciation is the gaining of a thought and a will which are no longer alienated. The positive side of this destruction is the manifestation of man as maker of his own human existence. It is an anthropogenesis.”

“An idol must die so that a symbol of being may begin to speak.” Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 467, and “…every myth is iconoclastic toward others, in the same way that every symbol left to itself tends to thicken, to solidify into an idolatry. It is necessary, therefore, to share in this battle, in this dynamics, by which symbolism is subject to being itself surpassed.” Ibid, pp. 293. Following this selection, of course, we must acknowledge that such a Genesis would in fact be diabolic.

“Which god is dead? We can now reply: the god of metaphysics and also the god of theology, insofar as theology rests on the metaphysics of the first cause, necessary being, and the prime mover, conceived as the source of values and as the absolute good. Let us say that it is the god of onto-theology, to use the expression that was coined by Heidegger, following Kant.” Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 445.

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of meaning’ or ‘supra-signification of the verb,’35 as well as his later admission that the conjugal symbol would be at the heart of the Poetics of the Will. 36 The end of Volume One is again darkly Orphic, hoping for a revaluation of consent in a reconciled ontology and restoration of freedom, having found that human freedom is essentially an incarnate freedom, a willing born of refusal to consent to the involuntary, and not a creative freedom—both its limitation and its grandeur. Part 3: Volume II: Fallible Man and Symbolism of Evil The second volume, published in 1960, begins with Fallible Man, which does away with the brackets of the first volume and focuses on the involuntary aspect of the will, on finitude, the inherent limitation of man’s being, specifically upon the notion of fallibility, and from there develops the beginning of a philosophical anthropology. As he says in the preface to Fallible Man, “the theory of fallibility represents a broadening of the perspective of the first work, which was more closely centered on the structures of the will.”37 Fallible Man and Symbolism of Evil were published jointly, and constituted volume two. Fallible Man continued a descriptive phenomenology, whereas Symbolism of Evil introduces a decryptive phenomenology. Possible creative interpretations of the Poetics can be derived from viewing the structure of Fallible Man as the development of a philosophical anthropology of human consciousness as distended between on the one hand the infinitesimal basis of the negative power of the finite, “existential difference,” and on the other, that which is seen (known in imago) only in the light of the mysterious
35 36 37

Fallible Man, pp. 36. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 370. pp. xli.

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“objectivity of the object,”38 the “objectival synthesis.”39 This is the characterization of man as mélange, as a mixing, disproportionate in a Kantian manner, that guides the analysis of the intelligibility of the possibility of evil in man in Fallible Man. In The Surplus of Meaning: Ontology and Eschatology in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, Theodoor Marius Van Leeuwen performs an extensive analysis of the Philosophy of the Will. Although it is clear that Symbolism of Evil contains much in the way of a springboard to the mysterious waters of the unwritten Poetics, Van Leeuwen thinks “Fallible Man can be read as a prelude to both the study of the empirics of evil and to the work that is projected as the concluding part of Philosophy of the Will, the Poetics.”40 We shall certainly heed this and see what structure in it indicates the way to our chosen interpretation of the Poetics. There are many interpretations of what the Poetics was intended to be, and what it may be like, and not necessarily as Ricoeur intended. There is a conflict of interpretations which necessitates a choice among the various possible orderings of relevant elements to achieve different ends. Since the Poetics was left wide open to interpretations, we shall here skip the chronological treatment of such clues that we had committed with regard to Freedom and Nature, leaving a systematic analysis of Fallible Man to another time, and go straight to a specific structure which will inform a new ‘post-critical’ myth, a new way of making the “transcendental deduction” from the premises of existential difference (the infinitesimal, the origin of the finite) and primary

38 39 40

Fallible Man, pp. 38 - 41. Ibid, pp. 39 – 40, 45, 82. Ibid, pp. 36.

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affirmation (the destination of transcendence).41 This transcendental deduction is the human conclusion derived from the premises of ‘originary affirmation’ and ‘existential negation:’ respectively, love and difference. Difference here means both perspective as the origin of the finite, and the being that “I am,” constituted by the action of existing. Love means the ‘objectival synthesis,’ the objectivity of the object, which calls to the inimitable singularity of difference by its own supra-signification, by the super-jection implied by the point of subjectivity. As Ricoeur writes, “The first truth—I think, I am—remains as abstract and empty as it is unassailable,”42 and “It is an undeniable certitude, but a certitude without any truth value.”43 This much is given, and may be taken as a premise. Whereas, “we are always already in the dimension of truth,”44 we do not find certainty there; on the contrary, “the equivalence of certainty and truth is what we pursue through consciousness.”45 The meaning of consciousness is the mediacy of mediation. Thus, consciousness is false consciousness, naive consciousness. The transcendental deduction can only be premature as a logical conclusion, and the true infinite escapes any certainty despite its ultimate truth. Ethics, therefore, is much more than morality. If we take the surplus of meaning as

41 42 43 44 45

Ibid, pp. 134. Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 327. Ibid. Fallible Man, pp. 29. Ibid, pp. 30.

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basic to our semantics as Ricoeur does,46 and acknowledge that “…the semantic level must not be separated from the mythological level of symbols…,”47 we might be ready to read Ricoeur’s ethics into a creative inversion of the Adamic myth. Ricoeur seeks to preserve the Platonic eros, which he calls the ‘desire to be,’ as the source of knowledge, and unify it with the Spinozistic conatus, which he calls the ‘effort to exist:’ “This effort is a desire because it is never satisfied; but conversely, this desire is an effort because it is the affirmation of a unique being. Effort and desire are the two aspects of this positing of the self in the first truth: I am.”48 This is Ricoeur’s ‘fundamental or originary ethics.’ To understand the Poetics of the Will, we may combine Ricoeur’s reading of the Adamic myth and how to read it in a backwards way to convert it from a myth of a Fall to a philosophical myth of Transcendence. The effort to exist will be a necessity for existence itself to come to be in the first place. The death of the idolization of God in the imagination that God has being will take place where God is the beyond of being as the surplus of meaning, as primary affirmation and the objectival synthesis: all premature graspings are ultimate in truth value and yet premature for certainty, and hence articulated only at the level of mythical organization of the symbols of the sacred. The desire to be is a premature designation, not an empirical reality. It is the basis of the passions, a nothingness in relation to being,


“…originating affirmation becomes progressively richer and more inward: at first it is only the vehemence of the Yes, which has the correlate of the “is” that is signified—or, to be more precise, suprasignified—by the Verb. This is the “transcendental” moment of affirmation. This moment is necessary but not sufficient; it is necessary to make the power of existing pass from the register of “living” to that of “thinking”; it is insufficient to assure us that we are that thinking.” Fallible Man, pp. 136.
47 48

Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 316. Ibid, pp. 329.

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but the very basis of meaning, significance, and value: the ultimate of value. The symbol of God is this beyond from which all beings arrive. The sympathetic re-enactment in the imagination of the Symbolism of Evil begins in the phenomenological account of the confessions of the religious imagination of man found in the (Western) traditional myths that tell of the origins of evil in man, by their “spontaneous hermeneutics,” that is, as symbols of the second degree. As such, they have primitive analogical meanings that are “spontaneously formed and immediately significant.” He continues, “In this sense, symbols are more radical than myths. I shall regard myths as a species of symbols, as symbols developed in the form of narrations.”49 With these considerations, Ricoeur proceeds to read the myths of the beginning and the end: the Sumero-Babylonian theogonic myth of chaos (the theogony which precedes anthropogony), the Hellenic and Orphic titanomachy and tragic myth, and finally the Adamic myth, whose pre-eminence is projected to be observed in the Poetics of the Will by means of the crede ut intelligas, 50 the hermeneutic circle in the dialectical form of believing and understanding: Thus it is in hermeneutics that the symbol’s gift of meaning and the endeavor to understand by deciphering are knotted together.... How does hermeneutics meet the problem?... What we have just called a knot-- the knot where the symbol gives and criticism interprets-- appears in hermeneutics as a circle. The circle can be stated bluntly: ‘We must understand in order to believe, but we must believe in order to understand.’ The circle is not a vicious circle, still less a mortal one; it is a living
49 50

Symbolism of Evil, pp. 18. Ibid, pp. 308, cf. “Conclusion: The Symbol Gives Rise to Thought”, pp. 347 - 357.

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and stimulating circle... It is not a kinship of one life with another that hermeneutics requires, but a kinship of thought with what the life aims at-- in short, of thought with the thing which is in question. It is in this sense that we must believe in order to understand. And yet, it is only by understanding that we can believe.51 Thus the hermeneutic circle is a knot which ties together the strands of understanding and belief. What it unites is the matrice poetique.52 Untying the knot, the circle which is an arc or a bow, gives birth, out of the matrix, out of the uterus, ‘out of the box,’ so to speak, of the myth, to the semantic innovation, the novel meaning of being. Our task is to get beyond the circle, to untie the knot, by transforming it into a wager:53 ...the task of the philosopher guided by symbols would be to break out of the enchanted enclosure of consciousness of oneself, to end the prerogative of selfreflection.... The task, then, is, starting from the symbols, to elaborate existential concepts-- that is to say, not only structures of reflection but structures of existence, insofar as existence is the being of man.54 At the end of Freedom and Nature, in the course of the description of “Black existentialism”--which is called “black” in awareness of the darkness of the anxiety and despair of death and freedom’s consequent looking toward suicide as its ultimate expression-- the “No” of the Biblical Interdict, which is also the “No” of condition and

51 52 53 54

Ibid, pp. 351 - 352. Surplus of Meaning, pp. 39. Symbolism of Evil, pp. 355 - 357. Ibid, pp. 357.

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the “No” of refusal, Ricoeur writes, Suicide presents itself to it as one of the highest possibilities: it is in effect the only total action of which we are capable with respect to our own life.... Suicide can appear the highest consecration of that act of rupture introduced by consciousness.... Thus the no would no longer be a word but an act. But suicide is not the only expression of refusal. There might be a courage to exist in the absurd and to face up to it, in comparison with which suicide itself would be only an evasion like those of myths and hopes. This courage of disillusion refuses suicide in the sole intent of affirming-- and preserving in the act of affirming-- the no of freedom in face of the nonbeing of necessity.55 This courage to exist is Ricoeur’s answer to the profound freedom of Man’s suicide, but it may be conflated with the deity’s suicide, with deicide, where, in a myth, God is beyond being, and as such, needs to withdraw from ‘itself’ for existence to arrive in a mythical ‘first place.’ This would be a deicisive conversion of the diabolic myth of the Fall. In the beginning, God created the universe, the garden, Adam, and all was good. To account for evil, the serpent in the garden asks the woman (an externalization of Man) “Has God truly said...?”56 which opened Man’s mind to a vascillatory doubt, to thought, and with it to consciousness of good and evil. Man became liable to Fall through a rupture in the relationship of trust once held between God and Man: in the instance of the act of transgression, doubt made a clearing in consciousness for Man’s autonomous
55 56

Freedom and Nature, pp. 466. Symbolism of Evil, pp. 253.

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thought. This radical doubt is analogous to the radical doubt of Descartes. What was once a creative limit, an innocent freedom, became the Interdict, God’s “No:” “The soul of the serpent’s question is the ‘evil infinite.’”57 The meaning of finiteness or “being created being” became obscured, and whereas the limit had been Man’s “Orient,” it became Man’s “Other.”58 The inversion of this myth is obvious: God, as the ‘surplus of meaning,’ as the ‘objectival synthesis,’ as primary or originary affirmation, must radically end, “value” gives way to form, beginning with the infinitesimal point origin, of the “I am.” God, in the only act permitted to such a symbolic ground, an act of love, gives up the holy ghost for there to be existence of Self. This is a myth of the origin of finitude. The unwritten third volume of the Poetics of the Will is more than a metaphor for the beyond, it is an heirophany. Philosophy comes from the fire of reflection, but its spirit is speculative, and its form is the speculum of that spirit. For the meaning of the wisdom sought by philosophy to be an innocent human freedom, philosophy must be fleshed out by human being as a passionate way of life, a wheel for falling with grace, a harnessing of gravity in learning to walk. By seeing darkness as an indication of light, Ricoeur found a way of harnessing the darkness of evil in the scope of theodicy. The “post-critical naivete” and “second Copernican Revolution” Ricoeur sought to instigate in the unwritten Poetics was the turning of a wheel whose revolution, being beyond mere simile, was real. By inventing the wheel whose eye is the origin of being, the non-being of possibility may be traversed. The traveler, the walker, falls with grace. The Biblical scope of Ricoeur’s revolution demonstrates that the engine of the Poetics was driven by
57 58

Ibid. Ibid.

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the fires of Hell beyond subjectivity, to the blackness of space and by gravity to a faulty firmament among the stars.


Carlson, Thomas A. Indiscretion: Finitude and the Naming of God. University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print. Dornisch, Loretta. Faith and Philosophy in the Writings of Paul Ricoeur. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. Print. Jaspers, Karl. Philosophy. Trans. E. B. Easton. University of Chicago Press, 1971. Print. Marcel, Gabriel. Metaphysical Journal. Washington D.C.: Henry Regnery Company, 1952. Print. Ricoeur, Paul. Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969. Print. ___. Fallible Man. Trans. Charles A. Kelbley. New York: Fordham University Press, 1960. Print. ___. Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary. Trans. Erazim V. Kohak. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1950. Print. ___. Freud and Phillosophy. Trans. Denis Savage. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, September 1977. Print.

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___. History and Truth. Trans. Charles A. Kelbley. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1965. Print. ___. Symbolism of Evil. 1960. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. Trans. Emerson Buchanan. Print. ___. “The Symbol: Food for Thought.” Philosophy Today 4: 196 - 207, 1960. Print. Van Leeuwen, Theodoor Marius. The Surplus of Meaning: Ontology and Eschatology in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. Amsterdam: Rodopi, B.V., 1981. Print.

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