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Misrecognition, mutual Recognition and Forgiveness in Hegel and Ricoeur

Final Report Summary - HEGELANDRICOEUR (Misrecognition, mutual Recognition and Forgiveness in Hegel and Ricoeur)


The project “Misrecognition, Recognition and Forgiveness in Hegel and Ricoeur” pursues a twofold objective. Firstly, it aims to frame Ricoeur’s position in the contemporary debate on mutual recognition (Anerkennung), highlighting original features of Ricoeur’s lifelong and ambiguous confrontation with Hegel’s thought, whose Parcours de la reconnaissance represents just the last – and not the most significant – moment. Secondly, it is designed to make a theoretical comparison between the ways in which Ricoeur and Hegel interpret the nexus among Misrecognition, Anerkennung and Forgiveness, in the conviction that such a comparison – pointing out convergences and divergences – may help both to cast new light on the positions of both thinkers and to advance the “theory of recognition” further.

In order to reach such objectives, the work has assumed as point of depart the transcription and the attentive examination of the most important archive’s sources concerning the themes of the project, such as the huge Dossier 90, which collects Ricoeur’s handwritten notes on Hegel and which is composed by more than 1000 pages of different periods. This research has been jointed to a textual and contextual analysis of Ricoeur’s main works, aiming at identifying the mediations that have conditioned Ricoeur’s confrontation of Hegel - in the different periods of his long intellectual path - as well as the original features of Ricoeur’s appropriative reception of Hegel’s thought, with particular reference to the following themes:

a) Ricoeur’s stance about “dialectical negation”, that in Hegel’s philosophy underlies the different forms of misrecognition - such as struggle, crime and evil – as well as the movement of recognition;
b) The problem of the relationship between Selfhood and Otherness, with particular attention to the different roles that Hegel and Ricoeur attribute to dissymmetry in the relationship between the two terms.
c) Ricoeur’s ambiguous stance about Hegel’s theory of Sittlichkeit;
d) The thematic of the temporisation of history, with particular reference to the last two chapters of Time and Narrative 3;
e) Ricoeur’s appropriation of Hegel’s comprehension of the “tragic wellspring of action”
f) Ricoeur’s confrontation with Hegel’s conception of evil and forgiveness, since the Symbolic of evil until the last works Memory, History, Forgetting and Parcours de la reconnaissance.


- Firstly, the project succeeded in identifying the principals phases in which Ricoeur’s confrontation with Hegel’s thought is articulated: 1) the anti-hegelianism of the early Fifties, which relies on a lecture of the first chapters of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (I-IV) deformed by Jean Wahl and by Ricoeur’s critical confrontation with Sartre, Kojève and Hyppolite; 2) a first form of creative appropriation of Hegel’s notion of mediation, which can be discovered already in the philosophical anthropology developed both in the essay Negativity and originary affirmation and in the second volume of the Philosophy of the Will ; 3) a second moment of creative appropriation of Hegel’s thought, which relies on the direct and intensive study of the Principles of the Philosophy of Right – at the end of the Sixties – and which accompanies the shifting of Ricoeur’s interest from the theme of the will and of the culpability to that of action and of realization of freedom.
- By using the until now unexplored Ricoeur’s lectures on “Negation”, the project also resulted in grasping the reasons that nourish Ricoeur’s resistance towards Hegel’s dialectics and the way he corrects it in order to reactivate its resources. Between such reasons – which are several and can not be reduced to the fear of the effects of systematic totalisation implied by the dialectical mediation – a strategic role is played by the will to save the specificity of the multiples phenomenological modalities of negation, against the monistic trend to reduce all the human experiences of negation to a unique source: trend that the young Ricoeur imputes to Hegel and to all post-hegelian philosophies of negation. The recuperation of the phenomenological disparate forms of negation is for Ricoeur the indispensable presupposition in order to recollect them with reference to the “act of originary affirmation”, by avoiding both the risk of an absolutisation of opposition and that of an absolutisation of mediation, which would lead to efface the tension between phenomenology and ontology – which Ricoeur wants to preserve – and to misunderstand these forms of negativity which can not be mediated, such as evil and non-sense. This theoretical clarification – which may appear very abstract – has on the contrary crucial implications on the plan of practical and political philosophy. It allowed to shed light on Ricoeur’s position about the role of conflict and of mediation in social life and to grasp his specificity with respect to the principal protagonists of French phenomenological existentialism, of hermeneutics, of Marxism and of critical theory.
- The third achievement was the clarification of the creative appropriation to which Ricoeur submits Hegel’s theory of ethical life (Sittlichkeit), by depriving it of his ontological roots – what weakens the ontological status of institution and preserves from the risk of their hypostatization – and by situating it at the criss-cross between “ideology” and “utopy”: on the one side, Ricoeur connect the Hegelian Sittlichkeit with the sphere of indispensable symbolic mediations which support action and which in his view play a fundamental role of integration in the social life, although they can degenerate pathologically; on the other side, Ricoeur transforms the Hegelian notion of Sittlichkeit – in the sense of State of right in which it is realized a mutual recognition between citizens and institutions – in an utopic ideal, whose status is near to the Kantian regulative ideas. By moving from these premises, the project succeeded in shedding new light on the “post-hegelian Kantianism” that – in spite of his renunciation to Hegel’s philosophy of history – characterizes also Ricoeur’s conception of history in Time and Narrative III, where the refusal of the totalisation of the three dimensions of temporality in the eternal present of the spirit does not mean the renunciation to a unitary and teleological conception of history, which is far away from the discontinuist and plural vision of historical timed defended by Koselleck.
- A further achievement concerned the nexus between forgiveness and recognition: by using also archive’s documents, the researcher has reconstructed the significant shifts which characterizes Ricoeur’s interpretation of the dialectics of evil and forgiveness - at the end of the chapter VI of the Phenomenology of Spirit - whose signification is considered by Ricoeur in the light of St. Paul’s conception of justification as fully gratuitous act. Such a reconstruction allowed to show that since the end of Sixties Ricoeur appropriates Hegel’s horizontal conception of forgiveness as truly recognition – grounded on the mutual admission of the one-sideness which characterizes every conscience – by giving to it a narrative development, which appears particularly fecund and significant in his reflections on the theme of the “reconciliation” and “share” of memories, as necessary presupposition for the naissance of an European ethos. At the same time, the researcher succeeded in clarifying how Ricoeur articulates this horizontal conception of forgiveness and of recognition with the vertical one – theologically inspired by St. Paul – by attributing to the first one only the sphere of the “inextricable” and tragic conflicts which mark the action and to the second one the sphere of the “unjustifiable” evil. In both cases through the clarification of Ricoeur’s position the project offered an important instrument to rethink crucial problems of our societies, such as the possibility of co-existence and mutual recognition between communities which do not share the same ethical values and mostly the way to avoid that hypostatization of collective narrative identities, which has so oft lead to conflict in the last decades.
- Finally, the project allowed the researcher to develop further and in an original way her previous works on Hegel’s theodicy, by considering - in light of Ricoeur’s interpretations and critics – the Hegelian position on the traditional problem of the “suffering” of innocent people, on the basis of his lecture of the myth of Job.
The final result expected – on the long-term – is a monograph devoted to an exhaustive reconstruction of Ricoeur’s ambiguous relationship with Hegel’s legacy, considered under three perspectives: the methodological question of dialectics; the problem of practical philosophy; finally, the question of the interpretation of religious symbols.

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