On Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics of Suspicion, and Hermeneutics of Faith


Hermeneutics of suspicion and hermeneutics of faith, by Paul Ricoeur’s theoretical definitions, are respectively associated with approaches to interpreting meaning “beyond” the text or “within” it. In this regard, as the John Thompson’s introduction to Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, hermeneutics of faith is one of restoration that is “animated by faith, by a willingness to listen to it, and… a respect for the symbol as a revelation of the sacred.”[1] In contrast, Thompson describes Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of suspicion as “the demystification of a meaning presented to the interpreter in the form of a disguise.”[2] Thompson’s assertions about the role that “faith” and “suspicion” play in hermeneutics not only suggest that interpretation can either be approached by searching “within” the text or looking “beyond” the text, but that, in either hermeneutical approach, what becomes interpreted can greatly differ, even if the ground for that interpretation is the same. This means of interpreting is essential to how I intend to use Ricoeur’s terms. So, rather than use “hermeneutics of faith” and “hermeneutics of suspicion” in the way that Ricoeur does towards the text, I intend to use them in a more specialized way –my intent is to appropriate those terms towards existence. In this way, instead of referring to the hermeneutics of a text, as Ricoeur does, I would call my appropriation “hermeneutics of existence.” As such, there is a hermeneutical process that must be engaged in when interpreting existence into “Existence” –this, of course, is used in much the same manner as Ricoeur utilizes a hermeneutical process to interpret a text.

In some sense, I would argue that “Existence,” as an object of understanding, acts as a text. “Existence,” as a text, contains elements and components that produce meaning from its totality but, at the same time, provides individualized meaning in its particulars. I would describe this as Platonic hermeneutics, since, as Plato suggests about the “Forms,” any hermeneutics of existence is a relative endeavor that is limited by experience. This is how the Platonic “Wall” comes to bear in a hermeneutics of existence: it is the possibility that, though experience has a certain epistemological and phenomenological value in it, “meaning” is not made solely on those things but, instead, on an existential value beyond the experiential.

[1] Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Edited and Translated by John B. Thompson. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 6.

[2] Ibid.

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