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The Polysemy of Otherness: On Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another

David Vessey


               When word spread that Paul Ricoeur was coming out with a book titled Oneself as Another,[1] those who work on intersubjectivity got understandably excited. Here a major twentieth century philosopher, who had already started to articulate an account of an intersubjectivity constituted self—the narrative self—was coming out with a work explicitly on intersubjectivity.  It was not to be; however it is hard to feel disappointed about a work which is rightly being considered his magnum opus. It brings together all the great themes of Ricoeur’s past works—narrative, action, metaphor, time, even evil—uniting them with new and important ethical and political theorizing.  Here I will present not so much what I wish Ricoeur would have written under the title Oneself as Another, but what Oneself as Another can contribute to our understanding of that crucial form of alterity: alterity across (and within) subjects, intersubjectivity.  As such I will be directly responding to Frederick Olafson’s criticism that “These [studies] do not seem to me to contribute much, if anything, to an understanding of the ethical import of Mitsein.”[2]

               Oneself as Another reads like a work late in a career. Some discussions  are extremely truncated, with footnotes sending the reader off to other books written by Ricoeur; other discussions—new engagements with new themes or new thinkers—are meticulously spelled out. It’s as if one were accompanying an experienced botanist on a nature walk, some plants seen over and over are past by briefly, while others bring the tour to an abrupt halt, sometimes even leaving the path to explore something not seen before eventually returning to the main stream more enriched (though not always clear why that particular detour was the detour you just took). So as we map out ourselves Ricoeur’s terrain of themes of intersubjectivity, at times our discussions will be must briefer than his, and at other times it will involve our own detours into other works for clarification. What we will find is someone committed to taking seriously the various, and sometimes aporetic phenomena of the self and the other but also committed to find a way to render the phenomena intelligible. Where other thinkers might make their task easier by dismissing various experiences of alterity as simply misleading, Ricoeur wants to save as much of the phenomena as he can. Ricoeur’s strength has always been the recognition of the legitimacy of seemingly conflicting views and the elevation of that inconsistency as something which needs to be thought. Only by steadfastly refusing to be reductionist, refusing to dismiss one aspect of the inconsistency as utterly ill-founded, can Ricoeur’s approach of following the aporias make sense. Not only does he acknowledge the various views, and thus the aporias, he thinks them through, finds a way to organize them and introduces concepts not necessarily to dispel the problem but to make its intractability more clear and intellectually fertile.

               The aporia at the heart of our discussion is an application of the classic “one/many problem”—how do we remain the same throughout all our physical and psychological changes. But unlike many or most other attempts to explain this, Ricoeur embraces the paradox and argues that, in a sense, the self is split. Confusion arises as we conflate two distant notions of identity when reflecting on self-identity. There is numerical identity—being one and not many—, and qualitative identity—being substitutable; both are identity in the sense of sameness. Using the Latin term, Ricoeur refers to this as idem-identity. Idem identity also includes the genetic identity which drives change over time and across development making it possible, for example, to identify an acorn at one time with an oak tree later. But as everyone immediately recognizes when personal identity gets articulated solely in terms of physical or metaphysical continuity, idem-identity does not give us guidance for answering one crucial question of identity, “Who am I?” The answer to that question is ipse-identity: selfhood. In contrast to idem-identity, ipse-identity is not dependent on something permanent for its existence. That is, having a self over time does not necessitate having something the same, something perhaps metaphysical which grounds the identity of self.

               Ricoeur claims that the difference is particularly apparent in cases of promise keeping. In making a decision to keep a promise, we vow to remain to the same across change.[3] There is nothing which grounds this identity besides (or perhaps behind) the fact of keeping the promise; and the promise can be kept even if one changes dramatically. If the ability to keep a promise is that which reveals the difference between idem- and ipse-identity, character reveals how interrelated they can appear. Character is “the set of distinctive marks which permit the reidentification of a human being as the same. By the descriptive features that will be given, the individual compounds numerical identity and qualitative identity, uninterrupted continuity and permanence in time.”[4]  Character belongs to idem identity.  The awareness that we can take up a stand towards our character, preserving it, strengthening it, and revising it reveals the connection to ipse identity. But these attitudes towards our character are themselves implicated in our character so the dialectical relation between idem-identity and ipse-identity is particularly apparent here. Character is ipse becoming idem, but idem-identity is only recognized as possessing certain traits appearing in certain ways, reflecting certain values, that is, as a product of our character.

               I introduced Ricoeur’s distinction between the two notions of identity for a couple of reasons—it shows Ricoeur’s willingness to take seriously all the phenomena, even if they are aporetic and it starts to reveal his notion of personal identity which is necessary to understand his account of the role the other plays in identity—but in addition, through the concept of character, we can enter into a discussion of the first element of Ricoeur’s account of intersubjectivity. Character, for Ricoeur, gets a significant portion of its meaning from the theory of narrative.  Character draws its potential for simultaneous unity and diversity, for simultaneous “concordance” and “discordance”, from its essentially narratival nature. “The identity of character emploted, so to speak, can only be understood in terms of this dialectic [of concordance and discordance]. ... The narrative constructs the identity of the character, what can be called his or her identity, in constructing the story told. It is the identity of the story which makes the identity of the character.”[5] Narrative identity is the identity of character; it’s also the identity which bridges idem and ipse. The concept of narrative identity first emerged at the end of Volume Three of Time and Narrative (Ricoeur has since called it the “principle achievement” of the work[6]) where it served to mediate lived time and cosmological time.[7] Its development was the motivation for Oneself as Another and takes up a significant (in space and importance) amount of the book. For our purposes we need only focus on the intersubjective elements of the narrative identity, numerous as they are.

               We are subjects in others’ stories, others are subjects in our stories; others are authors of our stories, we are authors of others’ stories.  Our narratives are essentially interwoven with other narratives. We are characters in other narratives—we are our parents’ child, our partner’s partner, our friends’ friend—and they are characters in our narratives. Also, through our discussions and interactions with others we facilitate the articulation and direction of their narratives, and they ours. All this is to say that our identity is never simply our own. It is embedded with relations with others and we do not have ultimate control over the nature of these relationships much less the nature of our identity.[8]

               Because of this entanglement of identities, recognition becomes a central feature of intersubjective interaction. Ricoeur, in another context, provides what are effectively three models of intersubjective recognition.  In a recent essay he presents three “models for the integration of identity and alterity according to an increasing order of spiritual density.”[9] Although he only presents one model this way, they all can be considered varieties of ways recognition can operate in the in the context of narrative identity. The first model is translation. By translating another ideas into one’s own terms—an activity Ricoeur claims must always be held to be in principle possible—we do not simply appropriate the other, we elevate ourselves through a respect for the worldview of the other. Translation is “a matter of living with the other in order to take the other to one’s home as a guest . . . In this sense we can speak of a translation ethos whose goal would be to repeat at the cultural and spiritual level the gesture of linguistic hospitality.”[10]  Hospitality as a welcoming and respecting is also a form of recognition and a means of integrating narratives. Through it we acknowledge and welcome other stories in turn opening up possibilities for our story to be realized differently.

               The second model Ricoeur calls “the exchange of memories.” One way others are co-authors of our narrative is through sharing stories about ourselves about which we were unaware. The obvious examples are stories which reveal what we were like as a young child and stories which reveal unrealized effects of our actions. Invoking and sharing memories arises out of “narrative hospitality.” The activity brings to life anew the past in a way that refashions one’s narrative identity. But to bring up the past for the sake of re-legitimating its function in the present is to recognize the legitimacy of the narrative of the other. “A new ethos is born of the understanding applied to the complex intertwining of new stories which structure and configure the crossroads between memories. It is a matter there of a genuine task, a genuine labor, in which we could identify the Anerkennung of German Idealism, that is, of ‘recognition’ considered in its narrative dimension.”[11]   Individual memories are shared, but there is also cultural memory which informs the individual character. Bringing these shared memories to life for one another is not simply one way by which we are co-authors of one another’s narrative identities, it is a way we facilitate the legitimation of the narratives.

               The third model is “spiritually deeper” still: “the model of forgiveness.”  One specific way of sharing memories goes beyond simply recognition. Forgiveness enables one’s character for the present by freeing it of its obligations from the past. Invoking memory could be a way of recalling debt; it could function to remind someone of an unfulfilled promise and of the continual demands of justice. Forgiveness goes beyond justice to charity, beyond recognition to the gift “whose logic of superabundance exceeds the logic of reciprocity.”[12]  It frees the other not from the effects of the past, but from the debts of the past.  Forgiveness makes possible a new future. In contrast translation makes possible a shared present, and exchanging memory makes possible a more firmly established narrative.  By being a gift of new possibilities, forgiveness remains the most benevolent form of hospitality and shows the extent to which the intersubjective constitution of narrative identity opens up the space for ethics.

               Ricoeur’s narrative identity, then, provides us a starting point for appreciating the intersubjective elements of personal identity. But, one might claim, he has not given us anything more than Alasdair MacIntyre or Charles Taylor have before him. Indeed if this were the extent of his contribution, we may be forced to agree with Olafson that not much new has been presented here, even including the three models of recognition. But this is not all there is to say about the relation of identity and alterity as presented in Oneself as Another. Really, the most obvious discussion in the book is still in front of us. In the tenth study, “What Ontology in View?”, Ricoeur takes up the work of “otherness at the heart of selfhood.”[13]  Here is where he develops his thesis that alterity is “polysemic”—that alterity is irreducible to the alterity of other persons. 

               To get at ontology we need an appropriate approach. Ricoeur submits that the phenomenology of passivity is the means to the consideration of the ontology of alterity: “passivity becomes the attestation of otherness.”[14]


I suggest as a working hypothesis what could be called the triad of passivity and hence of otherness. First there is the passivity represented by the experience of one’s own body—or better, as we shall say later, of the flesh—as the mediator between the self and a world which is itself taken in accordance with its variable degrees of practicability and foreignness. Next we find the passivity implied by that relation of the self to the foreign, in the precise sense of the other (than) self, and so the otherness inherent in the relation of intersubjectivity. Finally we have the most deeply hidden passivity, that of the relation of the self to itself, which is conscience in the sense of Gewissen rather than Bewusstsein.[15]

Following Ricoeur we should be careful not to reduce each dimension of passivity, and thus alterity, to one another. To appreciate their nuances we need to treat them one at a time.

               Ricoeur gives credit to Maine de Biran, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Henry for recognizing the body as a locus of alterity, but he focuses his discussion on the insights of Maine de Biran and Edmund Husserl.  Maine de Biran initially noticed the passivity that comes first from the bodily resistance to intentions, second from debilitating bodily illness, and third from the body as the location of external resistance. In short, the body does not always collaborate with our plans. Beyond these passivities of the body, however, is the general alterity realized in Husserl’s distinction between the body as Leib—the lived body—and the body as Körper—the objectified body. The lived body is the occasion for all passive constitution in response to which the ego constitutes. It is not simply that which occurs to us unwillingly, but that which precedes the distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary. It therefore constitutes an otherness at our most ownmost level independent of relations to others.  Only once the body becomes realized as a body among others, and the subject becomes recognized as a subject with and in a world, do the intersubjective elements show themselves. But then they are not a condition for the alterity of the body, but vice versa. It’s because of the alterity of the body that the alterity of the other self emerges.

               But that is not to say that the alterity of other selves is reducible to the alterity of the body. The second passivity, the passivity of the other self, receives typically Ricoeurean treatment. In order to incorporate the strengths of both sides of the debate, Ricoeur detours through extended analyses of Husserl’s account of analogical apperception (as presented in the Cartesian Meditations), and Levinas’ account of the “face of the other.” Husserl’s account is the paradigm of a intersubjective relation organized from self to other; Levinas’ is a paradigm of an intersubjective relation organized from other to self. Ricoeur gives Husserl credit for establishing passive synthesis as the site of our awareness of the other self (“The transfer by which my flesh forms a pair with another flesh is a prereflexive, predicative synthesis—the most primitive perhaps, and one that is found intertwined with all the other ‘passive syntheses’”[16]), but he argues that Husserl’s account presupposes otherness rather than establishing it. Against Levinas, although he claims there is an important role for methodological hyperbole —“the systematic practice of excess in philosophical argument”[17]—in this case it has led to the occlusion of any account of the Self as opposed to the Same. (His conclusion is “that it is impossible to construct this dialectic [of the Same and the Other] in a unilateral manner”[18] either solely from self to other or from other to self.  Ricoeur proposes that each direction performs a specific function. The direction from self to other structures the epistemic awareness of the other as an embodied ego while the direction from other to self structures the call to moral responsibility. “One unfolds in the gnoseological dimension of sense, the other in the ethical dimension of injunction.”[19] The other calls us to respond to its face, and this call we recognize as originating from another self.

               The third passivity is the call of conscience. Ricoeur recognizes that this is a suspect term, but still intends to defend its claim as a legitimate site of alterity. To do so requires withstanding the Nietzschean objection that conscience is corrupted by its connection to bad conscience, the objection that conscience does not belong to the realm of the other but the realm of the same, and finally the objection that the origin of conscience is nothing different from the face of the other (or perhaps the Freudian super-ego). Against the first charge, Ricoeur locates a more fundamental feature of conscience—its connection to a form of self-awareness which gives us to ourselves though not as an explicit presentation. “Conscience is, in truth, that place par excellence in which illusions about oneself are intimately bound up with attestation.”[20]  We will give this phenomenon of “attestation” our full attention below, for now Ricoeur simply points out that attestation always is accompanied by self-suspicion (rather than self-doubt or self-falsity) and therefore may be the locus for the understanding of the possible alterity of a call of conscience which precedes the distinction between good and bad conscience. The question, though, is whether this attestative conscience really serves as a form of passivity and thus as a presence of otherness in the self. Appealing to Heidegger’s account of conscience, Ricoeur claims that the call of conscience originates in something other than oneself. Quoting Heidegger he says conscience is a “calling forth and summoning us to being-guilty [being-in-debt].”[21] That is to say, conscience contains an injunction to respond, to attest to ourselves in the presence of another. He writes “conscience appears as the inner assurance that, in some particular circumstance, sweeps away doubt, hesitation, the suspicion of inauthenticity, hypocrisy, self-compliance, and self-deception, and authorizes the acting and suffering human being to say: here I am.”[22]  “Here I am” is the call Levinas most cherishes; the response Abraham gives to God. But one can sense in Ricoeur’s connection to attestation that he also has something like Luther’s “here I stand” in mind as, contrary to Levinas’ emphasis, conscience facilitates a form of self-assertion. The question then remains from whom or from where does this injunction arise. Is it the face of the other that calls, or God—perhaps God as the absolute Other?—or the super-ego? Ricoeur concludes, in what I believe is the most powerful sentence in the book,


Perhaps the philosopher as philosopher has to admit that one does not know and cannot say whether this Other, the source of the injunction, is another person whom I can look in the face or who can stare at me, or my ancestors for whom there is no representation, to so great an extent does my debt to them constitute my very self, or God—living God, absent God—or an empty place. With this aporia of the Other, philosophical discourse comes to an end.[23]

Ricoeur’s agnosticism is fully in line with his spirit of acknowledgment of the varieties of alterity. His agnosticism here, however, shares an ethical spirit with Levinas. To ask the source of the injunction is to do something other than what we are called to do, namely respond to the call and, in the process, attest.

               The term attestation is a crucial one for Ricoeur. At one point in a footnote he says it is “the password for this entire book.”[24]   He closes the introduction with an extended discussion of the concept, and then develops it throughout the book returning to it in the concluding Tenth Study. The Tenth Study itself has three parts: the Ontological Commitment of Attestation, Selfhood and Ontology—which is connected to attestation “inasmuch as attestation can be identified with the assurance each person has of existing as the same in the sense of ipseity, of selfhood”[25]—, and Selfhood and Otherness—the content of which we’ve repeated and which is inaugurated with the claim that “passivity becomes the attestation of otherness.”[26]  So “attestation” eventually becomes the central ontological category of Ricoeur’s theory of the self as (an) other.

               Up to now Ricoeur’s contribution to theories of intersubjectivity is best captured in his own phrase, “the polysemy of otherness.” Alterity is recognized and distinguished in all its forms taking care not to reduce them to one another if inappropriate. Narrative identity is rich with intersubjective elements and provides for a nuanced understanding of forms of recognition. The phenomenology of passivity reveals more alterity within ipseity through flesh, the other self, and conscience. Each passivity has intersubjective elements, but no passivity is reducible to intersubjectivity. What we get from Ricoeur, then, is a careful proliferation—a virtual taxonomy—of alterity. And this carefulness is rare in such discussions. He writes, “Why insist on the polysemic character of otherness? Essentially in order to warn against an uncriticized reduction that would conceal the difficulties attending the passage from metaphysics to ethics.”[27] But its certainly debatable whether this constitutes an original contribution to “an understanding of the ethical import of Mitsein”, rather than a simply a plea to take all views seriously. An analysis of the role of attestation in the intersubjective constitution of subjectivity closes the debate. Here Ricoeur has focused in on something genuinely original among the theories of intersubjectivity and something deeply compelling.

               One might be suspicious, however, about treating Ricoeur’s account of attestation as fundamentally including an account of intersubjectivity. It would appear to the contrary that it belongs to a theory of subjectivity, and a classical one at that. Ricoeur introduces the concept by saying


attestation can be defined as the assurance of being oneself acting and suffering. This assurance remains the ultimate recourse against all suspicion; even if it is always in some sense received from another, it still remains self-attestation. It is self-attestation that at every level—linguistic, praxis, narrative and prescriptive—will preserve the question “who?” from being replace by questions of “what?” and “why?” Conversely, at the center of the aporia, only the persistence of the question “who?”—in a way laid bare for lack of a response—will reveal itself to be the impregnable refuge for attestation.[28]

As the assurance against all suspicion, which always answers the who-question and is reveled as such through a determined asking of the who-question, Ricoeur’s concept of attestation sounds remarkably like a Cartesian subject (which limits the possibility of complete doubt, always answers the who-question, and is revealed through hyperbolically questioning one own existence). Rather than an aporia, Ricoeur would seem to haven given us a transcendental subject posited to hold the ground against those post-modern theorists who think that the proper question is not one of subjectivity, but of the conditions of subjectivity, the “what?” and the “why?”

               Ricoeur is of course conscious of this concern and develops attestation explicitly as an alternative to the Cartesian ego and in such a way that he believes it will forestall the post-modern dissolution of the subject. This of course is not a unique project,[29] but Ricoeur’s has more plausibility than the others as he builds the impetus for the suspicion of the self into the very concept of attestation. In typically conciliatory fashion, Ricoeur’s criticism of dismissals of the subject is not so much that they’ve wholly misunderstood the subject, but that they’ve honed in too exclusively on one feature of the subject—the absence of self-certainty. The dialectic at the heart of the subject is not being fully recognized. 

               Let’s begin with that argument. According to Ricoeur, attestation is a form of self-certainty which needs to be explicitly contrasted with episteme. Attestation reveals something—in that sense it belongs to truth as aletheia—but it doesn’t posit a foundation a principle, a proposition which can be the basis for justifying other beliefs. It is a belief, but a “belief in...” rather than a “belief that....” Rather than a conviction, it is a trust: “a trust in the power to say, in the power to do, in the power to recognize oneself as a character in a narrative, in the power, finally, to respond to an accusation.”[30] That is, attestation is the sense of the self which testifies to the “I can” across linguistic, pragmatic and ethical contexts.   

               Consider a linguistic context. We become aware of the unique position of attestation when we reflect on Wittgensteinian examples of feeling an ascribing pain. Could there be a criterion for feeling pain? No, claims Ricoeur with Wittgenstein. Which is not to say you couldn’t be wrong about being in pain. The important point is that there is a form of self-awareness which does not involve propositional self-ascription. Attestation is not something one justifies or refutes. Doubt then, is not the proper response. We can’t doubt the truth of the claim, as properly speaking no truth claim is made in attestation, but we can still be suspicious of it veracity. “Veracity”, in this sense, “is not truth in the sense of adequation of knowledge to its object.”[31] Rather it is something closer to self-commitment.  Legitimating suspicion over against doubt definitively differentiates Ricoeur’s account of attestation from Descartes’ cogito. We never doubt that we are capable of acting, of using language or of responding to a moral injunction, but we may at times suspect our ability to do so. And moreover we may at time suspect that we are the source of our meanings, our actions, or our responsibility. The attested-to self is fragile. It is fragile not only because its conditions are themselves always suspect, but because its unity across contexts is suspect. These suspicions are what motivates Nietzschean dismissals of subjectivity, but suspicion shares a unique epistemic status with attestation. Suspicion “is not simply the contrary of attestation...[but] also the path towards, the crossing within attestation. It haunts attestation.”[32] As suspicion belongs to attestation, so is our relation to our attested-to self always hermeneutic, always in need on interpretation. Ricoeur here shows that the hermeneutics of suspicion is itself a hermeneutics of the self, precisely because the self—as ipse, and as attested to—remains always already bound in the dialectic of same and other. Suspicion is the mark of the other in the self and the clue to the intersubjective dimension of attestation.

               Attestation is fundamentally epistemological—it is “the kind of belief and confidence that is attached to the affirmation of oneself as an acting (and suffering) being.”[33] But since it is the affirmation of oneself, and it is not an empty affirmation but  is of the self as acting and suffering, attestation has ontological implications as well. That is, it tell us something fundamental about the nature of the self as an agent, as susceptible to effects, as fragile and also as open to suspicion. It is here that we can fully appreciate the intersubjective dimensions of attestation—the presence of alterity in ipseity. After all, “what is ultimately attested to is selfhood, at once in its difference with respect to sameness and in its dialectical relation to otherness.”[34] The question really is why attestation gives the self in its otherness and not simply in its sameness. The latter would be a reasonable view, a version of Cartesian certainly where we are given to ourselves as same, and our alterity comes from our exposure to others. But Ricoeur claims that alterity stands in an internal relation to the self, therefore attestation as attestation of self, must include attestation to the self’s otherness.

               Notice that our discussion above about the “triad of passivity” effectively answers our question. “Passivity”, as the phenomenological event of alterity, “becomes the attestation of otherness.”[35] Flesh is both the locus for self-attestation, the source of the   confidence in the self as able to act and to exist in the world, and also always at the same time a locus of otherness in the self.  That which attests to the self does not itself fully belong to the realm of the same.  Bodily attestation, then, as revealed in passivity, reveals the self’s alterity as it reveals the “I can.”  This instability of identification is the ontological basis for the fragility of the self and the necessarily conjunction of attestation and suspicion. Or rather it is one basis, for the same relation of attestation and passivity operates between subjects. The analogical apperception of the other must originate somewhere in a sense of self, a sense of self which derives its confidence for being responsible from the continual injunction addressed to it. To attest to oneself is to believe in one’s ability to respond to the face of the other. Thus the passivity of the ethical injunction founds an attestation which, again, can never be reduced to a movement within the same.  Moreover, the injunction is always an awareness of another self and the recognition of ourselves as selves, as beings capable of being called to act responsibly. This too occasions attestation. However the call does not always come from another self; one’s conscience is perhaps the most clear example of attestation occurring on the condition of the alterity within the subject. Ricoeur will even write that “conscience is nothing other than the attestation by which a self-affects itself.”[36] Conscience, as signifying “being enjoined by the Other”, reminds us of ourselves at the same time that it reveals the alterity at our “heart of hearts”. And not just any alterity, recall, an alterity which according to Ricoeur is philosophically unthinkable. To it belongs the “aporia of the Other.”

               So we can see that while still preserving the polysemy of alterity Ricoeur brings together alterity and ipseity in attestation  Attestation as the confidence of the “I can” always reveals the other in the self.  By locating alterity both in passivity and in the self- assurance of the subject, Ricoeur convincingly establishes an account of the self that is at its core intersubjective, but that doesn’t dissolve into the play of relations.  That is a “significant contribution” to a proper understanding of Mitsein.


                                                                                                                                                      David Vessey

                                                                                                                                                      Beloit College

[1] Oneself as Another Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Hereafter OA.  The two most comprehensive reviews of the book are Edi Pucci’s “Review of Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another: Personal Identity, Narrative Identity, and ‘Selfhood’ in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur” (Philosophy and Social Criticism 18 (1992), pp. 185-209) and Charles E. Reagan’s “The Self as Other” (Philosophy Today 37 (1993), pp. 3-22).

[2] International Studies in Philosophy Vol. 29, Issue 4, 1997, p. 138.

[3] The self-constancy at the heart of ipse-identity provides a means for Ricoeur to connect identity and ethics.  As a source for self-constancy we are always accountable to others for ourselves and responsible to their summons.

[4] OA, p. xx

[5] OA, pp. 147-8

[6] Critique and Conviction: Conversations with Francois Azouvi and Marc de Launay  New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. p. 89

[7] Here is the crucial quotation from Time and Narrative, Vol. III (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. p. 246). “To state the identity of an individual of a community is to answer the question ‘Who did this?’ ‘Who is the agent, the author?’  We first answer this question by naming someone, that is, by designating them with a proper name.  But what is the basis for the permanence of this proper name? What justifies our taking the subject of an action, so designated by his, her or its proper name, as the same throughout a life that stretches from birth to death? The answer has to be narrative.  To answer the question ‘Who?’ as Hannah Arendt has so forcefully put it, is to tell the story of a life.  The story told tells about the action of the ‘who.’  And the identity of this ‘who’ therefore itself must be narrative identity.  Without the recourse to narration, the problem of personal identity would in fact be condemned to an antinomy with no solution.  Either we must posit a subject identical with itself through the diversity of its different states or, following Hume and Nietzsche, we must hold that this identical subject is nothing more than a substantialist illusion, whose elimination merely brings to light a pure manifold of cognitions, emotions, and volitions.  This dilemma disappears if we substitute for identity in the sense of being the same (idem), identity understood in the sense of oneself as self-same [soi-mźme] (ipse). The difference between idem and ipse is nothing more than the difference between a substantial or formal identity and a narrative identity.  Self-sameness, ‘self-constancy’, can escape the dilemma of the Same and the Other to the extent that its identity rests on a temporal structure that conforms to the model of dynamic identity arising from the poetic composition of a narrative text.  The self characterized by self-sameness may then be said to be refigured by the reflective application of such narrative configurations. Unlike the abstract identity of the Same, this narrative identity, constitutive of self-constancy, can include change, mutability, within the cohesion of one lifetime.  The subject then appears both as a reader and writer of its own life, as Proust would have it.” Notice here Ricoeur identifies ipse-identity with narrative identity while in Oneself as Another he claims narrative identity mediates ipse- and idem-identity.

[8] Alasdair MacIntyre has a strikingly similar account of a narrative self, and although Ricoeur takes the time to differentiate his view from MacIntyre’s, the intersubjective elements remain the same.

[9] “Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe” in Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action. ed. Richard Kearney. London: Sage Publications, 1996. p. 4

[10] “Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe” p. 5

[11] “Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe” p. 7

[12] “Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe” p. 10

[13] OA, p. 318

[14] OA, p. 318

[15] OA, p. 318

[16] OA, p. 334

[17] OA, p. 337

[18] OA, p. 331

[19] OA, p. 341

[20] OA, p. 341.

[21] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962) p. 341.

[22] “From Metaphysics to Moral Philosophy,” Philosophy Today Winter 1996, pp. 443-458. p. 454.

[23] OA, p. 355.

[24] OA, p. 289 ­f. 82.  There are two articles which critically address Ricoeur’s account of attestation, Pamela Sue Anderson’s “Agnosticism and Attestation: An Aporia Concerning the Other in Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another” (The Journal of Religion 74 (1994) pp. 65-76) and Mark Muldoon’s “Ricoeur’s Ethics: Another Version of Virtue Ethics? Attestation is not a Virtue” (Philosophy Today Fall, 1998 pp. 301-309).

[25] OA, p. 298.

[26] OA, p. 318.

[27] “From Metaphysics to Moral Philosophy,” p. 453

[28] OA, p. 23.

[29] See, for example, Calvin Schrag’s The Self After Postmodernity(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997)

[30] OA, p. 22.

[31] OA, p. 73.

[32] OA, p. 302.

[33] “From Metaphysics to Moral Philosophy,” p. 450.

[34] OA, p. 302.

[35] OA, p. 318.  One might ask why I haven’t attempted to connect attestation and narrativity. Jean Greisch does just that in his article “Testimony and Attestation” (in Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action, pp. 81-98) by introducing the concept of “narrative attestation.”  Greisch claims that narrative, as the key to the establishment of the self, is effectively attestation. I believe he has extended the term attestation beyond its meaning in Ricoeur’s work.  Certainly there must be a connection between narrative and attestation, narrative identity is the self and attestation attests to the self, but this is not to say narrating is attesting or that attestation is narratival. In fact to make the connection as close as Greisch does is to introduce too much content into attestation and to undermine its connection to suspicion rather than doubt. 

[36] “From Metaphysics to Moral Philosophy,” p. 454.


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