Paul Ricoeur, 92; French Theorist Studied Types of Interpretation

From Associated Press

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher who studied linguistic and psychoanalytic theories of interpretation, has died. He was 92.

Ricoeur died from natural causes in his sleep overnight at his home in Chatenay-Malabry, west of Paris, his son Marc said Friday.

Ricoeur was perhaps best known for his work in phenomenology -- the study of how perceptions of events shape a person’s reality -- and sought to understand how people could overcome weaknesses and doubts by looking at their spiritual heritage.

“If I had to lay out my vision of the world ... I would say: Given the place where I was born, the culture I received, what I read, what I learned [and] what I thought about, there exists for me a result that constitutes, here and now, the best thing to do,” he told the French newspaper Le Monde in 2004. “I call it the action that suits.”


The author of at least 20 books, Ricoeur examined subjects including guilt and evil, linguistics, psychology, Marxism, religion and the role of ethics in politics.

Last November, Ricoeur and U.S. historian Jaroslav Pelikan shared the Library of Congress’ second John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences. The $1-million prize honors achievement in fields not covered by the Nobel prizes.

Ricoeur also received the Croix de Guerre and the Grand Prize of Philosophy from the Academie Francaise.

“We lose today more than a philosopher,” Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in a statement. “The entire European humanist tradition is mourning one of its most talented spokesmen.”

Born in the southeastern town of Valence, Ricoeur was orphaned during World War I. He was raised by his paternal grandparents and an unmarried aunt. He graduated from the University of Rennes in 1932 and earned both his master’s degree and doctorate at the Sorbonne.

Ricoeur was teaching high school when World War II broke out. He was drafted into the French army and spent most of the war in a German prison camp.

After the war, he held various teaching positions -- including posts at the Sorbonne, the University of Chicago, Yale and Columbia. He also worked for the National Center for Scientific Research, and was active in the Socialist Party.

A widower, Ricoeur is survived by five children.