The World of Symbols from the Perspective of Paul Ricoeur

E. P.  Mathew
Loyola College, Chennai

This paper is an inquiry into the understanding of symbols proposed by Paul Ricoeur. Paul Ricoeur (27 February 1913 to 20 May 2005) was an acknowledged Phenomenologist and a hermeneutical thinker of great reputation. The paper will begin with highlighting the contribution of Paul Ricoeur to the intellectual world specifying the three phases spanning a period of more than 50 years.

The first part of the paper will deal with the meaning of symbols. Ricoeur does not see symbols as mere heuristic devices or signs which one may develop and discard. According to him symbols have the character of ‘double intentionality’ while signs have only single intentionality. By a series of differentiated characteristics the nature of symbols are brought out clearly as distinct from signs.

The second part of the paper will highlight the hermeneutic dimension of symbols. The hermeneutical dimension of symbols is intrinsic in its ‘pluri-valent’ nature and multiplicity of interpretations.  This will lead to the necessity of highlighting Ricoeur’s own notion of hermeneutics of suspicion. Hermeneutics of suspicion is a methodological device following the trails of the “Masters of Suspicion” so that the possibility of unmasking could be highlighted and our tendency to cloud symbols, texts and traditions by way of ideology could be made aware of.

The paper will conclude with highlighting the significance of the world of the symbols and its contemporary relevance for philosophizing.