The works of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) have become more accessible recently thanks to reasonably priced reprints by the
Scott-Baumann starts by way of introduction with Cartesian doubt. Then, in Ricoeur’s hermeneutics I, covers the archaeology of suspicion, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, the “masters of suspicion”, ending with the use and abuse of the phrase “hermeneutics of suspicion”. Its abuse by other writers led Ricoeur to stop using the phrase as it had become ambiguous, whilst still focusing on the twin ideas of hermeneutics and suspicion. In Ricoeur’s hermeneutics II, Scott-Baumann covers the theory of interpretation, linguistic analysis, methodological dialectics and philosophical anthropology. Finally Ricoeur’s hermeneutics III deals with recovery, interesting not least for linking Ricoeur’s positivity with the journalism of Robert Fisk, seeking a balance between justice and forgiveness to prevent the paralysis of negativity.
This is an important book by a writer in full control of her material and with a clear and readable writing style, on a topic that is significant for both education and religious studies. It goes to the heart of Ricoeur’s thinking, the need for suspicion so that our understanding and knowledge is not subject to other people’s honest or dishonest persuasiveness. However, if that suspicion is total, its negativity will be paralysing and we are left only with despair and absence of meaning. Ricoeur sees this as a symptom of post-modernity, and argues that the only route out of this is by giving a fair place to love and justice. That he allows religion, and Christianity in particular as it is his tradition, to be part of this mix does not make him a Christian apologist. Here too, the principle of suspicion gives him a critical edge, and his theology is far from naive. In a sense he lines up with the humanistic