Wendell Berry Part 01

Look and See a documentary about Wendell Berry

Is there a relationship between our mood and what we put into our bodies? Is there a deeper relationship between what we put in our bodies and how we are treating the planet? Climate change, Climate change denial, erratic weather, drought, flood and natural disaster, extended seasons of summer and winter have become a common experience for us all.

Today we take a look at what it means to suffer depression, what it feels like to have little or no control over your changing moods. I share with you my story of why I have been away for nearly three weeks. Life is not fair. Fairness is a dirty word, with awful implications. Life is harsh, but it needn’t be brutish and short. I invite you to consider how we can all work toward taking better care of ourselves and our environment. The first step is to treat our bodies and our minds with kindness. To allow ourselves the space required to overcome difficulties and challenges that present themselves to us.

The second step, our second story is about how we have allowed convenience to override our natural desires to be healthy and to be organically connected to the world. We live in a world that is increasingly becoming built for machines. Automation anxiety is a real felt experience, and for many their jobs are at high risk. Employment today is a game of exploitation. The notion of self-sufficiency when linked with the dread of the robots is still closely associated with the kind of men that are represented by Ted Kaczynski.

Industrial Society may have a tough road ahead in balancing the human needs with the requirements for computer automated living convenience. But we as individuals whether renting or not can all take small steps towards cleaner diets. I am not perfect, I still eat pizza and find myself in drive throughs. But I also do my level best each week to cook more often than not.

I am grateful to Drew for introducing Wendell Berry into the ongoing many to many discourse that is the podcast medium, and I hope that his message gets a chance to reach more and more people. Let this episode and the next be a small step in that direction.

I have been humbled these last few weeks with the feedback that I have received. I am truly grateful that the efforts I put into making this show are enjoyed by the listening audience. I hope that I can do justice to the guests who have kindly lent me their time to assist in producing a high-quality show. As I’ve said before, feedback keeps me productive so please continue to send it in. Again, I ask for your help in promoting this show, if you enjoy my efforts then please share on social media. If you really like my work then please leave a review on iTunes. Actually, if you really dislike my work then leave a review there too, it all helps. Finally, if you’re financially secure and wondering where to spend your disposable income, consider supporting me directly via patreon.

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Ricoeur – Freud and Philosophy



Paul Ricoeur Freud and Philosophy


Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the role that post-modernism has played in the downfall of higher education. Paul Ricoeur is famous for saying the “symbol gives rise to thought” but is there more to his work than this? Brett Vienotte from school sucks read from Felski’s article Critique and The Hermeneutics of suspicion which builds heavily on Ricoeur’s theory of hermeneutics. Vienotte suggests through his reading that this singular skepticism that critical philosophy is known for is present in the dark side of post modernity.

In this article, I will introduce you to Ricoeur and briefly discuss the conflict of interpretations. Due to the complicated ideas that Ricoeur presents this is going to be a multiple part series. In part one I will flesh out the role that the hermeneutics of suspicion plays in Ricoeur’s work. I will question why Post Modernity may not have solid philosophic foundations and look to how Kant, Nietzsche and Freud have developed these ideas.

Teaser Quote

[Of Nietzsche’s Deutung] this point can be made: the new career opened up for the concept of interpretation is linked to a new problematic of representation, of Vorstellung. It is no longer the Kantian question of how a subjective representation or idea [Vorstellung] can have objective validity; this question, central to a critical philosophy, gives way to a more radical one (p.25).


Why do you want to learn about Paul Ricoeur? Perhaps, like Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell, it is because in some small way, Ricoeur was able to articulate the human condition. Stanford’s Plato Encyclopedia provides a biographical sketch that is worth reading. So rather than repeat, I will simply point you there. Nonetheless, it is necessary to gain some understanding of the body of Ricoeur’s work, particularly in regard to “interpretation.” His hermeneutic anthropology was especially significant as it conceptualized the human subject as experiencing time through narrative.

Like many, such as Zimbardo and Milgram etc., Ricoeur’s experiences in World War II drove him to search for why we are capable of evil. During the first thrust of his work, Ricoeur isolated logos as a key component of free will. Standford write:

Ricoeur extends his account of freedom to take up the problem of evil in Fallible Man and The Symbolism of evil, both published in 1960. In these works he addresses the question of how to account for the fact that it is possible for us to misuse our freedom, the reality of bad will, a question that had been bracketed in the initial phenomenology volume.


Ricoeur is perhaps most famous for saying “The symbol gives rise to thought.” I can begin to parse out the red thread of Ricoeur here. Coupled with his work on hermeneutics, this curious yet insightful phrase reveals Ricoeur’s work as based on the best methods for the interpretation of self. This gives us the first of what I’ve been able to identify as three keys to Ricoeur: Identity. Normativity, the second, can be derived from his conception of symbol. This is a foundation for the hermeneutics and his entire ethic. That is to say, we essentially understand the symbolic landscape in much the same way as those around us. So what of narrative?

Much like Derrida, who is a figure casting a long shadow in Post-Modernism. Ricoeur conceived man as a product of linguist narratives. Alexis Itao writes:

The various linguistic expressions that man creates [is] in a way [that which can] define him. That is why, in general terms, language serves as the route to self-understanding. And yet, language itself poses some problems. No single language is simple; as it were language by nature is complex.


So far, I have outlined how Ricoeur constructed man as a normative narrative which formed an identity. To do this I introduced his famous phrase “the symbol gives rise to thought.” Before moving on to the The Conflict of Interpretation then, it is worth dwelling on symbol and Ricoeur’s definition thereof. If Itao is correct in suggesting that “Hermeneutics is primarily the interpretation  of symbols” then learning Ricoeur’s reading is important. In The Conflict of Interpretations – Essays in hermeneutics Ricoeur writes:

I define ‘symbol’ as any structure of signification in which a direct, primary, literal meaning designates, in addition, another meaning which is indirect, secondary and figurative and which can be apprehended only through the first.

Semiotics informs us that a sign (for instance a word in written language) is constructed through the signifier and the signified. Symbolism however, goes beyond this one to one relationship and contains information that can be recognized from a primordial part of us. Symbols then, in a Freudian sense, are constructed through  the latent and manifest significations. Unfolding symbolism to find the multiple layers of hidden meanings contained within. This requires a complex cognitive process that involves decoding and amalgamation of language. This is done rapidly through thinking, hence the symbol giving birth to thought.


With this brief background out of the way, I now turn my attention to Ricoeur’s writing directly. Why, of all Ricoeur’s fascinating work read this text. Well, my primary motivation for reading Freud and Philosophy Chapter Two: The Conflict of Interpretation, is, that Rita Felski quotes it in the aforementioned Critique and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion. I intend to cover this particular article for The School Sucks Project. What I have found in this miniature genealogy of sorts is that Ricoeur plays a major role in our contemporary understanding of identity.

Felski claims that Ricoeur was able to capture the spirit of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche when he coined the phrase “hermeneutics of suspicion” What we also know, is that Ricoeur’s work on interpretation is the basis (arguably) for critical theory. This is a discipline developed by Max Horkheimer and teaches ideology as a primary obstacle to human liberation (despite being heavily influenced by neo-Marxism). Read Leaving Pleasure Island for a sense of some of the inherent dangers in this approach. Nonetheless, Ricoeur’s influence is important to identify and he does not escape charge in a trail against Post-Modernism.


Ricoeur begins the chapter with a discussion of methods of interpretation. Aristotle, he says, provides what he calls “the long answer” of interpretation. That is, Aristotle demonstrates that the sentence is the first principle of logical discourse. Nouns and verbs (sentence grammar) are thing and thing in time respectively. However, they do not form the full meaning of the logos. In other words a sentence taken in whole, the possible enunciation of Hermênia, can be rendered true or false. Ricoeur writes:

In this sense nouns, and verbs also, are themselves already interpretations, since in them we utter something. But the simple utterance or phonis is only a part taken from the total meaning of logos; the complete meaning of hermêneia appears only in the complex enunciation, the sentence… Hermênia in the complete sense, is the signification of the sentence. But in the strong sense of the logician it is the sentence susceptible to truth or falsity, that is, the declarative position (p.21).


Interpretation begins at the level of the noun. However, the noun alone is incapable of forming logos. In fact, the noun is outside of time and requires the verb in order to approach becoming the logos. The verb is essence becomes the noun-in-time. This is analogous then to music. By that I mean, music can be understood as number (arithmetic) in time. This boundary is what gives rise to interpretation. In other words, a noun alone can signify either reality or fantasy, but it can not declaratively signify truth or fantasy. The noun verb combination, for Ricoeur is when the possibility of a sentence, a declarative sentence, emerges. This is when the interlocutor can say something about something. Ricoeur writes:

Not all discourse is necessarily within the true; it does not adhere to being. In this regard, noun that designate fictitious things- the”goat-stag” of Ch.1 of the Aristotelean treatise – clearly shows that the signification without the position of existence. But we would not have thought of calling nouns “interpretation” if we did not see their signifying import. In the light of that of verbs and that of verbs in the context of discourse, and if, in its turn the signifying import of discourse were not concentrated in declarative discourse that says something of something. To say something is, in the complete and strong sense of the term, to interpret (p.22).


Aristotle’s breakthrough is A=A : A ≠ B. That is, a word must, for the purpose of communication, have one meaning. Most high school students however, learn that even if a word has one meaning emphasis and context can impact the connotation. In other words, an utterance can have at one and the same time multiple meanings depending on the  context and emphasis of enunciation.   In Ricoeur then, this is the fundamental problem of interpretation and hermeneutics. When a sentence branches off into multiple meanings, its declarative potential for revealing the Real (that is truth and not falsity) is reduced. He points to Plato’s Sophists.

As an aside, it is interesting to note here the battle that took place on this very point between Richard McKeon and Robert Pirsig at the University of Chicago. This is also where Ricoeur developed much of his own work. I highly recommend reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

In relation to sophistry though, Ricoeur writes:

The famous distinction of the many meanings of being are the categories – or figures – of predication; hence this multiplicity cut across the whole of discourse, nor can it overcome. Although it does not constitute a pure disorder of words, seeing that the different meanings of the word “being” are all ordered by reference to a first, original meaning, still this unity of reference – pros hen logomenon – does not make one signification; the notion of being, it has recently been said, is but “the problematic unity of an irreducible plurality of meanings” (pp. 23-24).


I have spoken on this site more than once now in regard to the essence of authorship. Ricoeur is quick to acknowledge the role authoring plays in hermeneutics and the evident problem this raises. More importantly however, he discusses the pre-modern role of authorship. That is, the aim of the text was to write a chapter in the “Book of Nature.” Or, the aim of every pre-modern text was to solve the problem of univocity. Ricoeur though, wrote in a post pre-modern era. Whether that was Modernity or Post-Modernity is up for debate. Significantly for Ricoeur was that the text no longer sough to write “The Book of Nature.”

Rather, it sought to solve the problem of univocity by deliberately invoking pluaravocity and here is where Freud enters the frame. Ricoeur writes:

The notion of the text – thus freed from the notion of scripture or writing – is of considerable interest. Freud often makes use of it, particularly when he compares the work of analysis to translating from one language to another; the dream account is an unintelligible text for which the analyst substitutes a more intelligible text. To understand is to make this substitution (p. 25).


Nietzsche is many thing, but in all he is a consummate philologist. To that point, Ricoeur goes even further suggesting that it was Nietzsche who brought philology to philosophy. “With him the whole of philosophy becomes interpretation” (p.25). The importance that Freud placed on dreams was in German Traumdeutung, which is a playful linguistic homage to Nietzsche’s interpretation: Deutung. The connections between Freud and Nietzsche run much deeper of course, but for now the “Deutung,” Nietzsche’s philologist philosophy is Ricoeur’s primary concern. He writes:

[Of Nietzsche’s Deutung] this point can be made: the new career opened up for the concept of interpretation is linked to a new problematic of representation, of Vorstellung. It is no longer the Kantian question of how a subjective representation or idea [Vorstellung] can have objective validity; this question, central to a critical philosophy, gives way to a more radical one (p.25).


I confess that much of what I know about Kant is derivative. For example the excellent work of Michael Sandel and Dan Harrimon. The basic concept that we can agree is evident in Kant’s work is that he answers the question of radical skepticism. That is, he acknowledges that all the world is merely electro-chemical stimulus in our brain. In other words, we operate only in the world of representations. Kant calls this “The phenomenological plane.” However, he deduced that shared recognition and the ability to accurately communicate indicates a “Real” which he called the “Nominal plane.”

Dan Harrimon in The Logical Leap accuses the Post-Kantians of getting rid of the nomial and operating purely in the realm of the phenomenological. I, although not versed enough to speak with any authority, agree with Harrimon. To get rid of the nomial is to lose all possible connection with the Real, in other words is to exist purely in a land of illusions. What I fear in this writing, is that Ricoeur has fallen into the trap of view the world as simply a real of interpretative illusions. Traumdeutung?


The problem of interpretation refers to a new possibility which is no longer either error in the epistemological sense or lying in the moral sense, but illusion, the status of which we will discuss further on. Let us leave aside for the moment the problem we shall turn to shortly, namely, the use of interpretation as a tactic of suspicion and as a battle against masks; this use calls for a very specific philosophy which subordinates the entire problem of truther and error to the expression of the Will to Power. The important point here, from the standpoint of method, is the new extension given to the exegetical concept of interpretation (p.26).


Nietzsche is the one who introduces philology to philosophy, Foucault is the one that develops the project of genealogy and Freud busts open the definition of the text. Suddenly, as Ricoeur notes, Freud is able to exponentially expand the Book of Nature by revealing other pathways for interpretation. Ricoeur will say for Freud everything becomes a text, but it is significant that Dreams were added to the Book of Nature in this move. This however, is where the issue of plurality of meaning returns to the fore. The question remains now, what of Hermeneutics?

So Deutung becomes Auslegung. This is the beauty of the German language, interpretation has two words. In English though only one. In a hermeneutic sense, Ricoeur will use this move in philosophy to create a field in which hermeneutics exists. It is a three dimensional plane rather than a two dimensional vista. Here is where this part of the close reading will end. A cliff hanger of sorts, is Ricoeur correct in this approach?

Definition duality or duality of the symbol?

This difficulty, which we shall now consider, is not a mere duplicate of the one involved in the definition of symbol; it is a difficulty peculiar to the act of interpreting as such. The difficulty – it initiated my research in the first place – is this: there is no general hermeneutics, no universal canon for exegesis, but only disparate and opposed theories concerning the rules of interpretation. The hermeneutic field, whose outer contours we have traced, is internally at variance with itself (pp.26-27).


It is perhaps too early to say if Brett Veinotte’s intuition about the hermeneutics of suspicion is right. I have fleshed out the role that Ricoeur plays in the development of this approach however. That is to say, I have begun to flesh out Ricoeur’s role in post-modernism. The issue of Post-Modernity and its lack of solid foundations may be a result of Ricoeur and his particular work outlining the conflict of interpretation. Yet that is too simplistic a position to take. Despite my reservations in Ricoeur’s post-Kantian move, his outline of hermeneutics so far has proven to be worth our time.

In part two we will dive further into the relationship between hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis. For now though we will need to take Ricoeur’s hermeneutic field at face value.



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