Ricoeur vs. the Leviathan

By a happy coincidence, three items crossed my path during the Christmas holidays: a DVD of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film, Leviathan, Kissinger’s World Order and Ricoeur’s Kluge speech. Well, I had been puzzling over how best to present this speech for a long time. The other two items were presents for the family; one of which did end up wrapped under our Christmas tree, though the other never did, despite good intentions, and even having cut out some wrapping paper for it.

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), was awarded the Kluge prize in December 2004 by the US Library of Congress, in recognition of the humanism attributed to his life’s work, and in his acceptance speech, he reflects on the bases of this humanism. Encapsulating a lifetime’s work in a few minutes, his speech is entitled “Asserting personal capacities and pleading for mutual recognition“.

Here, he speaks of the two ends of the pole of human relations, the capacities a human agent attributes to him or herself, and the recourse to others required to give this personal certainty a social status, and he ends with the context in which this takes place, the social bond.

And this is where the Leviathan comes in. Being a speech, Ricoeur naturally leaves out references. And at the end of a busy work year, one’s brain and memory is in that suspended state where one cannot quite place a thing. So, when he proposes an alternative hypothesis to the myth of all against all in nature, it took both the film, and soon afterwards, an explanatory passage in Kissinger’s insightful history of international relations, for the penny to drop – Hobbes! We are so used to believing in Hobbes’ theory of all against all, that we forget it is merely a theory.

Ricoeur, when he speaks of good will, generosity and recognizing oneself in the other, and hearkens back to the ancient activities of gift exchange and celebration (a concept of Marcel Mauss’s which he studies in depth in The Course of Recognition, 2005, 225-245)* is proposing an equally valid scenario. One of compromise in the unpredictable encounters between fallible human beings.

By recognizing the other as oneself, do we perhaps not come nearer to Buber’s I and thou, instead of oneself and another?

*In an earlier section (161-171) of this work, Ricoeur devotes some thoughts to Hobbes, which will be the subject of a future blog post.

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