Hermeneutics of un Homme Capable (A Able Person)

Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics can be broadly called the hermeneutics of un Homme capable. His hermeneutics is about human capacities and vulnerabilities. This takes us to a phenomenology of human ability or capacity. It centres around the capable and fallible human. Richard Kearney inspired by Ricoeur talks about the capable God, a God who may be. This reflection on the capable human and capable God is based on the condition of possibilities. It is a philosophy of possibility. It takes us into the realm of being human in the world. We as humans are capable of several ways of being in the world. Ricoeur talks of a ‘wounded Cogito’ and affirms our vulnerability, and, fragility. We are not masters of ourselves. Fragility is our way of being human.

Being able are powers to be. If involves our ‘ can be(s)’. We have innate capacities as well as those that are acquired and cultivated by being with each other in the world. It is at the intersection of the two that our essential humanness shows itself. Being capable, we become moral. This is because we as capable persons, we are agents and responsible for our actions. Thus we become true authors of our life. Any capacity or our being able does demand recognition of our being able. But this recognition does not come free. In fact, it requires the capable or the able person to recognize the other, as a person capable of recognizing his/her capacity or the ability. But it does not mean that the primary recognition of the other’s ability to recognize the able person will not necessarily be reciprocal. It is not mutual. Therefore, Ricoeur says that recognition is a demand. This demand paradoxically requires us to recognize the other as an able person and thus let the other recognize us. . The demand for recognition is, therefore, not free from struggles and conflicts.

Being able makes us able to recognize the other as an able person. This is why an able person is naturally responsible to the other. This ability to recognize the other as able person is a foundational ability to all our other capabilities. In fact reception of recognition gives us self-esteem while its denial humiliates us. But there is one ability that produces mutuality far beyond the struggles for recognition. It is our capacity for gift exchange. Ricoeur, says that this gift exchange is visible among ancient societies in the form of ritualized exchange. Gift exchange is marked by a logic of reciprocity far removed from the logic of commodity exchange which runs on the logic of a contract. This means gift exchange produces goodwill and mutuality which generates an appeal ‘to return’ the gift that is contained in the act of giving.

We may ask; what is the source of this sense of obligation to return the gift? A gift exchange sets up a chain of gift exchanges. Some sociologists suggest that it is the unconscious recognition of the giver in the gift that generates and sustains the chain of gift exchange. Jacques Derrida contrasts the economy of gift to the economy of commodity exchange and argues that gift exchange transgresses the rules of the market and is a practice of excess in the sense of George Baitail. We find this practice of generous gift exchange in the practice of ‘an dana’ in our country. ‘An dana’ takes several forms and ceremonies where people feed people to celebrate weddings, birthdays, festivals, etc.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao