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Ricoeur, Paul

  1. David Pellauer

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee214

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Pellauer, D. 2013. Ricoeur, Paul. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) was one of the leading French philosophers of the twentieth century. His writings addressed a wide range of questions and issues in philosophy. His work, which began from phenomenology, moved on to hermeneutics, and then, in the last years of his life, dealt more explicitly with ethics both as theory and in relation to moral and political problems of the day. While he always acknowledged an ethical dimension to his work, the fullest statement of that ethics did not appear until quite late in his career. In his Gifford Lectures, published as Oneself as Another, he presents what he calls his “little ethics.” The basis of this ethics is the idea of a good life lived with and for others in just institutions. This is an ethics that necessarily involves three “moments”: a teleological idea of a good life, a deontological moment comprising the normative principles meant to achieve that life, and a practical moment that arises when we have to apply this teleological idea and its normative expression to concrete situations. These may include difficult cases where it will be necessary to bend the rule given the specific circumstances or to negotiate a conflict between possible applicable rules. This latter moment, which Ricoeur speaks of as one that calls for practical wisdom, is in the hardest cases one where the choice is between bad and worse rather than simply between an obvious right and wrong. It is also possible to read this threefold schema backwards in some cases; for example, in the case of a newly discovered disease where a physician must deal with the patient for the first time, but then shares her results with colleagues who go on to develop treatment protocols and learn to refer them back to a broader understanding of the idea of good health.


  • continental philosophy;
  • ethics;
  • evil;
  • identity;
  • justice;
  • Kant, Immanuel;
  • narrative;
  • philosophy;
  • self;
  • tolerance