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Social Philosophy

Sources and Implications in Paul Ricoeur's Ideology Concept (1)

Marcelo Felix Tura

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ABSTRACT: This paper intends to shed light on the issue of ideology as found in the work of Ricoeur. According to Ricoeur, ideology is not only distortive of social reality; it is as well related to society's power and integration, which in fact changes our way of understanding the entire world. Ideology is an endless and unresolvable problem, since there is no non-ideological place from which to discuss ideology. The phenomenological hermeneutic is employed in an attempt to mediate ideological phenomena in a Ricoeur-like fashion.

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1. Introduction

Once the contemporary trend in Philosophy moves toward the praxis, our aim in this paper is to take this point into amount to trace the main features of Paul Ricoeur concept of ideology.

As a minor purpose we provide a Theoretical framework to think deeply about political and social praxis. This is so as a matter of make them feasible answers to problems that have been appearing recently.

It is important to highlight the contribution of Paul Ricoeur to Social Philosophy and Ethics. Ricoeur shows a bright and powerful way to make his points understandable, besides showing a good classical education on discussing issues that requires a philosophical tradition.

2. A Brief Historical Overview on the Concept of Ideology

This section presents a brief historical overview on the concept of ideology from its original sources to sophisticated definitions taking the hermeneutic method as granted.

The word ideology was created by Destutt de Tracy to define the main purposes of science that aims to understand the ideas, its characteristics and laws and its relation to the signs that represent it as well. After that the same acquires another meanings to other philosophers as Auguste Comte and Émile Durkeim.

Ideology is also assumed to be a way of social reality hiding which means a disclosure in the most definitions found in many dictionaries of Philosophy. Moreover it tries to represent a fraud world, imposing a dominant social class point of view to the lower classes. From Ricoeur's point of view, it is possible to realize this is a narrow view which stresses only the negative side of the discussion.

In order to advance in such a discussion, Ricoeur's proposal is to rethink the problem until it is possible to find a duple sense and a wider point of view. There is a long history words with respect to a false suspicion Marxism is only one link in this chain.

Ricoeur, in Ideology and Utopia, provides a short historical on this question. It starts with the political philosophers, them he shows there are more than one Marx: the young Marx, humanist described by the books The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology; and the adult and classical Marx represented by The Capital. At this point, the main concern of Marx was the economic structures of a society.

When working on the concept of ideology, the young Marx criticized the idealism which rescues the point that most of the ideas come as an autonomous reality and not linked to life and communal work processes.

In Marx, the classical, the concept of ideology acquires a sense of knowledge in opposition to the one of science. From this point on, the concept of ideology is taken and developed by the Frankfurt school as a source for Positivism Sociology criticism and by the structural Marxism of Louis Althusser.

By reading the book Ideology and Utopia by Mannheim, Ricoeur discusses science and ideology and examines some other radical functions for ideology besides the one that contemplates the reality's distortion and dissimulation. Then the use of the analysis on authority by Max Weber is a way to demonstrate the function of integration in the society is recursive in Ricoeur. According to him, this guarantees the identity of the social groups.

It is possible to state, according to Ricoeur, that the modern thought became an issue of interpretation where an essential discussion concerns illusion. Ricoeur's philosophy is a way of thinking which purpose is to disentangle the illusions of the subject. This opens a discussion that posits doubt on the immediate certainty of the Cartesian meditation and also shows how false is the initial proposition on certainty. Then, Ricoeur states it is the duty of a modern philosopher to interpret signs and ideology through a hermeneutic point of view.

This is also the purpose of contemporaneous philosophy which starts from human perspective and criticizes the illusion of the subject. A common point is established between Ethics and Politics which implies on setting up the basic rights in a society, mainly those related to wealth distribution and social justice.

The ideological phenomenon appears in a post-industrial society in what concerns the reality dissimulation. Major conflicts in the society which try to provide answers to national debates is a result of this condition on illusion. In Brazil, a less developed country, we have been witnessing conflicts provoked by ideologies that save the issue of keeping a post-industrial society status. Others, however go for in industrial society and others yet point out of problems of an already industrialized one.

3. Sources of the Concept of Ideology in Paul

In a very brief way we are going to follow the way Ricoeur does in his book Ideology and Utopia to go over the concept of ideology once-one taking the concept of ideology in Marx, Althusser, Mannheim, Weber, Habermas and Geertz as granted.

Ricoeur starts with an apparent sense to deduce the fundamental sense of ideology. He emphasizes the function of ideology: first, the reality dissimulation; second, the authorities legitimacy and third, the social integration.

The analysis in Ricoeur starts from Marx, i.e. the most common and apparent conception of the ideological phenomenon: the reality's dissimulation which takes into account the opposition between ideology (ideal plan) and praxis (real plan). It goes also through Althusser and his structural approach about Marxism which states another apposition, between science and ideology.

As a turning point on this track, Ricoeur takes the Mannhein's approach into account with respect to the ideological phenomenon to show there is no such a scientific neutral place to discuss the concept of ideology. Therefore we are not able to separate science from ideology and the main knowledge on reality is clearly affected by ideology.

From Weber, Ricoeur tries to find a new way to treat the ideological phenomenon, pointing to a second concept of ideology: the authority's legitimacy. There is an difference between the intentions of those who are in power and the authority's legitimacy and, according to Ricoeur, this is called political "plus-valor". Ideology is always hiding this difference.

Following Ricoeur analysis up it is necessary to criticize the concepts of ideology by the reason they are always linked to power. He also takes some concepts from Habermas doing an approximation between the criticism on ideologies and psychoanalysis.

After submitting ideology to a variety of criticisms, Ricoeur, based from Geertz, finally points to the third characteristic of ideology: the society integration. Beyond dissimulation and legitimacy, ideology has a function of maintaining the identity and group integration in the society.

According to Ricoeur there is a dialectical relation between social sciences and ideology, so any trial to separate it is wasteful. There is also, a link between ideology and contemporaneous society conflicts which reinforce the necessity of new approaches to mediate them in a post-industrial society.

4. Objection to Ricoeur's Approach

Once the problem of philosophical fundamentals is posit, it has been raised an objection to Ricoeur's approach concerning the ideological phenomenon. On this perspective, the ideology affects the entire knowledge about reality, which means there is a no-ideological position to talk about ideology. It is used to state that philosophy and science, mainly the social sciences, are plenty of ideologies, so they are mostly seen, in a broader sense, as synonyms of hiding and dissimulation of reality. Therefore, science and Philosophy also hide and dissimulate the reality and the scientific and philosophical theories are not so rigorous. Moreover, they are not compromised to the truth.

This objection sets a question on scientific neutrality and the necessity of a distinction between Philosophy and ideology. Ricoeur's philosophical thinking is able to give am answer to this point of view.

Ricoeur's fundamental concerning is to avoid an entire reality reflection and a monolitical speech that ends up in a absolute truth. That is because he declares himself against the scientific neutrality proposed by the Positivism and Funcionalist approaches. According to him, science is objective knowledge that is a matter of control and observation with no subject intermission.

On an another perspective, according to Ricoeur, assuming an opposite position can leave us with a Relativist approach in scientific research. It turns out the results obtained are not universally valid and plenty of Historicism.

There exists a more confortable and objective point of view to make science and Philosophy which is feasible only after a critical procedure that involves the illusion of subject though a hermeneutic of the signs, a way to mediate the reality's understanding.

According to Ricoeur, the main role of Philosophy is to unveil the sense of real by passing the ideological and utopic distortion. It is only at the end of process of scientific inquire that we will obtain it.

In order to reach this matter, the French philosopher proposes a hermeneutic historical comprehension, a longer way to state the problem. As a matter of fact, this way establishes a critical instance between pre-comprehension of reality and the pre-conception due to the distance widening of the attribute and the criticism of ideology and subject illusions.

It is possible to state the intensive knowledge is based upon interests, so it is a matter of manipulation, domination and communication distortion. The duty of Philosophy is to denounce them once they are a source for producing subject illusions.

Ricoeur is compromised with a project of man's emancipating due to a process of criticism, though he also warns about the necessity of assuming our historical condition. There is no such radical critics able to entirely break the attribute basis which the historical condition is based upon.

Ideology is linked to wrong comprehension of reality and interests. It is endowed with some special features: speech violence, dissimulation and biases on enumerating exploration and causes.

Ideology transforms the knowledge into a system of beliefs, so, a good scientific investigation develops due to rational system, where the main concern is the truth. However, an interest moved researcher is not able to separate reason from beliefs on his scientific investigation.

The criticism involved in ideology points to an interest in emancipation, i.e., to establish a communication with no fetter and limit though a process of consensus constitution. Consensus is not previously established. Conversely the communication is interrupted at a starting point level.

Ricoeur establishes a dialect between ideology and Philosophy without identifying one with the other. He shows us how close them is the Philosophy's duty of criticizing the ideologies.

Ideology assumes two new senses in Ricoeur: one of authority's legitimacy and other of social integration which deep and wide our personal understanding about the phenomena. It is not possible to us to consider only the negative aspects of ideology, but we should also take into amount its positive aspect narrowing science and ideology.

We can also state scientific neutrality is not a possible issue to Ricoeur, because the scientific rigorous will be only reached after the sense of the real though a critical process of subject: illusions.

According to the French philosopher ideology and utopia are demonstration of the social imaginary. Ideology is in opposite place than utopia and we can only criticize the concepts of ideology though utopia. Ideology is conservative: it aims to maintain the system of power while utopia is something revolutionary because it seeks to invert the establishment.

Hermeneutic while approach on ideology is finally completed by utopia, because it is its own limit: i.e., the ideological approach send us to the notion of utopia and vice-versa.

The way Ricoeur discusses utopia deserves a deep and systematic approach which is not the purpose of this paper which is limited to the study of ideology. A deeper approach of utopia is left as a future research.

5. Conclusion

According to Ricoeur, Philosophy is "an appropriation of our existence effort and of our desire of being despite of the ways that witness this effort and desire". (2) Ricoeur interprets Philosophy as a critical reflection on the literature and arts that are signs of existence where the cognitive only is appropriated as to a deciphering of the documents of one's life.

This paper does not exhaust all the implications of Ricoeur's discussion on ideology. Then we emphasize the sources where he is based upon by briefly mentioning a new ethical perspective that arises from his approach: the statement about good life among people involved into fair institutions. This statement can be found in his books: Soi-memme comme un autre, Du texte a l'action.

It is our aim to highlight the importance of a hermeneutic approach to Social Philosophy. Some of the characteristic of the hermeneutic method appear in Ricoeur's writings as the approaches and concepts comparisons, making new conflicts in contemporaneous societies open, submit these different approaches to criticism and look for a broader perspective with respect to socials phenomena that trespass the interpretation conflicts.

Ricoeur's philosophical project traces out a better approximation between the subject and the real looking for answers to the problems of existence presented by the historical reality. He looks for deeper senses that affects the individual existence in the world, then he proposes a sign hermeneutic that constitutes the subject and world's realities. This is like a text that should be translated and interpreted.

The sense of the real, according to Ricoeur, is built up historically by the subject's experience and mediated by the social, political, economic and cultural contexts. The sense is not given by an immediate checking of the real by the subject, though built up through History. There is an historicity of the sense inherited by the cultural tradition.

There is a long way to a complete comprehension about real. The initial certainty on the Cartesian knowledge and on a right use of the language signs are not enough to point out how the real is constituted. It is necessary a psychoanalytical process, i.e., an interior analysis of the subject in order to explain non-rational conditionings of the knowledge process. This also means an enlargement of the concept of reason.

It is a very difficult and constant matter to interpret the real which proves this task is a matter of continuos interpretation. The scientific method rigorous vanish out under the impact of social, historical, political and economic and on the psychological conditionings of the subject.

The art of making Philosophy became an endless process of criticism and interpretation.

Once the social action is mediated by the signs, there exists an unveiled dispute among the various interpretation methods which generates the famous conflict of interpretation.

The points of view of Ricoeur are highly innovative and they approximate the real world philosophical reflection tradition and the interpretation of subject's action.

The approximation of the French philosopher with the psychoanalysis, mainly the Freudian one, opens a new and wide field to Philosophy.

Some of the Ricoeur's approach take us to Jung. We can point, as an example, the Ricoeur's approach to the social imaginary remind us the issue of collective unconsciousness in Jung. A more rigorous exam on this approximation between them would require a comparative study that is not the scope of this paper.

I agree with Ricoeur with respect to the discussion involving ideology, because it is not possible to find a better approach than this.

Ricoeur's approach on ideology reveals the linkage between knowledge, power and ideology. We can state the ideological phenomenon is intrinsic to the human process of knowledge.

The main contribution of the French philosopher on this issue concerns the fact the ideological phenomenon is not related only to the economic phenomenon, but to the political, social and cultural ones. Ideology does not come only from the process of domination of a social class, but comes out from a system of power created in a society.

We can also state the ideological phenomenon is endless and not available, because it is not possible to sustain a non-ideological approach when talking about ideology.

Finally, following this approach, it is necessary to revise the main textbooks on ideology. Some of them need a new approach, for example, the ideology of labor, ideology and propaganda, ideology and media, textbooks' ideology and the counter-ideology. It is necessary to seek deeper sense for ideological phenomenon and related issues.

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This paper is part of my Master dissertation in Social Philosophy presented at Pontifical Catholic University at Campinas.

P. RICOEUR. The conflict of interpretation.


- RICOEUR, Paul. History and Truth. Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1965. [trans. and intr. by Charles A Kelbley Evanston].

_____________. The conflict of interpretation. Evanston Northwestern University Press, 1974.

_____________. Political and social essays. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1975.

_____________. Lectures on ideology and utopia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

______________. Du texte a l' action. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1986.

_____________. Soi-meme comme un autre. Chicago: Un. Of Chicago Press, 1992. [trans. By Kathleen Blamey].

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