Paul Ricoeur on the Cogito
Let us in fact reflect upon what the self of self-understanding signifies, whether we appropriate the sense of a psychoanalytic interpretation or that that of a textual exegesis. In truth, we do not know beforehand, but only afterward, although our desire to understand ourselves has alone guided this appropiation. Why is this so? Why is the self that guides the interpretation able to recover itself only as a result of the interpretation?Man's essence is his essential belonging together with being, which is enacted through appropriation (Ereignis), a hermeneutic process of gathering beings into a context in which meaning can appear (or beings can appear in a meaningful way; can they "appear" in any other way?). Thus, his identity, his existence, is intimately tied to the "documents of [his] life" through which his gathering, his appropriating, is incarnated.
There are two reasons for this: it must be stated, first, that the celebrated Cartesian cogito, which grasps itself directly in the experience of doubt, is a truth as vain as it is invincible. I do not deny that it is a truth; it is a truth which posits itself, and as such it can be neither verified or deduced. It posits at once a being and an act, an existence and an operation of thought: I am, I think; to exist, for me, is to think; I exist insofar as I think. But this is a vain truth; it is like a first step which cannot be followed by any other, so long as the ego of the ego cogito has not been recaptured in the mirror of its objects, of its works, and, finally, of its acts. Reflection is blind intuition if it is not mediated by what Dilthey called the expressions in which life objectifies itself. Or, to use the language of Jean Nabert, reflection is nothing other than the appropriation of our act of existing by means of a critique applied to the works and the acts which are the signs of this act of existing. Thus, reflection is a critique, not in the Kantian sense of a justification of science and duty, but in the sense that the cogito can be recovered only by the detour of a decipherment of the documents of its life. Reflection is the appropriation of our effort to exist and of our desire to be by means of the works which testify to this effort and this desire.
Paul Ricoeur, "Existence and Hermeneutics," Kathleen McLaughlin, trans. in The Conflict of Interpretations, Don Ihde, ed. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 17-18.
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