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Paul Ricoeur on the constant core of the self

by Christoph Email

In another chapter of his book, Thiselton shortly expound Paul Ricoeur┬?s model (mainly based on Time and Narrative, vol. 3) of self-identity. Ricoeur touches on the age-old quest for the ┬?constant core┬? of the self, the element which links all individual experiences, impressions and moments into a coherent person. The basic problem has always been, that the self, as far as we know it, is anything but constant. With every moment, every experience, and every new element of learning the self is changing (This assumption is actually the very basis of the so-called ┬?hermeneutical circle┬?). Yet, we always speak of this ever-changing self as ┬?the same person.┬? In Ricoeur┬?s model, there is no constant, unifying core of the self. Yet, at the same time, it is not reduced to the helpless self of postmodernity, either. Rather, there is something which provides an external structure to self-identity: narrative. The self cannot be understood apart from its temporality, its embedding into an ongoing narrative, whose plot helps to determine who exactly the individual is at any given time. I find Ricoeur┬?s model attractive for a number of reasons:
  1. It provides good reason to abandon old dualistic models of the human being ┬? seeing that the efforts to split a person into elements like body and soul usually just mark the attempt to find the one element that could be the ┬?constant core.┬?
  2. It makes all the more sense once the right narrative is chosen: I am who I am not because of any constant element in my personality. I am who I am because I am part of God┬?s great narrative, in which he has chosen to love this ever-changing self as my person.
  3. It contains a further important parallel to Christian soteriology. While the self is always constantly shaped by its experience and by the unfolding narrative plot, Ricoeur allows for a special case: a major change or shift in the plot of the underlying narrative may lead to a complete ┬?reconstitution┬? of the self. Now, wouldn┬?t the moment where you are transformed from a sinner to a saint in the eyes of God have to be considered a major plot change? What is ┬?reconstituted┬? would then be the ┬?new creation┬?/the ┬?new man┬? the New Testament is always talking about.
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