Philosopher Paul Ricoeur Receives Paul VI International Award

French Thinker Harmonizes Faith and Reason in His Research

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 6, 2003 ( John Paul II conferred the Paul VI International Award on Paul Ricoeur, 90, regarded by many experts as a major figure among contemporary European philosophers.

In the award ceremony Saturday, the Pope stressed that the philosopher’s research «manifests how fruitful is the relation between philosophy and theology, between faith and culture.»

This relation should be circular, the Holy Father said. «Theology’s source and starting point must always be the word of God,» he said. «Yet, since God’s word is Truth, the human search for truth — philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules — can only help to understand God’s word better.»

The Committees of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia, Italy, decided last Sept. 21 to give Ricoeur the award in recognition of «a philosopher and at the same time a committed man of faith.» «His testimony of great intellectual honesty and his courage in the defense of human and Christian values are not the only reasons for this decision,» the committees said in a statement. «It is necessary to recall Paul Ricoeur’s contribution, of Reformed confession, to ecumenical dialogue.»

The award’s 100,000 euros ($114,800) will be given, at Ricoeur’s request, to the «Fondation John Bost,» a French charity that aids the physically and mentally disabled, and people with problems of social integration.

Past recipients of the Paul VI award include theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities.

Born in Valence, France, in 1913, Ricoeur was interested in the principal philosophic currents of the 20th century, particularly phenomenology, existentialism and the philosophy of language — the latter understood as an instrument of revelation, and not in the traditional Anglo-Saxon analytical sense.

Ricoeur’s research makes him a master of one of the key configurations of contemporary philosophy, hermeneutics, or the science of interpretation.

The greatest merit recognized in Ricoeur’s thought is of having offered an interpretation of the interpretations which explains their variety, without placing them at the same level (relativism) nor preferring one to another.

The essence of his thought is found in a 2000 book, «La Memoire, l’histoire, l’oubli.»

«The first part of my philosophical work was a reflection on evil, developed at the level of its expression in symbols, myths, in the great philosophical-theological interpretations,» he told Vatican Radio over the weekend.

«But I would say that this is only one aspect of the problem,» Ricoeur added. «In my work, there is a progressive evolution: from a feeling of culpability I have increasingly opened, through a particularly painful personal experience, to that which I would call the culture of compassion. It is an active compassion, which tends to diminish evil.»

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