from Ricoeur's 'Time and Narrative' to 'Oneself as an Other'

Paul Ricœur approaches the problem of  personal identity’s ethical dimension.


from Ricoeur's 'Time and Narrative' to 'Oneself as an Other'
by Maria Villela-Petit

Two quite distinct studies, on Augustine and Aristotle respectively, introduce the problematic of Paul Ricoeur's great trilogy -- Time and Narrative. The first, focusing on the XIth chapter of Augustine's Confessions, lays out the paradoxes that arise inevitably whenever we attempt to think through our inner experience of time. The other study looks towards Aristotle's Poetics and brings into focus the question of mimesis as the representation of action through the composition of a plot, that is, of a story forming the object of the representation in question, the mimesis.

Ricoeur's aim is to reconstruct the mediations required in order to connect the question of narrative with that of time and, in so doing, to establish the central thesis of the work: it is to narrative that the registering of human time is entrusted. In other words, narratives encode, and so preserve, the memory of what deserves to be remembered or, on the contrary, of what was so awful and ignominious in the lives of human beings that forgetfulness would be like a second death for the victims.

Human time is then the time of our life stories (or histories), considered either at an individual or at a collective level as the history of our communities. Thus human time is neither the inner time of each consciousness -- which Augustine tried to grasp despite the difficulties he so eloquently expressed and which Husserl sought to describe in terms of its essential structures in his Lessons on the inner consciousness of time -- nor even the cosmic time based on the regular movement of the stars, a time that mankind has always and everywhere been taken note of in order to measure time out in days, months, years -- before clocks made it possible to do the same thing in terms of minutes, seconds and so on.

When Ricoeur distinguishes human time both from inner and from cosmic time, what he wants to do is call our attention to the time of human action and suffering. Only in and through the act of telling a story can this time acquire a figure and, in so doing, be preserved from oblivion as 'time passes by'.

Narrative is a linguistic construction which mediates between the lived time of consciousness and that cosmic time which is regulated by the stars and which we now measure by mechanical devices. For it is the stars that, in their very indifference to us, enable human activities to be marked by time.

Two main kinds of narrative can to be found in our culture. On the one side, we have narratives as 'fiction' which, even if they take their start in real events, depart from reality and present themselves as works of imagination, not being subjected to methodological procedures. On the other, we have historical narratives which, being based on documents and all sorts of factual material, aspire to being objective. But even the latter cannot altogether dispense with the narrative resources of composition. For they appeal to the historian's creative imagination, to his ability to tell a 'story'.

It is only at the end of a long and patient exploration in the course of which he seeks to establish the connection between 'the activity of telling a story' and the 'temporal character of human experience'(1) -- without overlooking the epistemological and methodological problems at issue on the historical side (2), not to mention those arising from semiotic and literary analyses -- that Ricoeur is able to elaborate the notion of a 'narrative identity'.

As matter of fact, the reader is not confronted with this notion and the questions which it entails until the 'Conclusion' of the trilogy, that is, in the third volume. Moreover, these questions arise out of the very narrative answer given by Ricoeur's work to the philosophical challenge represented by the question of time itself. If there is such a thing as a story, it is because there are people who act and suffer. In other words, story telling makes it be that there is someone who can be referred to when we ask: 'Who has done this?', 'Who has behaved in this way?', or 'To whom did such a thing happen?'

This comes down to asserting that an individual or collective entity can only be identified along with and through the act of composing what we call a narrative, be it of the fictive or the historical kind. As Ricoeur states (3) in a condensed formula: 'the story relates the Whom of the action'. Or, as he also puts it: 'the identity of this whom is no other than his narrative identity'(4).

At this level, the answer to the question Who? is the narrative itself, which may amount to little more than the use of a few narrative sentences to outline a story. As Hannah Arendt had already emphasised: 'Who someone is or was can only said if we know his or her story, that is his or her biography'(5).

To consider the Who-question in such a way has repercussions for the problem of personal identity. This problem was worked out by Locke, to whom we owe one of the first formulations of the question of self identity. It is true that in order to 'solve' such a problem, Locke sought to distinguish two sorts of criteria, those relative to the 'body', and those relative to 'mind'(6). Despite Locke's intention to overcome Cartesian dualism, this distinction merely confirmed the split between mind and body. Or alternatively, it led to sceptical conclusions, as was the case with Hume.

The notion of 'a narrative identity' allows one to think through the question of 'personal identity' in a new way, taking into full account the temporal dimension (the temporality) of a being (7) who, by existing with others in the horizon of a common world, is led to transform him (her)self in the course of a life history, that is, who is what he or she is only in the course of becoming himself or herself. This notion also makes it possible for Ricoeur to distinguish two dimensions within the pseudo-unitarian notion of identity: identity as sameness (Latin: idem); and identity as selfhood (Latin: ipse).

A self understood as the who of a history (story), the one upon whom the story confers a sort of identity, is a self whose temporalisation shapes itself in accordance with a narrative model.

It is precisely this question of selfhood that is addressed as one of the 'Conclusions' of Time and Narrative. And if this question is considered simply and solely in the light of 'narrative identity', it could be said that a question which initially formed only a part of the more general question of narrative identity now becomes the central question of Oneself as an Other, indeed its main concern.

It is characteristic of Ricoeur's (8) procedure to take up again as the theme of a new reflection and inquiry what was left over as a sort of problematic 'residue' in a previous work. This does indeed help to explain the thematic succession of his works. Thus, at a certain critical point in its development, Oneself as an Other had to tackle the question of 'narrative identity' from a different point of view. Ricoeur explains this difference in a note to chapter V of that work. If in Time and Narrative Ricoeur's appeal to such a notion was made in order to overcome the dualism between the main kinds of narrative, that is fictional and historical, now narrative identity has to be considered from the standpoint of its contribution to an understanding of the self. As he puts it, referring to Time and Narrative: 'I worked out, then, the hypothesis that the narrative identity, of a person or of a community, would be the place (locus) where one might expect to locate the intersection of history and fiction'. But, as he acknowledges, this aim 'in a certain sense did not allow him to pay due attention to the enormous difficulties linked to the identity question as such'(9).

The thesis I hope to develop here in outline is the following: Oneself as an Other shows that selfhood cannot be reduced to a form of narrative identity. And this, because the question of selfhood exceeds that of narrative identity.

It is precisely this excess that brings to the fore the ethical dimension of the self, thereby inviting the question: how selfhood is associated with narrative identity, without being absorbed into it. Only on this basis is it possible to do justice to the ethical patterns embodied in the very act of telling a story. To put it otherwise: When we tell a story we inevitably prefer a certain course of action to others, we value one character and devalue another. The axiological neutrality of narrative is not equivalent to ethical neutrality.

In addition to this mutual and reciprocal interplay between selfhood and narrative identity, we also have to try to understand why there is no significant reference to Augustine's Confessions in Oneself as an Other, which, as we have seen, provides the material needed to introduce the question of time in Time and Narrative. We might well have expected Augustine's Confessions to play an equally important role here too.

Let us leave until later our explanation of this omission and return first to the contribution made to the notion of self identity by that of narrative identity. We have to bear in mind that, for Paul Ricoeur, a 'philosophy of selfhood' is needed to replace the philosophy of the ego, the advantage being that the refusal of the latter makes it possible to dispense with the claim of a transcendental egology to furnish an epistemological foundation for philosophy (10).

In opposition to an ego that, in a specific act of reflection, removes itself from the world, the self recognises itself as having been given over to itself, thereby at the same time acknowledging, as fundamental to its very being, its essential passivity (11). In sum, the self understands itself by being open to otherness and affected by it. It follows that, in its own apprehension of selfhood, the self feels itself vulnerable, exposed to others and to those actions of the other by which it is affected, and this whether the actions in question are its own or those done by others. This amounts to saying that this kind of self-apprehension encompasses a temporal experience which schematises itself as a life history. Thus, narrative identity presents itself as the essential structure of human identity and so of human self-understanding.

Ricoeur also holds narrative identity responsible for mediating between the two poles of personal identity, the pole of sameness (idem), referred to by what we call character, a set of innate or acquired attitudes and capacities, and the pole of selfhood (ipse), including trustworthiness and faithfulness to oneself, despite all the deviation and transformations which mark the path of life.

The latter polarity is the key to what Ricoeur names his 'philosophy of selfhood', where narrative identity ensures a mediation between the two poles (character and selfhood). Character can be the object of a narrative thanks to a narrative identity through which it is referred to the temporal becoming of a particular existence. However, it is only when we return the pole of selfhood that the ethical dimension of a person (its personal identity) can be fully revealed.

By remaining true to oneself (with regard to which the crucial experience is that of keeping one's word), the identity of the self emerges in response to the continuous changes which occur in the course of a life, and this in the form of a relation to an other which is constitutive of one very own self. The dialectical relationship involved in being true to oneself also makes it possible for the self to be true to others. As Ricoeur puts it: 'to be faithful to oneself is for a person to behave in such a way that an other person can rely upon him or her'(12).

My self-engagement in keeping my word makes it possible for another to trust me, which at the same time assures me of my own internal consistency, of my own identity. The result is not some sort of sticking to oneself by dint of stiffness or inflexibility but rather what is meant by being reliable, responsible.

So, for Ricoeur, ethics has its place within a philosophy of selfhood. The corollary of this is the impossibility of reducing ethics to the question of moral obligation, as in a Kantian horizon, where the subject (viewed exclusively from a transcendental point of view) subjects himself to the categorial imperative as the form through which the moral law presents itself to him. Beyond the universality of the moral law, there is the aspiration for a true and good life. Because this could seen as something of a paradox, what now has to be done is to complete the Kantian ethics with an ethics drawn from Aristotle (13).

But what does this call for a true life, placed under the sign of the Good and heard within oneself, actually consist in? Ricoeur answers: 'I am called to live well with and for the other within righteous (fair) institutions'(14).

This formulation lets us see how each one of us is responsible for developing his own answer to the injunction to lead a good life, a life oriented toward the Good. It is the diversity of our personal answers to this call that explains the variety of those narratives by means of which our life experiences get told. Through them we are confronted with the crises of identity that have affected the self in the past and that can even lead to a loss of self. Some of these crises may be analysed as permanent, as in cases where the self is diluted 'for ever'. Here Ricoeur draws our attention to a type of experience which has been analysed in novels such as Robert Musil's: The Man without Qualities . But the self can also be presented in a multitude of facets, as in the heteronymous works of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (15). More generally, we have also to consider here cases in which the self is called upon to decide, to decide for him or her self in a radical way. Among those crisis experiences which call the identity of the self in question may also be included radical 'conversion' experiences. Ricoeur refers briefly to such experiences when he mentions 'dramatic transformations in personal identity', adding: 'Innumerable narratives of conversion attest to these obscure nights of personal identity'(16).

To be sure, the conclusions drawn above are developed in a context which makes no reference to Augustine's Confessions. But for this very reason they invite the question: How is it that Oneself as an Other , a text in which narrative identity is intimately connected with the question of the self, does not make reference to Augustine's work? In other words, what led Ricoeur to avoid mentioning this paradigmatic work?

Admittedly, much of the eloquence of Augustine's is due to the fact that this text was taken as a point of departure by such great representatives of philosophical hermeneutics as Dilthey, (from whom in particular Ricoeur borrows the notion of the coherence of a life [Zusammenhang des Lebens] ), who saw in it an inaugural work in the long Western tradition of spiritual biography. Despite the ironical distance assumed by the author, such a tradition is still present in James Joyce's .

In the Confessions, in which 'one life is gathered together in narrative form', we find a significant inter-relation between the elaboration of narrative identity (a narrative in the first person) and the question of selfhood, that of the author , Augustine, Bishop of Hipona. By confessing before God and communicating this confession to others, regarded as brothers, Augustine seeks to edify these others. The Confessions tell the story of the author. Presenting himself initially under the theological concept of sin, Augustine shows how, with God's grace and after long hesitation, he is able eventually to undergo this remarkable mutation we call a conversion. Thus the Confessions narrate the constitution of a converted self and deal with the meaning a self is able to confer upon him(her)self, that is, upon his(her) own existence considered as gift received from Another, more specifically, from a transcendent Other. The aim of the Confessions is then to enable the human creature to recognise itself as being loved and so to be able to respond by love to this Love by whom and through whom it is called into being.

Why then did Ricoeur not undertake to analyse the Confessions in the context of Oneself as an Other, along much the same lines as those adopted in the 'introduction' to Time and Narrative?

A first answer to this question has to do with the perspective adopted by a work such as Oneself as an Other. As the title itself suggests, the otherness in view here (note the indefinite article 'as an other') is not a transcendent otherness.

Indeed in Oneself as an Other, Ricoeur deals with the meta-category of otherness under three main heads: the world's otherness, the otherness of an other person (as an ego like myself), and the otherness of the self to him(her)self. The latter otherness is one which is inherent to the self: either the self of the body or that of consciousness, as implied in expressions like the 'voice of conscience', 'a matter of conscience'.

Moreover, it is worth noting that in One self as an Other, Ricoeur does not undertake Case Studies like those developed in Time and Narrative -- with the sole exception of Sofocles' Antigone (where the analysis is printed in italics) which is used to illustrate the 'tragedy of action' and which provides a transition from the question of the moral norm (Kant) to that of practical wisdom (Aristotle) in the constitution of the self. In Oneself as an Other he only take into consideration works whose conception and argumentation are clearly philosophical in character. The work starts with a semantic approach to identifying reference, then takes on a semantic and pragmatic investigation of action before finally raising the question of narrative identity and selfhood. Thus, as it progresses, it moves in the direction of an ever more complete recognition of the ethical dimension of the ipse, of the self.

Had Ricoeur decided to let the Confessions play an important part in his reasoning, it would have been difficult for him to maintain a rigorously philosophical approach, that is, one not coloured with theological preconceptions. Thus, the absence of that work from Oneself as an Other can be explained by the need to distinguish a philosophical from a theological approach and this with a view to preserving the integrity of the 'philosophy of selfhood' and granting real autonomy to its ethical implications.

As matter of fact, Ricoeur had already made this point when he explained why he excluded from publication the last two of a series of lectures given at Edinburgh under the auspices of the Gifford lectures (17) and which were seminal to Oneself as an Other. The two lectures so excluded made appeal to biblical hermeneutics and to Ricoeur's deeply felt religious convictions, and so went beyond the limits of a strictly philosophical enquiry.

Notwithstanding, the question of the self seems to call for a more open horizon than any that can be kept within philosophical bounds. Ricoeur himself would not have denied such a claim. If we take into account one of his recent writings, entitled Love and Justice (18), first printed in a bilingual edition in Germany, we should add that it is precisely the elaboration of a philosophy of selfhood, together with its ethical dimension, that allows for a meta-ethical relationship to the other. It is this meta-ethical dimension that is implied by the experience of love, mainly the experience of God's love, which represents the summit of the selfhood experience in Augustine's Confessions.

The question of love, and above all of God's love (that love which motivates the writing of the Confessions) can not be forced into the mould of a strictly ethical analysis. Even though, in Love and Justice, Ricoeur is primarily concerned with an ethical analysis, the expression of love inevitably relies upon poetical language. We should never forget that in the Confessions the self that confronts God composes and sings hymns of praise (laudatio) and thanksgiving. Moreover, from God's love, more particularly that love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, comes the new commandment: to love one's enemies. Referring to the way in which this commandment is formulated in the Gospel according to St Luke (VI, 27) and drawing a comparison with the 'imperative' to be found in the Song of Songs: 'Love me!', Ricoeur comments as follows: 'The commandment to love one's enemies is not enough in itself. For it forms part of a broader disposition to give, a gift of oneself which finds expression in other ways than simply furnishing an incentive to action, to act'. And he adds: 'The gift of oneself circumscribes ethics from all sides'(19).

But to think this superabundant wealth, it is necessary to have firmly established the ethical domain in advance and this in order that the love-question not be dissolved into a sort of infra-ethical sentimentality. That was Ricoeur's lesson in Love and Justice.

Herein lies the reason why Oneself as an Other was relatively reticent on those last questions. But this does not make it impossible for the selfhood-question to be worked up and thematised in a configuration in which giving, the gift of oneself, prevails.

It is worth adding that the placement of the self in such a configuration entails a number of transformations which have to be borne in mind. For the crucial experience would now be that of the self's own nakedness, its humbleness, its nothingness. Hence, the quintessence of action would be the non-action of contemplation and receptivity. Only through just such a genuine dissolution and destitution of the ego could the self be fully restored to itself by God, acknowledge itself as being a creature among the other creatures of this very same God.

However, the charity nourished by this kind of experience would not undermine but, on the contrary, reinforce the 'Golden Rule' -- characterised by its reversibility. For the feature of the 'Golden Rule' which particularly interests Ricoeur is that which is inscribed in a logic of equivalence and reciprocity rather than a logic of superabundance. And as he points out, one of the most compelling formulations of the 'Golden Rule' is to be found in Luke's Gospel (VI, 31): 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.

It would take us too far out of our way to tackle the question of the tension between the Golden Rule and the 'new' commandment (the commandment of love), a tension examined in some detail by Ricoeur in his essay 'Love and Justice '. However, in the light of what has been said thus far, we are in a position to conclude that the approach adopted in Oneself as an Other, an approach which concentrates on the question of the intrinsic constitution of the self, excludes neither the experience of love nor the relationship established between the self (ipse ) and God. What becomes clear in the light of these analyses is that both of these two experiences of love (love of another self/ love of God) require an approach different from that adopted in Oneself as an Other. For, by starting out from action, the latter inevitably privileges the ethical dimension of selfhood at the expense of the affective and the mystical.

To conclude, one of Ricoeur's great achievements in Oneself as an Other is that he refused to allow the question of the constitution of the self to be inscribed in an ontological frame of reference which would make it impossible for him to bring out the ethical dimension. Heidegger's attempt to deal with the self (Selbstheit) in Being and Time could be criticised along precisely these lines. Taking as his point of departure, human action (which is itself never ethically neutral), Ricoeur's hermeneutics of the self not only led him to a conception of narrative identity as forming an essential part of self-understanding but also to a recognition of the relation of the self to an other, a relation intrinsic to the very constitution of the self (20). In so doing, his hermeneutics was able to bring to light an ethical dimension of the self fundamental to the being of every human being as a person. By stamping the self with so markedly ethical a seal, Oneself as an Other operates a major transformation of the Hermeneutics inherited from the German tradition, thereby making it more consonant with the reflexive tradition of French philosophy and its more pronounced emphasis upon the ethical dimension -- as it is evident in the work of Jean Nabert, whose thinking exercised a considerable influence upon Ricoeur's own development as an original thinker.

1 These are the terms employed by Paul Ricoeur himself to formulate the programme of enquiry undertaken in the Trilogy. .

2 Cf. our study : ' D'Histoire et Vérité à Temps et Récit: la question de l'histoire' ('From History and Truth to Time and Narrative': the question of History'), in Paul Ricoeur: Les Métamorphoses de la raison herméneutique, edited by Jean Greisch and Richard Kearney, Paris, Cerf, 1991.

3 Paul Ricoeur, Temps et récit (Time and Narrative) III, Paris, Seuil, 1987, p.355.

4 Cf. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958.

5 As for the impossibility of such a dichotomy in the final instance, see our essay: 'Le soi incarné Merleau-Ponty et la question du sujet' ('The incarnate self -Merleau-Ponty and the question of the subject') in , edited by François Heidsieck, Paris, Vrin, 1993.

6 In the chapter entitled 'Personal Identity and Narrative Identity', Ricoeur introduces the problem of personal identity by noting that 'it is only through (or in) the temporal dimension of human existence that it (personal identity) can be shaped.' (Soi-même comme un autre, p.138)

7 See Ricoeur's own statement in his: 'Answer' to John Thompson's 'Introduction' to some of his essays translated into English by J. Thompson, under the title : Hermeneutics & the Human Sciences, 1981, p.32.

8 Soi-même comme un autre, p.138-139.

9 As Ricoeur puts it: 'the hermeneutics of the self' stands opposed to 'the foundational ambition that characterises any philosophy of the Cogito'.

10 In support of Husserl, it might be said that his transcendental egology does not obliterate (or set aside) the receptivity of the Ego: the ego does not put itself into being. Thus Husserl too fully acknowleges the passivity underlying all human activity.

11 Soi-même comme un autre, p.195.

12 The ethical sections of 'Oneself as an Other' in fact fall into two groups: 'Le Soi et la norme morale' (the eighth study oriented towards Kant) and 'Le soi et la sagesse pratique: la conviction' (the ninth study, which takes Aristotle's ethics as its guideline).

13 Soi-même comme un autre, p. 202.

14 See my essay 'Le sujet multiple et le soi, le de Fernando Pessoa', in Autour de la poétique de Paul Ricoeur, edité par R. Célis et M. Sierro, Lausanne, Etudes de Lettres, 1996/3-4.

15 Soi-même comme un autre, p. 197.

16 For his explanation of the exclusion of these two lectures, see the end of the Preface to: 'Oneself as an Other'. The excluded lectures are named here as: 'The self in the mirror of the scriptures' and 'The mandated self'.

17 Paul Ricoeur, Liebe and Gerechtigkeit (Amour et Justice), Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1993.

18 Ibid, p.42-43 (French), p.43, 45 (German).

19 This question, which is only touched upon here, is treated at great length by Ricoeur in 'Towards what ontology?', that is, in the last chapter of 'Oneself as an Other'.


Paul Ricoeur
La constitucion narrativa de la identidad personal

Eduardo Casarotti
Serie: Filósofos de Hoy (VI)

Paul Ricoeur, está considerado como el más alto representante vivo de la fenomenología y es uno de los más importantes y célebres filósofos de nuestra época.

Sus trabajos han contribuido a difundir universalmente el término hermenéutica. Sus escritos cubren un campo muy amplio de temas, desde la historia de la filosofía y la fenomenología, la crítica literaria, metafísica, ética, religión, lingüística y semiótica, ciencias humanas, psicoanálisis, marxismo, y el tema del bien y del mal y conflictos de interpretación.

Ricoeur postula que el estructuralismo y la hermenéutica pueden ser combinados complementariamente para analizar el lenguaje, significado y simbolismo cultural. Atribuye al lenguaje la base ontológica de la comprensión.

- La hermenéutica, referida a descifrar e interpretar textos, concepto que se aplica a los estudios bíblicos, integrar una serie de ciencias, filológicas, lingüística, histórica, etc. Al igual que hace Heidegger (quien retoma el concepto hermenéutica de Dilthey para aplicarlo a su propia investigación).
- El estructuralismo se refiere a la lingüística de Sosseaur, que utiliza los elementos de un sistema gramatical y sus posibles combinaciones.
- La fenomenología se basa en un concepto filosófico existencial. Considera el significado particular de algo en la interpretación activa e intencional y consciente del sujeto que experimenta algo. Trascender es “ser-e-el-mundo”, es decir en relación directa de familiaridad con las cosas y proyectándose en el mundo.

Basándonos en estas premisas podemos ahora analizar el texto de Eduardo Casarotti:
“…Llegado a este punto, Ricoeur va a intentar mostrar como el lenguaje, y en particular la narración, permiten pensar la permanencia en el tiempo característica de la identidad personal. Es porque se desconoce esa doble experiencia del tiempo propia del hombre, que las soluciones dadas al problema de la identidad oscilan sin solución de continuidad entre el fenomenismo de Hume, que no deja comprender la unidad del sujeto y el substancialismo de Aristóteles, que no explica la diversidad de nuestras experiencias. Ricoeur buscará por lo tanto en la narración esa articulación entre el tiempo cósmico y el tiempo fenomenológico. La teoría narrativa de la que se sirve Ricoeur para explorar esta mediación del relato en la constitución del tiempo humano es sumamente compleja y ocupa toda la segunda parte de Tiempo y Narración. Ricoeur bebe en las fuentes de los formalistas rusos –especialmente J.Propp- de la década del veinte y del treinta y de los estructuralistas franceses -Greimas, sobre todo- de los años sesenta y setenta. No es lugar aquí de exponer esta compleja teoría que, por otra parte se encuentra prefigurada, como el mismo Ricoeur lo dice, en la Poética de Aristóteles.

El concepto central, tanto de las teorías narrativas más actuales como en la Poética de Aristóteles, es el concepto de intriga o trama. Intriga en griego se dice mythos, y significa a la vez fábula, en el sentido historia imaginaria, e intriga, en el sentido de historia bien construida. Es este último concepto de intriga, como historia bien construida, que Ricoeur va a aplicar para resolver, como él mismo dice, no de manera especulativa sino práctica, la aporeticidad del tiempo.

Para Ricoeur la intriga no es una estructura estática sino una operación, un proceso integrador el cual sólo se realiza en el lector o en el espectador, es decir, en el receptor vivo de la historia relatada. Al hablar de proceso integrador, Ricoeur se refiere al trabajo de composición, de construcción, de creación en una palabra, que confiere a la historia relatada una identidad que se puede llamar dinámica. Pero ¿en qué consiste ese proceso estructurante de la intriga? Ricoeur lo define de manera muy general como una actividad de síntesis de elementos heterogéneos.
¿Síntesis entre qué y qué? En primer lugar, síntesis entre los acontecimientos y las incidencias que se suceden linearmente en el tiempo, como instantes uno después del otro; y la historia completa y una. La intriga tiene la virtud de construir una historia de los múltiples incidentes que se suceden uno detrás de otro. Justamente la narración no es una simple enumeración, en un orden serial o sucesivo, de los incidentes o acontecimientos, sino una estructuración que transforma esos incidentes y acontecimientos, en un todo inteligible. Se puede lograr una comprensión de esta composición por medio del acto de seguir una historia. Seguir una historia es una operación muy compleja, guiada sin cesar por expectativas acerca de la continuación de la historia, expectativas que corregimos o confirmamos a medida que se desarrolla la historia, hasta que coincide con la conclusión.

Además, por sus características propias, la intriga es una síntesis de lo heterogéneo de una manera más profunda aún, ya que toda composición narrativa tiene la cualidad de entrecruzar las dos clases de tiempo que vimos más arriba: por una parte una sucesión discreta, abierta y teóricamente indefinida de incidentes (una sucesión de instantes, podríamos decir, uno detrás del otro); y, por otra parte, un aspecto temporal caracterizado por la integración gracias a la cual la historia recibe una configuración. En ese sentido, componer una historia, es extraer una configuración de una sucesión. Adivinamos la importancia de esta perspectiva ya que, habíamos visto, el tiempo es para nosotros aquello que pasa y desaparece y, por otra parte, aquello que dura permanece. La historia relatada se convierte así en una totalidad temporal de características muy particulares, que actúa como mediadora entre el tiempo como paso y el tiempo como duración. Si se puede hablar de identidad temporal de una historia es menester caracterizarla como aquello que dura y permanece a través de aquello que pasa y desaparece.
Si aplicamos a nosotros mismos este análisis de la función integradora de la intriga entre los dos tipos de temporalidad, sucede entonces que nuestra vida, abarcada con una sola mirada, se nos aparece como el campo de una actividad constructiva, mediante la cual intentamos, a través de la narración, reencontrar, y no simplemente imponer desde afuera, la identidad que nos constituye. La intriga, por lo tanto, sin solucionar la aporía fundamental de la temporalidad ya vista, construye una unidad dinámica de sentido a través de la diversidad de nuestras cogniciones, voliciones o emociones. "A esta comprensión de sentido la llama Ricoeur "identidad narrativa". Identidad eficaz y real, puesto que se produce en el ámbito de la práctico": "Decir identidad de un individuo ... es contestar a la pregunta ¿Quien ha hecho tal acción? En primer lugar se contesta a esta pregunta nombrando a alguien, estoes, designando un nombre propio. Pero ¿cuál es el soporte de la permanencia de un nombre propio ¿Qué es la que justifica que se mantenga el sujeto de la acción, designado de este modo por su nombre, como el mismo a lo largo de toda una vida que se extiende desde el nacimiento hasta la muerte? La respuesta no puede ser más que narrativa. Responder a la cuestión ¿quién? Tal como había señalado fuertemente H.Arendt, es narrar la historia de una vida. La historia narrada dice el quien de una acción. La identidad del quien no es pues, ella misma más que una identidad narrativa. Sin el auxilio de la narración, el problema de la identidad personal está, en efecto, condenado a una antinomia sin solución: o bien se mantiene un sujeto idéntico a sí mismo en la diversidad de sus estados; o bien se acepta, en continuidad con Hume y Nietszche, que este sujeto idéntico no es más que una ilusión sustancialista, cuya eliminación no deja aparecer más que una pura diversidad de cogniciones, emociones, voliciones".
Esta identidad narrativa escapa por lo tanto a la alternativa planteada al comienzo de esta parte. En ese sentido, permite al agente de aprehender la totalidad de sus acciones como suyas (y no como una diversidad incoherente), en la singularidad de una unidad temporal única y propia, pero que no es la identidad estable e inmutable de la sustancia aristotélica. El concepto de identidad narrativa permite incluir el cambio en la cohesión de una vida. La identidad concebida como lo mismo (idem) se sustituye por una identidad concebida como sí-mismo (ipse). Esta última identidad es conforme a la estructura temporal dinámica que surge de la composición propia de la intriga del relato. Es por eso que el sujeto de la acción aparece como el lector y el escritor de su propia vida.
El agente actúa en el mundo y en el seno de un contexto dado, pero al mismo tiempo, el sentido de su acción sólo le es accesible a través de la lectura de su historia. Es posible ver aquí el aspecto circular, a la vez pasivo y activo, de esta comprensión: en el mismo acto que me comprendo a mí mismo a través de la narración, me construyo. De ese modo, la mediación narrativa, sin dispersarme en una sucesión incoherente de acontecimientos, permite, a su vez, que sea posible rescribir a lo largo de la vida diferentes tramas de mi existencia.


1 La eidética de la voluntad pretende extraer de la experiencia vivida los significados y estructuras esenciales de la voluntad (del proyecto, del deseo, de la determinación), a través de un método esencialmente descriptivo. Reflexionando sobre lo querido o lo hecho, podremos alcanzar la comprensión del sujeto que quiere o hace. En ese sentido, siguiendo a Husserl, una función se comprende sólo por su intencionalidad. Esta descripción "fenomenológica" aplicada al obrar humano, evidencia la realidad recíproca de la voluntario y lo involuntario.

2 RICOEUR, P., La critique et la conviction. Entretien avec Francois Azouvi et Marc de Launy, Calman-Lévy, Paris, 1995, p. 125. Traducción del autor.

3 RICOEUR, P., Soi-même comme un autre, Du Seuil, Paris, 1990 (trad. cast. A.NEIRA CALVO, Sí mismo como otro, Siglo XXI, Madrid, 1996). En adelante se citará la trad.cast.en el cuerpo del texto con la sigla SO seguida de la página.

4 Taylor y MacIntyre entienden que saber quién soy equivale en gran medida a saber dónde estoy. La identidad la definen los compromisos e identificaciones que forman el horizonte dentro del cual puedo determinar en cada caso qué acción es valiosa, buena o digna. Ambos entienden que los compromisos y orientaciones hacia el bien son inherentes y constitutivos de la identidad personal; además ambos señalan que la vida de un ser humano ha de entenderse en términos de una narración: la narración de un avance (o un retroceso) de la persona frente a ese horizonte constitutivo que es el bien. (Cf. MULHALL y SWIFT, El individuo frente a la comunidad. El debate entre liberales y comunitaristas. Ed. Temas de hoy, Madrid, 1996).

5 MACINTYRE, A., Tras la virtud, Crítica, Barcelona, 1987, p. 264.

6 "¡Qué nos inclina tan fuertemente, pregunta Hume, a superponer una identidad a estas percepciones sucesivas, y a suponer que estamos en posesión de una existencia invariable e ininterrumpida durante todo el curso de nuestras vidas?" (SO, 123). No hay más que ilusión de identidad proporcionadas por la imaginación y la creencia. "A la imaginación se le atribuye el pasar con facilidad de una experiencia a otra si su diferencia es débil, y así

transformar la diversidad en identidad. La creencia que sirve de unión, llena el déficit de la impresión" (SO, 124). "...decir que la creencia engendra ficciones es anunciar un tiempo en el que la creencia se hará increíble. Hume no toma todavía esta decisión...., corresponderá a Nietzsche concluir el paso de la sospecha" (SO, 124).

7 RICOEUR, P., Tiempo y narración I. Configuración del tiempo en el relato histórico. Cristiandad, Madrid, 1987, p. 46.

8 RICOEUR, P., El tiempo contado, Revista de Occidente, no.76, 1986,[42-64], p.48.

9 cf. THOMASSET, A., Poétique de l’existence et agir moral en société. Disertación doctoral presentada en la Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1995, p.336.

10 cf. RICOEUR, P., La vida: un relato en busca de narrador, en RICOEUR, P., Educación y cultura, Docencia, Buenos Aires, 1986.

11 MACEIRAS, M., La hermenéutica contemporánea, Cincel, Madrid, 1990, p. 185.

12 RICOEUR, P., Temps et récit III., Du Seuil, Paris, 1985, p.355. Traducción del autor.

13 Para el concepto de prácticas, cf. HORTAL, A., MacIntyre y la crítica comunitarista de la modernidad, Revista Relaciones, n°173, 1998, [13-15]; MACINTYRE, o.c., pp. 233-237; y los estudios sexto y séptimo de Sí mismo como otro.

14 J’attend la renaissance. Entretien avec Paul Ricoeur, en A quoi pensent les philosophes?, revista Autrement, n° 102, 1988, [175-183], p. 180.