chapter  6
10 Pages


Ricoeur (1992: 172) defines the ethical intention as ‘aiming at the “good life” with and for others, in just institutions’. This definition distinguishes ethics from morals, morals being the adherence to laws or rules of behaviour. Ricoeur’s enquiry, rather, is into virtue ethics; it is an enquiry into what it means in general to be a good person – what virtues one must possess – rather than an enquiry into ‘applied ethics’ or ‘moral philosophy’, which attempt to decide whether certain actions (abortion, euthanasia, waging war, etc.) are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, either in absolute terms or in certain situations. The ‘aiming at’ part of the formula ‘aiming at the “good life” ’ is also, we should remember, a narrative journey: the good life is a life worthy of being recounted. This is the ethical aim of Ricoeur’s own work on narrative, or indeed of his whole life’s work. The analysis of the mimetic structures of narrative, of time in narrative, and of the relationship between fiction and history, are all of value in and of themselves, and each casts new light on the discipline of which the analysis forms a part – literary criticism, historiography, etc. But the real purpose of these analyses is to demonstrate the narrative dimension of human life itself, which justifies hermeneutics not only as a process of reading texts, but of reading lives. If hermeneutics is the route to understanding, then reading oneself is the key to self-understanding. If literary judgement is an ethical judgement (books are not only good or bad aesthetically, but also

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morally), then the same may be said of the judgements made of a life recounted.