Paul Ricoeur is probably the most wide-ranging of thinkers alive in the world today. Although nominally a philosopher, his work has also cut across the subjects of religion and biblical exegesis, history, literary criticism, psychoanalysis, legal studies and politics, as well as having implications for sociology, psychology and linguistics. And yet despite this disparity of subject matter, there is an underlying continuity to his thought. His writings are always informed by an underlying intention that they should be good works, which means not only that they should be of high quality (notwithstanding the sheer quantity of his output, Ricoeur’s work is always meticulously researched and referenced), but also that they should be ethically good. Whatever the subject matter he turns to, Ricoeur always defends the values of religious belief and social justice. For these reasons he is arguably the world’s most respected living philosopher, but he is not the trendiest. Written in a sober and patient (some would say verbose) style, Ricoeur’s works seek in academic discourse what he hopes for in society – co-operation. Consequently, he is lacking in the iconoclasm of other French thinkers such as Jacques Derrida or Jean Baudrillard, and instead is constantly trying to build bridges between philosophical traditions. Rather than loudly proclaim a difference between his thought and that of others, he quietly draws out its similarities. This is a self-effacing way of proceeding, which can give the impression that Ricoeur is derivative
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of those he reads. But closer examination reveals him to be an original thinker, whose originality lies in building on the thought of others, always adding something more, rather than adopting an oppositional stance.