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Finitude and Transcendence: A Study in Paul Ricœur’s Early Philosophy



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Aspray, Barnabas John Ridley  ORCID logo


This thesis offers a contribution to debates regarding the nature of human finitude by drawing on the early writings of the French philosopher Paul Ricœur (1913-2005). Ricœur’s concept of finitude has several unique features which distinguish it from many that were (and still are) prevalent in French philosophical discourse, almost all of which draw significantly on the work of Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). In Ricœur’s philosophy, human finitude cannot be described from a metaphysically or religiously neutral perspective; one’s implicit answers to questions concerning religion, God, and the origin of the world will affect how the human condition is understood.

Each of the four chapters examines Ricœurian finitude in relation to a specific area: truth, transcendence, evil, and creation. Chapter One shows that for Ricœur, our finite capacities mean that philosophy is a search for truth, motivated by the hope of participating in the truth but without ever claiming to have achieved systematic completion. Chapter Two argues that, where Heideggerian finitude is total immanence and therefore nothing but finitude, Ricœurian finitude is paradoxically joined to an infinitude that enables an openness to transcendence. Chapter Three similarly contrasts prevalent conceptions of finitude as intrinsically guilty with Ricœur’s careful efforts to distinguish finitude from evil, sin and guilt. Ricœur uses the productive faculty of the imagination to offer a picture of innocent finitude prior to its corruption. Finally, Chapter Four makes the case that Ricœur’s ‘picture of innocence’ comes from the Biblical account of creation. Creation, for Ricœur, is a ‘symbol’, meaning an idea drawn from outside philosophy that nonetheless stimulates thought and illuminates philosophical understanding. I conclude by suggesting ways in which this study contributes to the ongoing debate on the relationship between philosophy and religion in Ricœur’s work.

This study is restricted to a consideration of Ricœur’s writings prior to his post-1960 ‘hermeneutic turn’ and his engagement with Freud. Methodologically, it contextualises Ricœur’s thought against the backdrop of three major influences: Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973), Karl Jaspers (1883–1969), and the French reflexive school of philosophy. This three-fold backdrop has the benefit of highlighting elements in Ricœur’s philosophy that are often overlooked when the focus is on his phenomenological heritage.





Soskice, Janet Martin


Finitude, Paul Ricoeur, Paul Ricœur, Transcendence, French Philosophy, Philosophical Theology, Philosophy of Religion, Doctrine of Creation, Existentialism, French Reflexive Philosophy, Ricoeur, Ricœur, Twentieth-Century Philosophy, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, Jean Nabert, Pierre Thevenaz, Emmanuel Falque, Jean-Paul Sartre, Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge