The final part of Paul Ricoeur’s Freedom and Nature was to discuss our “aquiescence to necessity” (p. 341). At one point he says he is looking for a way to ground something like Nietzsche’s amor fati or “love of fate”. The idea would be to explain how to achieve reconciliation to what must be, but without falling into an overly passive stance. Here he notes that “Pure description raises more problems than it resolves or than it presents as resolved” (p. 347).

His attempts to describe various aspects of necessity — principally under the forms of character, the unconscious, and life, which he notes also involve other wills, history, and the whole course of nature — he finds to be irremediably tainted by the “spell of objectivity” (ibid). The problem seems to be that he honestly thinks empirical data — or psychoanalytic theories, in the case of the unconscious — give the best insight into the operations of “bodily necessity” (p. 343), but then his Marcellian concerns about objectification lead him to conclude that none of the work he surveys in this context is usable for achieving the kind of reconciliation he wanted.

He ends up hinting that this will be resolved in a future work that does not rely on a Husserlian “bracketing” of questions related to what Ricoeur calls Transcendence that he had announced would limit the scope of this work. Transcendence, he suggests, will be addressed in the new context of a “poetics” of the will, rather than the modified Husserlian phenomenology he was pursuing here. He seems to have believed that ultimate reconciliation of freedom and necessity could only be achieved through a spiritual relation to Transcendence. Without in any way diminishing the value of such a spiritual relation, I am more optimistic that there is a purely philosophical resolution of this issue, using Aristotelian and Brandomian resources. Meanwhile, having myself already used the term “poetic” to describe statements about spiritual beliefs, I look forward to seeing how he developed this notion of a “poetics”. (See also Phenomenology of Will; Ricoeur on Embodiment; Ricoeur on Choice; Voluntary Action.)

Plato vs Aristotle?

Plato and Aristotle agreed on some matters, and disagreed on others. Throughout the modern period, authors have frequently resorted to rather stereotyped contrasts between them. In the ancient world, the neoplatonists made a serious effort to read Aristotle in terms of their own traditionally “metaphysical” reading of Plato, and thus to largely reconcile the two (see Fortunes of Aristotle; Plotinus). This resulted in a lot of distortion of Aristotle — some of which has persisted to this day — alongside a lot of original development that is only very recently again being appreciated and studied.

I’m putting forward a largely reconciling view, but going in the opposite direction from that of the neoplatonists. That is to say, while the works of Plato will always remain literary classics, I think Aristotle captured the best of Plato philosophically, while adding tremendously valuable further development. Where Aristotle criticized Plato or others in the Academy, the criticisms generally seem sound to me. I also think what are considered late works of Plato like Theaetetus, The Sophist, and even Parmenides may show development in a more Aristotelian direction, especially with regard to the theory of form.