Scholarly article on topic 'Contributions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur to the field of Phenomenological Social Psychology'

Contributions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur to the field of Phenomenological Social Psychology Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Tais de Lacerda Goncalves Massiere

Abstract Phenomenological social psychology is an approach that seeks to apply some of the principles of the phenomenological perspective to social psychology, focusing on people's lived experiences. Taking a critical perspective to mainstream psychology, phenomenologists seek to create qualitative methodologies in order to achieve rich descriptions of individual human experiences. Being part of the phenomenological movement, the contemporary French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur developed their own perspectives, with their primary concern being to emphasize the human capacity to create meaning for temporal experience, constituting various types of narratives. From a survey of literature, this paper seeks to develop a discussion on the relationship between subjectivity, temporality, and narrativity in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur, pointing out these authors’ contributions to the field of phenomenological social psychology.

Academic research paper on topic "Contributions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur to the field of Phenomenological Social Psychology"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 190 (2015) 43 - 47

2nd GLOBAL CONFERENCE on PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCHES, 28-29, November 2014

Contributions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur to the field of Phenomenological Social Psychology

Tais de Lacerda Goncalves Massiere a*

aSocial Psychology, State University of Rio de Janeiro / Doutoranda em Psicologia Social, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ),

Brazil.

Abstract

Phenomenological social psychology is an approach that seeks to apply some of the principles of the phenomenological perspective to social psychology, focusing on people's lived experiences. Taking a critical perspective to mainstream psychology, phenomenologists seek to create qualitative methodologies in order to achieve rich descriptions of individual human experiences. Being part of the phenomenological movement, the contemporary French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur developed their own perspectives, with their primary concern being to emphasize the human capacity to create meaning for temporal experience, constituting various types of narratives. From a survey of literature, this paper seeks to develop a discussion on the relationship between subjectivity, temporality, and narrativity in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur, pointing out these authors' contributions to the field of phenomenological social psychology.

© 2015 TheAuthors.Publishedby ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Research and Education Center. Keywords: Phenomenology; Phenomenological Social Psychology; Jean-Paul Sartre; Paul Ricoeur.

1. Introduction

Since the dawn of its history, psychology sought to establish itself as a science by allying with the models of knowledge provided by positivism. Many researchers began to express great concern about the increasing prevalence of overly rigid theoretical systems which sought to apply the same explanatory model or the same technique to any situation of human reality.

* Tais de Lacerda Goncalves Massiere.Tel:+4-345-445-342. E-mail address: lacerda.tais@yahoo.com.br

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Research and Education Center. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.914

Although the positivist paradigm has formed the model for psychology for many years, we have seen the appropriation of many different paradigms for psychology, including adoption of the phenomenological paradigm. Phenomenology played a central part in philosophical thinking of the twentieth century, beginning with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), who sought to study the fundamental concepts employed in the different sciences through a rigorous analysis of the way in which the objects of study appeared to us in our experience of them (Langdridge, 2007). Phenomenologists confront the subject-object dualism and defend that it does not make sense to think of objects in the world separately from our perception of them. Considering that, a phenomenological approach to psychological research will seek to investigate people's lived experiences through a set of methods to enable researches to elicit rich descriptions of concrete experiences and/or narratives of experiences (Langdridge, 2007).

Being part of the phenomenological movement, the contemporary French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980) and Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) developed their own singular perspectives, with their primary concern being to emphasize the human capacity to create meaning for temporal experience, constituting various types of narratives. Treading unique personal and intellectual paths, the authors gave especial emphasis to the role played by the narratives in the constitution of subjectivity and temporality.

2. The relationship between subjectivity, temporality, and narrativity in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre

Based on the notion of intentionality elaborated by Edmund Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre assumed as a basic principle for understanding human reality the notion that there is a correlation between consciousness and the world. Thereby, consciousness can only be thought as a consciousness of something. Through the movement of intentionality, consciousness gives meaning to the world and the world 'appears' to consciousness in a certain perspective. In L'etre et le neant (1943), Sartre emphasizes that the condition of freedom puts the subject into a constant movement to transcend a certain state of things and to project new meanings to reality.

At the opening of his work La transcendence de l'ego - esquisse d'une description phenomenologique (1965), Sartre states that for most philosophers the ego is an "inhabitant" of consciousness. In order to confront this idea, his philosophical essay proposes to show that the ego is neither formally nor materially in consciousness, but rather it is outside, in the world. When the ego appears to consciousness, the subject apprehends himself as having certain essential qualities, as being kind or hateful. The ego seems to have always been there, 'in' consciousness, producing the conduct of the subject. Sartre believes that consciousness attempts to escape from the anguish that is caused by the feeling of incessantly escaping by denying its own spontaneity and identifying itself with the object created. From this understanding, on the one hand the ego may seem to be simply an illusion. On the other hand, the movement of constant re-creation always leaves open the possibility to resignify the subject's own life. As the philosopher Franklin Leopoldo e Silva (2004) proposes, what we conceive as 'subjectivity' is formed from the emergence of a narrative consciousness that seeks to resignify living experience from a historical situation.

The discovery of subjectivity as being a process of creation emerges in Sartre's novel La Nausee (1938). In this novel, Sartre invites us to follow the experiences of a singular subject, Antoine Roquentin. It is in the most mundane situations of everyday life that he faces significant discoveries of his existential condition. Writing a diary is his way to make sense of events that occur to him and to try to describe his feeling of estrangement. But it is important to notice that unlike the subject of Descartes, who wonders in isolation, Sartre's subject lives his questioning process while situated in the world, through his relation to things and to others. In this novel, the reader can follow a subject who feels overwhelmed by a nasty feeling that at first seems to be coming from things themselves. The nausea experienced by Roquentin can be understood as a visceral response to the discovery of contingency. He suddenly finds himself displaced from his usual familiar world and released into the midst of an existence that has no foundation. The emergence of contingency destroys any order of the reality. In his activity as a historian he realizes that in the files that he has to write the biography of the Marquis of Rollebon are not enough to grasp a logical order in the events. He discovers that only imagination can link one fact to another, creating an order that was not previously there, in the reality itself (Souza, 2009). Roquentin realizes that any form of order is the result of a narrative construction that 'injects' necessity where there is only contingency. The Marquis's own identity is at stake, and everything depends on the way that the narrative will proceed, how the facts are linked by the narrator. Questioning the life of the Marquis, Roquentin is also trying to understand something about his own life. A change in the way he perceives the otherness triggers a change in the way he begins to understand his own existence.

Sartre conceives the search for identity as an endless process. In Sartre, rather than a finished identity you can only conceive a process of identification that is linked to the subject's action. Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that this process does not happen in isolation. Emphasizing the importance of interpersonal relations, Sartre develops an interesting way to understand the emergence of the other in the subject's existence: the look. Apart from being a mere physical presence, the other is the one who can have an outside vision from the subject, being able to have an 'objective' perspective of his actions. Our relationship with the other is marked by an inescapable ambivalence. We search the other's look to pacify the anguish of not having a given essence, and we run from the other's look fearing to be imprisoned by an absolute definition of ourselves.

Through his biographical analysis about the life of Jean Genet (Sartre, 1952) Sartre seeks to understand the importance of the other to a singular subject's existential project. At the age of seven, Genet is entrusted by the Public Assistance to peasants from Morvan. Son of nobody, Genet is nothing and has nothing. The boy lives "imaginary experiences of appropriation" in which he takes objects in order to feel like a homeowner. He seeks to have something in order to be someone. One day, in the midst of one of his "experiments" he is suddenly surprised by the arrival of the other, who looks at him and declares: "You are a thief!" When the "good men" state that an "evil principle" lies within him, Genet takes this narrative as an absolute truth. We can see through this biographical analysis made by Sartre that the great impact of intersubjectivity - and, in this case, the power of the narratives spoken by the other - on the formation of subjectivity. The relationship with the other in Genet's childhood is a fundamental element to understanding the emergence of his later choices and the place he will occupy in the historical process.

Through his many biographical writings (about the life of Genet, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Mallarme, Tintoretto, and about his own life), he sought to understand how a singular subject becomes someone who produces works of imagination, as literary narratives, seeking to understand the place occupied by the activity of creating narratives in a subject's life, showing a concern in making the link between the living and the narration, between a person's lived experiences and the choice of becoming a writer.

Sartre defends the perspective that freedom is not absolute and limitless. The author considers that each individual situation is defined by the dialectical relationship between freedom and facticity. In his work Critique de la Raison Dialectique (1960), Sartre states that it is through the mediation of materiality that the subject achieves an objectification of himself in the world. But the search for totality is a process that never ends. Because of freedom, subjects are constantly transcending what is already given towards otherness, never achieving an absolute identity. This endless movement in search of the self thus becomes the most striking trait of human experience. In contrast to much of traditional psychology, Sartre considers that consciousness is not determined causally by the past (Langdridge, 2007, p. 34). As Farhang Erfani states, "Sartre never abandons the indeterminacy of the human condition" and he always defended that the task of "making something of ourselves" is a "profoundly creative and aesthetic project" (Erfani, 2011, p. 33).

As product of a praxis that transforms language, literary narratives emerge as objects of culture that allow subjects to give meaning to the experience of temporality. In Sartre's trajectory, the relationship between literature and social reality gains special emphasis in the historical context of World War II. Sartre highlights the writer's engagement with his work and time, defending that the writer is always involved, marked, and committed to the historical time in which he is situated. From Sartre's point of view, the reader is also active in the face of narratives. In Qu'est-ce que la litterature? (1948) he states that in his time he sought to make a literature of "extreme situations", seeking to create in the reader a critical reflection on fundamental ethical questions.

3. The relationship between subjectivity, temporality, and narrativity in the works of Paul Ricoeur

In Paul Ricoeur's works, the relationship between the subjects and the cultural expressions are extremely emphasized. In his book Du texte a l'action: essais d'hermeneutique II (1986), Ricoeur exposes one of his main ideas, when he says that there is no self-understanding that is not mediated by signs, symbols, and texts and by 'appropriation' the author understands that the interpretation of a text culminates in the self-interpretation. Exploring the correlation between the creation of narratives and the temporal character of human experience, Paul Ricoeur states the thesis of Temps et recit (1983) defending that time becomes human time to the extent that it is articulated

in a narrative way and narrative is significant to the extent that it draws the features of temporal experience (Ricoeur, 1983). From Ricoeur's perspective, narratives serve as fundamental mediations to the constitution of human beings' temporal experience.

Narratives are always rooted in a pre-understanding of the world of action. Before we have contact with written narratives, we thus have a prior understanding of the field of action, which involves goals, motives, circumstances, and agents. Ricoeur seeks to highlight the operative character of the notions taken from Aristotle's Poetics. In his translation of mimesis, he excludes any interpretation of this notion in terms of copy, conceiving it as the operation of composing the intrigue. By doing this, Ricoeur seeks to extract from the work of Aristotle a model of composition of intrigue that can be extended to various modalities of narratives, such as literary narratives, narratives of the self, and historical narratives. He considers semantic innovation as being performed by weaving a plot that makes the synthesis of the heterogeneous in the temporal unit of an action. Therefore, what has not been said before can be brought to language through a new plot.

In Temps et recit (1983), Ricoeur states that the constitution of a narrative tradition lies in the interplay between sedimentation and innovation. While sedimentation provides paradigms for experimentation in the narrative field, innovation emphasizes the uniqueness of the work that is created. When discussing this topic in Du texte a l'action (1986) the author says that this rule-generated production is expressed in the construction of plots by way of a continual interchange between the invention of particular plots and the constitution by sedimentation of a narrative typology.

In a written discourse there is no common situation between the writer and the reader. Therefore, Ricoeur believes that distantiation is constitutive of the phenomenon of the text as writing (Ricoeur, 1986). Applying Heidegger's notion of 'understanding' to the theory of text the author proposes that what should be interpreted in a literary narrative is a proposed world in which we could inhabit and project our ownmost possibilities (Ricoeur, 1986). By introducing the notion of 'world of the text', Ricoeur seeks to go beyond the romantic hermeneutics, which sought to capture the 'soul of the author' and structuralism, which sought to capture the structure of the work. The notion of 'world of the text' is linked to the issue of reference or the denotation of discourse and to the claim of a proposition to reach reality.

Being situated between the pre-understanding of the world of action and its transfiguration by the reader, narrative plays the role of a mediator between the world of the text and the world of action. Ricoeur seeks to show the connection between language and reality, in opposition to all perspectives that consider texts as separated from the practical field of action. He considers reading as the moment when the passage from the world of the text to the world of action occurs, through the mediation of narrative. Narratives are considered by him as living discourses that can transform our perspectives about the world and our way to project possible courses of action.

Ricoeur proposes to understand the constitution of the identity of a subject or of a historical community as a process of setting up a narrative. Thus, in Temps et recit (1985) the author suggests replacing the notion of identity understood as the same (idem) with the notion of identity understood as a self (ipse). He seeks to highlight that there is no substantial identity, but rather that individuals and historical communities experience an unceasing process of (re)writing their identities from the dynamics that they establish with the works' culture.

While recognizing the merits of structuralist analysis, Ricoeur prefers to understand language as 'discourse' in other words, as an experience of the world that a particular subject seeks to bring to language, endowing it with meaning and making it accessible to another subject (Gentil, 2004). Structuralism, with all its emphasis on the formal aspects of language, does not take into consideration this extra-linguistic foundation of discourse, its roots in human experience, both in departure and at the arrival (Gentil, 2004, p. 49-50). Ricoeur points out that the meaning of a narrative comes from the intersection between the world of the text and the world of the reader and defends that through the imaginative variations of our own ego we try to obtain a narrative understanding of ourselves (Ricoeur, 1991).

4. Conclusions

In the works of Sartre and Ricoeur, narrativity is connected to the constitution of the identities of individuals and groups. Sartre and Ricoeur defended that the subjects are in a constant transformation of reality, denying meanings that are already established in culture and affirming new meanings. Language is seen as a sort of 'anchor' to an

existence that is in a constant movement, never closing itself in an absolute identity. With the aid of narratives, subjects find a mediation to create and transform meanings to temporal experience. The effort made by Sartre and Ricoeur was to argue that language, discourse, and many modalities of narratives participate in the creation of historical time, of subjectivity, and of political relations. Both adopted a phenomenological perspective, considering that subjects' relationship with the world is based in a process of creating new meanings from a previous horizon of meanings and values, through the 'anchorage' of language. Both authors in different ways considered narrativity to be a way to articulate subjects and culture. Both addressed in their works the importance of narratives in the process of rewriting history and re-inventing identities.

Farhang Erfani (2011) states that Sartre and Ricoeur shared the perspective of autonomy as a creative, aesthetic endeavor (Erfani, 2011, p. 3). For him, "Sartre and Ricoeur emphasize that ownership is a poetic process, and it requires distance from the given" (Erfani, 2011, p. 5) This author wishes to highlight the shared perspectives of Sartre and Ricoeur about the self as being an ethical and poetical process. As he says: "To be a self is becoming -creating - one. It is the goal, not the foundation," and he completes: "For both Sartre and Ricoeur, autonomy is a creative process; it is a unique, non-axiomatic event" (Erfani, 2011, p. 65).

Sartre and Ricoeur considered that if reality already has a scope of factuality and sedimentation, the subjects are able to resignify what is previously given and to produce new meanings. From Sartre's perspective, the subject is constantly seeking to achieve totality, but because of freedom this search never ends and the subject is always involved in a movement of projecting itself towards new ends in the future. Paul Ricoeur brings the perspective that the relationship between individuals and the culture involves a constant interplay between sedimentation and innovation, so that in the face of a world full of sedimented meanings, subjects are able to produce unique innovations by the reappropriation of the meanings and values circulating in the culture.

The authors point out that the narratives reveal perspectives of the world and, therefore, that there is no neutral narrative. The acts of writing and reading are considered by them as ways in which the relationship between the subject and the culture occurs. The authors also point out the relationship between the reader and the narratives, emphasizing how literary narratives can affect everyday life, contributing in transforming the reader's life and culture. For the authors, subjects are in constant transformation of reality, negating and affirming meanings. With the aid of language, subjects are constituted as temporality, constantly creating something like a 'past', a 'present', and a 'future.'

Defending the need to respect the singularity of each subject and to take into consideration the relationship between the subject and the culture, the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur are valuable contributions to phenomenological social psychology.

References

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