Ricoeur's Metaphor and Narrative Theories as a Foundation for a Theory of Symbol

Religious Studies 24 (4):415-437 (1988)
The Issues at Issue: Heidegger declares metaphor to be a function of metaphysics. Ricoeur's tension theory of metaphor takes the understanding of metaphor beyond metaphysics. Ricoeur's theory of metaphor is a theory of metaphorical statement not of naming. The classical, lexical theory of metaphor focuses on a primary meaning of each metaphor. As such metaphor is merely ornamentation in language. What it names could more appropriately be accomplished in literal language. In contrast, metaphor is understood by Ricoeur to be a semantic event made possible by three kinds of tensions. One may understand symbols to function with the same metaphorical tensions. In the case of symbols, however, these tensions function not at the level of the sentence but rather of the narrative. Metaphor and symbol both have an ‘ontological priority’ over other elements of discourse and experience. They ‘ work ’ because of the event character of both understanding and experience. Understanding and experience have event as their condition of possibility. Metaphor and symbol both have a ‘temporal priority’, as well, for they serve as the shock to think ‘more’. This can occur, however, because they are part of a circularity that is non-metaphysical, that is, the circularity of the event character of the Being-of beings. Hence, just as metaphors are always ‘larger’ than the sentence, so are symbols always ‘larger’ than the narrative.
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DOI 10.1017/S0034412500019521
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