In an essay of 1961, "The History of Philosophy and Historicity," Paul Ricoeur has suggested that the narratives which we construct of the history of philosophy tend either toward excessive integration or disintegration. On the first alternative we tend to view the history of philosophy, or a segment of it, as a succession of systems understood from the perspective of that system closest to our own philosophical inclinations; on the second alternative we tend toward a dispersive attention toward specific problems, thinkers, and texts. Neither approach is satisfying, but Ricoeur maintains that in the history of philosophy, as contrasted to other historical and narrative forms, we are forced toward either the integrative or the dispersive goal. Both tendencies represent a suppression of history. Yet the history of philosophy, like other histories, Ricoeur suggests, can disclose historicity, even in the paradoxical form of showing that in fact the events-thoughts, texts, philosophical careers-of which it is composed do not succeed in maintaining an absolute singularity or dissolving themselves into an absolute system, “history is history only to the extent that it has reached neither absolute discourse nor absolute singularity-to the extent that the meaning of it remains confused and entangled. Lived history is all that which happens prior to its decomposition and suppression by the system and singularity.” Ricoeur suggests then that we will never reach either ultimate Hegelian systematicity nor Nietzschean difference in philosophical practice or in the history of philosophy, but that either can serve as a regulative idea for the philosopher. The philosophical historian of philosophy can only see the historicity of his subject matter by an awareness of both.

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Copyright © 1985 World Phenomenology Institute. This article first appeared in Phenomenological Inquiry, October 1985, 29-44.

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