Technologies in Practice
: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Technique

  • Eoin Carney

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The problem that this thesis seeks to address is the hermeneutic tension between practical reason and technology. According to hermeneutics, the types of knowledge associated with practical understanding incorporate questions of the self and lived experience. In contrast, the types of knowledge and capability associated with modern technology are independent of questions of self-understanding. Technical approaches to practical dilemmas produce generalizable, detachable solutions, thereby disavowing the central role of hermeneutic appropriation in the process of understanding meaning. If a technology works in the same way across different contexts and applications, the notion of an interpreting, appropriating self seems superfluous to the question of technology.

    However, following an analysis of Paul Ricoeur’s distinctive understandings of hermeneutic distanciation, appropriation, and technique, I argue that technologies can become objects of hermeneutic engagement once we recognize their variable and uncertain nature at the practical level. Using Ricoeur’s conception of the productive circle between distanciation and belonging, the alienating distances associated with technologies can be re-read as moments of distanciation, i.e., as reflective outcomes of practical engagements that, in turn, project new possibilities for action an understanding.

    This means that our practical self-understanding is as bound to techniques and technologies as it is to more conventional hermeneutic objects like a text, narrative or artwork. For Ricoeur, hermeneutic techniques are meaningful because they reveal possibilities for action that would otherwise remain concealed. Likewise, subjects engaging with technologies develop unanticipated applications and functions at the practical level through appropriating technologies in novel, creative ways. In this way, practical self-understanding and technologies depend on one another for development. This mutual, interpretive interaction reveals a hermeneutic circle between the practical self and the technical devices and artefacts that mediate self-understanding at a distance.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDominic Smith (Supervisor), Todd Mei (Supervisor) & Nicholas Davey (Supervisor)


    • Philosophy
    • Technology
    • Hermeneutics
    • Ricoeur
    • Technique
    • Psychoanalysis

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