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Philosophy Today

Volume 58, Issue 4, Fall 2014

Ricoeur, Justice and Institutions / Ricoeur, la justice et les institutions

George H. Taylor
Pages 571-589

Ricœur and Just Institutions

In Oneself as Another, Ricœur famously writes of the ethical intention as “aiming at the ‘good life’ with and for others, in just institutions.” This article explores the potential meaning of “just institutions,” a theme underdeveloped in Ricœur’s work. While many have argued that institutions necessarily reify and so cannot aim toward just ends, the article draws on Ricœur’s differentiation between objectification and reification to show why this need not be the case. While reification destroys human value and meaning because it reduces human activity to a thing, objectification characterizes the positive externalization of ourselves in objects—in words, deeds, structures, and institutions. Institutions such as the law are structures that can positively objectify our just aspirations, even if we must continually guard against these structures’ reified reduction. Ricœur shows us how objectification, including objectification of values in institutions, can be something not only positive but necessary in order for values to flourish.