Hermeneutics of suspicion

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The hermeneutics of suspicion is a style of literary interpretation in which texts are read with skepticism in order to expose their purported repressed or hidden meanings.[1]

This mode of interpretation, invented by Paul Ricœur, who was inspired by his interpretation of the works of what he called the three "masters of suspicion"[2]Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche—Ricoeur's term "school of suspicion" (French: école du soupçon) refers to his association of his theory with the writings of the three, who themselves never used this term.[3] This school is defined by a belief that the straight-forward appearances of texts are deceptive and that explicit content hide deeper meanings or implications.[1][4]

This school was coined in Freud and Philosophy (1965) by Paul Ricœur,[2][3][5] who believed Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche shared a similar view of consciousness as false.[6]


Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (German: Wahrheit und Methode), offers perhaps the most systematic survey of hermeneutics in the 20th century. The title of the work indicates his dialogue between claims of "truth" on the one hand and the processes of "method" on the other—in brief, the hermeneutics of faith and the hermeneutics of suspicion. Gadamer suggests that, ultimately, one must decide between one and the other when reading.[7]:106–107

Ruthellen Josselson similarly writes, "Ricoeur distinguishes between two forms of hermeneutics: a hermeneutics of faith which aims to restore meaning to a text and a hermeneutics of suspicion which attempts to decode meanings that are disguised."[8]

According to literary theorist Rita Felski, hermeneutics of suspicion is "a distinctively modern style of interpretation that circumvents obvious or self-evident meanings in order to draw out less visible and less flattering truths." Felski further writes:

[Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche] share a commitment to unmasking 'the lies and illusions of consciousness'; they are the architects of a distinctively modern style of interpretation that circumvents obvious or self-evident meanings in order to draw out less visible and less flattering truths ... Ricoeur's term has sustained an energetic after-life within religious studies, as well as in philosophy, intellectual history, and related fields.[9]

Felski also notes that the"'hermeneutics of suspicion' is the name usually bestowed on [a] technique of reading texts against the grain and between the lines, of cataloging their omissions and laying bare their contradictions, of rubbing in what they fail to know and cannot represent."[10] In that sense, it can be seen as being related to ideology critique. Felski has built on Ricœur's theory in outlining her influential theory of postcritique.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Felski, Rita. 2011. "Suspicious Minds." Poetics Today 32(2). doi:10.1215/03335372-1261208.
  2. ^ a b Ricœur, Paul (2008). pp. 33, 35.
  3. ^ a b Ricoeur, Paul (2008) [1970]. Freud and Philosophy. An Essay on Interpretation. Denis Savage (transl.). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-8-12083305-0.
  4. ^ G. D. Robinson, Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion: A Brief Overview and Critique, University of Toronto.
  5. ^ Dole, Andrew. 2018. Reframing the Masters of Suspicion: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
  6. ^ "The Homme Fatal and the Subversion of Suspicion in 'Mr Brooks' and 'The Killer Inside Me'."
  7. ^ Jasper, D., A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics (Louisville, KY & London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), pp. 106–107.
  8. ^ Josselson, Ruthellen (1 July 2004). "The Hermeneutics of Faith and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion" (PDF). Narrative Inquiry. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 14 (1): 1–28. doi:10.1075/ni.14.1.01jos. ISSN 1387-6740. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2016.
  9. ^ Felski, Rita (2012). "Critique and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion". M/C Journal. 15 (1). doi:10.5204/mcj.431.
  10. ^ Felski, Rita (Autumn 2011). "Context Stinks" (PDF). New Literary History. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. 42 (4): 573–591. doi:10.1353/nlh.2011.0045. S2CID 201779165.
  11. ^ Giusti, F., "Passionate Affinities: A Conversation with Rita Felski", Los Angeles Review of Books, September 25, 2019.