A Pedagogy of Responsibility

Autonomy, Vulnerability, and the Future of the Humanities


  • Howard Pickett Washington and Lee University (Lexington, Virginia, USA)




Education, Identity, Ethics, Vulnerability, Autonomy


The following article reconstructs the philosophy of education implicit in Paul Ricœur’s late writings —above all, his “Autonomy and Vulnerability”— to address the current crisis in the humanities. In keeping with Kant and the Bildung tradition, Ricœur reminds us that education aims, above all, at self-formation. In particular, a “pedagogy of responsibility” serves as a bridge between vulnerability and “autonomy”: shorthand in Ricœur’s thought for character, intellectual independence, and moral maturity. Unlike orthodox Kantians, however, Ricœur highlights the indispensable role symbolic representation plays in the cultivation of autonomy, mutual recognition, and three related modes of identity: narrative identity, personal identity, and moral identity. Moreover, we learn this art of identity-formation from sustained study in the humanities (literature, philosophy, history, etc.).


Andrew Delbanco, interview with Michel Martin, “Are the Humanities in Crisis?,” Amanpour and Company (March 8, 2023), online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbXEV5JXhBM.

Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice. Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Paul Guyer, “Progress toward Autonomy,” in Oliver Sensen (ed.), Kant on Moral Autonomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 71-86.

Nathan Heller, “The End of the English Major,” The New Yorker (February 27, 2023).

Jennifer A. Herdt, Putting on Virtue. The Legacy of the Splendid Vices (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012; first edition 2008).

—, Forming Humanity. Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2019).

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in Practical Philosophy. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, ed. trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 133-271.

—, The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in Practical Philosophy. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, ed. And trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 37-108.

—, Lectures on Pedagogy, in Anthropology, History, and Education. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, trans. Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 434-85.

Robert B. Louden, Kant’s Impure Ethics. From Rational Beings to Human Beings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016; first edition 2010).

Inês Pereira Rodrigues, “‘Who Do You Say that I Am?’ Truth in Narrative Identity,” Études ricœuriennes/Ricœur Studies, vol. 14/1 (2023), 132-50.

Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, Permanent Crisis. The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Paul Ricœur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

—, “Life. A Story in Search of a Narrator,” in Mario J. Valdés (ed.), A Ricœur Reader. Reflection and Imagination (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

—, The Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000).

—, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

—, The Course of Recognition, trans. David Pellauer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

—, Reflections on the Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007).

—, “The Symbolic Structure of Action,” in Philosophical Anthropology. Writings and Lectures, vol. 3, eds Johann Michel and Jérôme Porée, trans. David Pellauer (Cambridge: Polity, 2016).