Kuipers, Ronald A.. “Turning Memory into Prophecy: Paul Ricoeur and Roberto Unger on the Human Condition between Past and Future,” in The Heythrop Journal 52/2, 2011: 1-10.
In The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound, Roberto Unger consistently maintains that, in any democracy worthy of the name, ‘prophecy’ ought to speak louder than ‘memory’. Precisely what Unger means by these two evocative terms is not immediately or manifestly clear, although one could be forgiven for getting the impression that, in making this claim, Unger is offering his unique expression of pragmatism’s uneasy and ambiguous feelings about the past; among other things, this claim constitutes a warning against the temptation of succumbing to an enervating conservatism with which the past always presents us. But beyond offering such a warning, what precisely does Unger mean by ‘memory’ and ‘prophecy’? How does he think we ought to understand the relationship between this prophecy that ought to speak louder than memory, and the past from which, he admits, it always emerges? Finally, are there different ways of considering this relationship than the one Unger offers, ways that also resist the temptations of conservatism, yet while in so doing preserve a more edifying role for memory (not to mention tradition or history)? With the aid of the hermeneutical phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur, my purpose in this essay is to explore these questions.