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The Socius and the Neighbor Research

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We’ve discussed these in our Philosophy class and I enjoyed it since it is one of the way to be “FULLY HUMAN” or a better person in order to achieve our goals in life.

Probably, you’ll find these words in English dictionary. FYI, you can’t find the word SOCIUS and the they defined NEIGHBOR as a person who live next to your house; I think this is the meaning ofNEIGHBORHOOD not NEIGHBOR.

What do you mean by the SOCIUS and the NEIGHBOR?

A French philosopher best known for combiningphenomenological description with hermeneuticinterpretation named Paul Ricœur clarified those two things.

According to him, Socius is the human relationship that you have with an organized group or the person that you can encounter through his/her social function. On the other hand,Neighbor is the personal way that you can encounter another as a person, the interpersonal, with varying degrees of intimacy.

So, in other words, being a SOCIUS has a social function and NEIGHBOR is the real attitude of a person and has no social function.

Paul Ricoeur also said that there is no Sociology of the Neighbor. Since the Science of the neighbor is thwarted by the praxis(deeds) of the neighbor. Which means, one does not have a neighbor: “I make myself someone’s neighbor”. Though, these two are complete opposite they can be as ONE to help us to be “FULLY HUMAN”. These two are the two faces of the same charity(PAUL RICOUER). UHmmm..Why did he said so?

Two faces of the same charity because they have different approaches. The neighbor is whom we knew to be the primary mover of such charity, we thought that they are the only one who is capable or who possessed this deed. But we also have to consider that the socius also had their own face of charity and we can see this through their institutions. The neighbor works their charity in a direct manner, through a man-to-man relationship with others; while the socius was in an indirect manner. They can be of the same charity when they work at the same time. Charity must come hand in hand with justice. A reflection on The Socius and the Neighbor by Paul Ricœur

This reflection talks mainly about the insight presented by Paul Ricœur in his article the Socius and the Neighbor, “..the depth of human relationships often appears only through the failures within the social realm: there is a technocratic or an institutional slumber, in the sense in which Kant spoke of a dogmatic slumber, from which man is awakened only when he is socially stripped, be it by war, revolution, or great historical disasters.” The discussion talks about the observed pattern appearing and recurring in human history which could be explained by the statement Ricœur has made. In the midst of disasters, be it war, revolution, or tragedies, the depth of human relationships are seen and emphasized; in a way, he is moved and awakened. There is a certain tendency in a human person where he defies his social function and moves toward becoming available for another whenever there is a drive pushing him to do so. Thus, from taking the role of the socius, he becomes someone’s neighbor.

Along with the civilization of mankind was the emergence of human relationships. These relationships may start coldly and purely functional between two Neanderthals seeking to survive, but would eventually grow into a partnership and interdependence on each other. The concept of these relationships could have originated from one common goal which is to survive, which would then evolve into something much deeper as eras go by. Thus, relationships as such may be classified according to how deep the individual goes relating with another. The evolution and progress of human society has resulted into innovations in day to day activities. In the hope of improving lives, man finds himself in the midst of a reality where everything is seemingly complex and has highly evolved. Man gained new and specific roles. Institutions and organizations were founded. Environment has changed and new challenges and demands spring up keeping human brains thinking and asking. With the appearance of new roles come new interactions between human encounters. Compared to eras ago, communication, generally, interactions among people today are made easier and faster.

Transactions and tasks are accomplished more efficiently because of technological advancements. Thus lots of activities may be inserted into anyone’s schedule, making a lot of people “busier”. Each one has his own business and each one has his own role to play. With these, it is normal for anyone to be absorbed in his role and concentrate with his job. Doing otherwise may result into chaos and disorder in systems and institutions, giving a chance for failures to spring up in the social realm. These are inevitable, however, but should be solved right away for man to achieve a specific task. Solutions to failures are attended to by “troubleshooters”. They are the ones who fix errors and try to make everything back to normal. Since disorders stop a certain system from functioning, there is an event of halt. Events unplanned happen during the break in the system. The worker encounters the troubleshooter as the troubleshooter helps the worker. A certain degree of uniqueness and importance is seen in this situation because it is unlike any normal day in the worker’s life where he does his monotonous job. In the instance, the worker is given the chance to deal and encounter the troubleshooter.

The worker gives importance to the troubleshooter because of the help he has given in fixing the errors in the system. Without the failure, the importance of the troubleshooter would not be realized. The idea of somebody who would get out of the way to help a person would then not be made real. The relationship of the worker to the troubleshooter may in a way be deeper as compared to the relationships dealt by the worker in chiefly doing his job – the encounter he has with co-workers or clients. Going deeper into our analysis, deep relationships are not those which are purely functional. They are something beyond that. Examples of such relationships are mother-daughter relationships, relationship as lovers, relationship as best friends, etc. Persons involved in these relationships are accountable to each other. Using the example of the relationship of lovers, the other would not be called a lover without the presence of the other lover. Connections and relationships such as these are hard to break and difficult to forget.

Unlike those relationships which are generally functional, like worker to worker relationships, the other worker may go on to find his place and role even in the absence of another worker. But it is important to note that deep relationships are the results of the failures in the social realm. Assuming that everybody could just go on living to do purely functional stuffs, there is no need for the longing of deep human relationships to be filled because it does not exist in the first place. For instance, if a child could grow fully and strongly without a mother figure, then that is a manifestation that human relationships need not be deep enough. In other words, if love is not needed, we could just go on doing functional tasks. Even in the presence of families and friends, interactions among them may sometimes become functional. Only in the presence of trials and problems may their love and compassion be witnessed. During these events can their availability be seen as to what they can offer, how much weight can they carry, and how much farther they can carry it for the other who is in need. In times like these can we see how love of the neighbor is much more profound than that of functional ties. Seeing how love can be abstract could we also see how it is concretized. We might want to wonder how society came to be what it is now.

Somehow, man has an end point in mind when he thought of continuous innovation, series of experiments and research studies. Man wanted to make life as easy as possible where it is better everyday and everything is comfortable and manageable. Somehow, we could infer that in people’s being absorbed to tasks and work, they are showing their love to everyone who benefits from their work and efforts. This is how they love a multitude. Somehow, the love is not shown anymore and is not manifested because it is the task which they are focusing about and not the beneficiaries. Thus, exists an institutional slumber where people tend to forget the essence of human relationships over human roles and tasks. This love however is awakened by disasters and unfortunate events that happen. In a way, people are shaken and stirred to think about what is left after disasters occur. They tend to realize what it is that matters most, not their jobs nor their social roles, but their relationships to other people. That is why in calamities, heroes appear, compassion is shown, and people suddenly become available for other people they don’t even know. It is important to note the significant realizations acquired from Ricœur’s statement. Man has always tried to make things better for him and his society.

It is also in this way that man’s concern and love for another is shown. However, man gets quite absorbed in his role. The tendency to become functional sets in. In his functionality can we see man’s skills and abilities. He is highly honored and respected whenever he discovers or invents something, or finds a solution for a global problem. However, man’s subjectivity and ability to love is shown strikingly when he is socially stripped. More than that, the love he gives is given much value. Somehow, his being human is much more appreciated in this context of facing challenges, problems and being pushed in the idea of sacrifice. Man could either offer his availability to another or be the one who accepts help from another.

This implies that in being socially involved, man is able to fill in a certain level of need in another person. For man, therefore, to be truly human, he needs to exercise his talents and abilities without disregarding the love he could give to another. In the imperfect world, people could not afford to be purely functional. Man is above animals. There is more to just survival. Because of the imperfect world and society, the acts of love and compassion are even magnified. It is then that together we strive to improve everything, and in improving everything, the tendency to be functional shows up, leading us to be surprised by historical tragedies driving the cycle of love and functionality.

Paul Ricoeur’s “The Socius and the Neighbor” (“Le ‘Socius’ et le Prochain”) is my favorite Ricoeur essay. The beauty of the essay derives from the exquisite fitness of its theme to Ricoeur’s interests and talents; the bridging of two seemingly incommensurate discourses (theology and sociology) through a close interpretation of a beautiful New Testament text (the parable of the Good Samaritan). What results is an interpretive tour de force. Ricoeur’s eloquence flows from the sheer power and precision of his thought, and this eloquence is nowhere in better evidence. Ricoeur’s purpose in this essay is to find a productive link between the institutions of social justice and the charity of the individual. How does one make a sociological inquiry into the injunction to love thy neighbor?

How can one bring dispassionate observation to the imperative to love thy neighbor? There seems to be an unbridgeable chasm in the deficiencies of each, the cold bureaucracy of the anonymous governmental agency and the sheer insufficiency of the individual act of charity. To begin, Ricoeur uses the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) to show how “a behavior in the first person” defies social categories. The ensuing reflection sharpens the antinomy he creates at the outset (“There is no sociology of the neighbor.”) before resolving the antimony in favor of a necessary collaboration between institutional stability and acts of personal affirmation.


Ricoeur, Paul. “Le ‘Socius’ et le Prochain.” Christianisme Social 68:7-9, July/Sept. 1960. 462-474.“The Socius and the Neighbor.” History and Truth. Trans. Charles A. Kelbley. Northwestern UP, 2006. 98-109.

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