In the recent philosophical literature the problem of translation has been treated by a relatively small number of thinkers. We might recall the contributions of Donald Davidson and Willard van Orman Quine in the analytical tradition; while in continental philosophy Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur are the greatest thinkers who have explicitly thematised the practice of translation and its ef fects from a speculative point of view. My text will focus on Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) who has dealt with the problem of translation in a few lectures and articles, occasionally presented over the last fifteen years of his long life and later collected in two volumes: Le Juste 2 (2001) and Sur la Traduction (2004). What is unique about Ricoeur, when compared to the other philosophers just mentioned, is that he identifies in translation a paradigm of the attitude towards alterity; claiming that the ethical purposes relating to what he calls ‘linguistic hospitality’ are the model for any kind of hospitality. In this way translation becomes a model for ethical and juridical thinking. It is not coincidental that one of the essays of the second volume that Ricoeur dedicated to his theory of justice, Le Juste 2, is precisely about translation.
In my intervention I will concentrate on the relationship between translation and justice and show how it appears within his entire philosophical system; with a particular focus on his analysis of his hermeneutical concept of ‘distantiation’ and of the act of judging. ‘La distanciation’, which is the just distance between subject and object, is a key concept in Ricoeur’s hermeneutical theory, but it is also the principle that lies at the foundation of his understanding of justice, it is the principle that is objectified in juridical institutions. The act of judging is analysed by Ricoeur not only in the juridical sphere but also in the medical, moral and esthetical realms. In this way he shows the main characteristic that is common, among the other things, between translation and justice; that is the necessity to apply a general principle to particular cases through an action – the act of judging.