Ricoeur’s Theory of Interpretation: An Instrument for Data Interpretation in Hermeneutic Phenomenology

  • Heather Tan Monash University
  • Anne Wilson University of Adelaide
  • Ian Olver Cancer Council Australia


Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, although providing an appropriate philosophical foundation for research in the social sciences that seeks to investigate the meaning of lived experience, does not provide clarity of process, making it difficult to assign the degree of rigor to the work demanded in an era dominated by the positivist paradigm. Ricoeur (1981) further developed both Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s ideas, in the areas of method and interpretation of hermeneutic phenomenological research, in a direction that has addressed this difficulty. In this article the authors outline Ricoeur’s theory, including three levels of data analysis, describe its application to the interpretation of data, and discuss two apparent contradictions in his theory. Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation, as a tool for the interpretation of data in studies whose philosophical underpinning is hermeneutic phenomenology, deserves consideration by human sciences researchers who seek to provide a rigorous foundation for their work.

Author Biographies

Heather Tan, Monash University
Master of Grief & Palliative Care Counselling Research Fellow Palliative Care Unit School of Nursing and Midwifery Monash University
Anne Wilson, University of Adelaide
PhD Senior Lecturer Discipline of Nursing School of Population Health and Clinical Practice University of Adelaide
Ian Olver, Cancer Council Australia
PhD, MD CEO Cancer Council Australia