Paul Ricoeur was the first to refer to Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as the Masters of Suspicion. By this, he did not mean that they were more suspicious than others, but rather, that the object of their suspicion has changed the way we relate to one another. While Descartes doubted everything but his consciousness (‘I think, therefore I am’), the Masters of Suspicion doubted consciousness itself. ‘If we go back to the intention they had in common, we find in it the decision to look upon the whole of consciousness primarily as “false” consciousness’:
The philosopher trained in the school of Descartes knows that things are doubtful, that they are not such as they appear; but he does not doubt that consciousness is such as it appears to itself; in consciousness, meaning and consciousness of meaning coincide. Since Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, this too has become doubtful. After the doubt about things, we have started to doubt consciousness
Ricoeur goes on to say that Descartes triumphed over the doubt about things by the ‘evidence of consciousness’, while the Masters triumph over the doubt about consciousness by an ‘exegesis of meaning’ (that is, interpretation). For Marx this would be the interpretation of the economic interests guiding your decisions; for Nietzsche, it’s the will to power; and for Freud, our repressed desires.
These ideas are so entrenched in the West that we conduct these critiques without even being aware of the work in which they originated. We now live in a Society of Suspicion — a shift Rick Roderick calls ‘childhood’s end for our culture’:
For Ricoeur, the opposite of suspicion is faith. But after the Masters, faith itself is altered. There is no more ‘faith of the simple soul’, there is only ‘faith that has undergone criticism’; a ‘postcritical faith’. This is the legacy of the Masters.