In defence of narrative

European Journal of Philosophy 17 (1):60-75 (2007)
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Over the last few decades, a number of influential philosophers, psychologists and others have invoked the notion of narrative as having a central role to play in our thinking about ethics and personal identity. More recently, a backlash against these narrative theories has developed, exemplified in work by, for instance, Galen Strawson, Peter Lamarque and John Christman. This paper defends an approach to personal identity and ethics, influenced mainly by Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, in which narrative plays a central (though not a foundational) role. In sec I, I elucidate the concept of narrative that MacIntyre introduced in After Virtue and show why this is central to thinking about the identity of persons across time. In sec II, I consider and reject various objections to this narrative account of personal identity. I hope to show that some of the prominent criticisms of narrative theory simply don’t apply to this conception, properly understood. However, I don’t want to claim that the dispute over narrative is based purely on misunderstanding, One centrally important aspect of the dispute is a first-order ethical one about the extent to which we should seek for a unity based on narrative coherence in our lives, and in secs III and IV, I will offer a defence of Taylor’s claim that an ethical life must aspire to, and to some extent achieve, narrative unity.



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Author's Profile

Anthony Rudd
St. Olaf College

References found in this work

Mind and World.John Henry McDowell - 1994 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity.Charles Taylor - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior.John M. Doris - 2002 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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