Storytelling and moral agency

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48 (2):115-126 (1990)
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The capacity for telling stories is necessary for being moral agents. The minimal necessary features for moral agency involve the capacities necessary for articulation, and articulation is a key part of what we learn and practice through telling stories. Developing the interdependence between agency and articulation, this article offers an account of both categorical moral agency and a degree-of-sophistication account of agency. Central to these are three factors: a moral agent has (1) the capacity to represent, (2) a sense of self (including a sense of self in relation to others), and (3) the normative capacity to make judgments marked by authority. Featuring an analysis of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” the article argues that Morrison portrays a moral sensibility emerging in the telling of the story, even in the absence of moral judgments within the text. Understanding the value of stories, fictional or factual, requires less attention to the moral value of the actions depicted within the story and more attention to the perspective and point of view developed in the narrative voice. Of most significance is the articulative process of the artist, the storyteller, the novelist, modeled for the reader, who must engage with that developing perspective.



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Lynne Tirrell
University of Connecticut

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