@Against Narrativity

02 Oct 2022 06:48 - 21 Jul 2023 09:45
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    • Notes
      • Narrative is trendy in academic circles (this was around 2004).
      • psychological Narrativity thesis: we "see or live or experience" our lives as a narrative (descriptive)
        • is the singular article significant? there is a big difference between experiencing your life as a narrative vs a bunch of narratives.
      • ethical Narrativity thesis: this is a good thing (normative)
      • 2x2norm truenorm false
        desc trueacademic dominantSartre, Stoics
        desc falsePlutarch, contemporary ?Strawson
      • There are deeply non-Narrative people and there are good ways to live that are deeply non-Narrative.
      • Diachronic self-experience (self as extended forward or backward in time) vs Episodic
      • I need to say more about the Episodic life, and since I find myself to be relatively Episodic, I’ll use myself as an example. I have a past, like any human being, and I know perfectly well that I have a past. I have a respectable amount of factual knowledge about it, and I also remember some of my past experiences ‘from the inside’, as philosophers say. And yet I have absolutely no sense of my life as a narrative with form, or indeed as a narrative without form. Absolutely none. Nor do I have any great or special interest in my past. Nor do I have a great deal of concern for my future.
      • Dennett and Charles Taylor quoted as in support of narrativity in general. Taylor calls it an ‘inescapable structural requirement of human agency’.
      • Here my main puzzlement is about what it might be to ‘give an ethical character to [one’s] own life taken as a whole’ in some explicit way, and about why on earth, in the midst of the beauty of being, it should be thought to be important to do this. I think that those who think in this way are motivated by a sense of their own importance or significance that is absent in other human beings.
        • Strawson is kind of a be-here-now hippie I guess (he has written about his life in the 60s, in his book Things That Bother Me)
      • Many of them, connectedly, have religious commitments. They are wrapped up in forms of religious belief that are – like almost all religious belief – really all about self.
        • Hm.
      • Alasdair MacIntyre is perhaps the founding figure in the modern Narrativity camp... ‘The unity of an individual life’, he says, ‘is the unity of a narrative embodied in a single life.'
        • OK well I'm on Strawson's side here, I don't believe in a unified narrative.
      • I have a perfectly good grasp of myself as having a certain personality, but I’m completely uninterested in the answer to the question ‘What has GS made of his life?’, or ‘What have I made of my life?’. I’m living it, and this sort of thinking about it is no part of it. This does not mean that I am in any way irresponsible. It is just that what I care about, in so far as I care about myself and my life, is how I am now.
      • Hm well that is enviable, I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about what I have or haven't made of my life, and it seems largely a waste of time. Maybe GS is enlightened.
      • The aspiration to explicit Narrative self-articulation is natural for some – for some, perhaps, it may even be helpful but in others it is highly unnatural and ruinous. My guess is that it almost always does more harm than good – that the Narrative tendency to look for story or narrative coherence in one’s life is, in general, a gross hindrance to self-understanding: to a just, general, practically real sense, implicit or explicit, of one’s nature. It’s well known that telling and retelling one’s past leads to changes, smoothings, enhancements, shifts away from the facts ... The implication is plain: the more you recall, retell, narrate yourself, the further you risk moving away from accurate self-understanding, from the truth of your being.
      • This implies that there is such a thing as accurate self-understanding which is narrative-free. Not clear what that is made up of.
      • (in the voice of a critic) I’m sorry, but you really have no idea of the force and reach of the psychological Narrativity thesis. You’re as Narrative as anyone else, and your narratives about yourself determine how you think of yourself even though they are not conscious.
      • Yeah I tend to agree with the critic there.
      • Some ref to Heidegger (I like that he freely admits he has no idea )
    • General Take
      • This is a perfect example of the kind of thing that drives me crazy about most philosophy. He grabs onto an important issue, and approaches it in exactly the wrong way so as to obscure rather than enlighten.
      • The ethnographic (real) view of stories: people employ narratives to make sense of their lives, both pre- and post- action. Not only narratives, those are sort of just one tool in the toolbox. "I struggled to become a doctor because I wanted to help people" – there's a narrative, obviously not a complete story of a persons experience and also probably hiding other motives, but its a way of making sense. Note: I'm basing this primarily on Telling the American Story, which I found really eye-opening.
      • Stories can help or be harmful, depending on their use and context. People can use stories to organize themselves or feel trapped within a story.
      • But to do philosophy (and Strawson is really one of the better of the bunch) you have to reduce this complexity into an oversimplified and universalized thesis like the two above. Pfah.
    • Further reading
      • Pedrini and Kirsch (eds) - 2018 - Third-Person Self-Knowledge, Self-Interpretation, and Narrative
        • edited volume with some interesting looking stuff
        • third-person self-knowledge vs first-person (I would say, symbolic vs experiential but that might not quite be the same thing)
        • Introduction: Getting to Know Our Own Minds, 1 Julie Kirsch and Patrizia Pedrini Self-Knowing Interpreters . . . . . . . . . 13 Annalisa Coliva Extended Self-Knowledge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 J. Adam Carter and Duncan Pritchard The ‘Crux’ of Internal Promptings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Patrizia Pedrini Interpreting Intuitions. . . . . . . . . . . 73 Marcus McGahhey and Neil Van Leeuwen Interpreting Things Past. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 Julie Kirsch Self-Interpretation as Software: Toward a New Understanding of Why False Self-Conceptions Persist ...... . 115 Tadeusz Wiesław Zawidzki Self-Interpretation and Social Cognition . . . . . . . . . . ....... . 145 Shaun Gallagher Hermeneutics, Self-Knowledge and Self-Interpretation . ....... . 159 Bruce B. Janz Identification and Self-Knowledge . . . .. . ....... . 177 Luca Malatesti and Filip Čeč Causal Inference in the Clinical Setting: Why the Cognitive Science of Folk Psychology Matters . . . . . . . . . . . ....... . 191 Andrew Sims