Narrative self-shaping: a modest proposal



Publication Details

Hutto, D. D. (2016). Narrative self-shaping: a modest proposal. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 15 (1), 21-41.


Decoupling a modestly construed Narrative Self Shaping Hypothesis (or NSSH) from Strong Narrativism this paper attempts to motivate devoting our intellectual energies to the former. Section one briefly introduces the notions of self-shaping and rehearses reasons for thinking that self-shaping, in a suitably tame form, is, at least to some extent, simply unavoidable for reflective beings. It is against this background that the basic commitments of a modest Narrative Self-Shaping Hypothesis (or NSSH) are articulated. Section two identifies a foundational commitment—the central tenet—of all Strong Narrativist proposals, those that posit a necessary link between narrative self-shaping and narrative self-experience. As will be shown, in the hands of Strong Narrativists the latter notion is unpacked in stronger or weaker ways by appeal to the notion of implicit Narrativizing. Section three reminds the reader of Strawson’s (2004a) challenge to Strong Narrativism. It is revealed that Strawson’s objections are most effective if they target Strong Narrativism’s central tenet construed as a phenomenological revelation about what is necessary for self-experience and not merely the psychological Narrativity thesis, construed as an empirical hypothesis about typical Narrativizing proclivities. Having set the stage, section four critically examines two different strategies, pursued by Rudd (2012) and Schechtman (2007) respectively, for escaping the horns Strawson’s dilemma poses for Strong Narrativism. In the end both strategies invoke the notion of implicit Narrativizing at a crucial juncture. Section five reveals that a substantive proposal about what implicit Narrativizing might be is lacking, hence we have no reason to believe that it actually occurs. It is concluded that, as things stand, Strong Narrativism has no way of avoiding the horns of Strawson’s dilemma. Brief concluding remarks in the final section are a reminder why, despite their modesty, softer versions of the NSSH—when coupled with a developmental proposal about the narrative basis of our folk psychological competence—are non-trivial and worthy of further development and investigation.

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