Colloquium: Persons, Selves, and Stories

Persons, Selves, and Stories; Complexities of the Narrative Approach to Personal Identity

Many philosophers have found it helpful to think about personal identity in narrative terms. There has, however, also been considerable pushback against this approach. This paper considers objections to narrative views raised by Galen Strawson in Against Narrativity. It argues that while Strawson’s challenges uncover serious difficulties with the narrative approach, these difficulties reveal the need to refine this approach rather than to reject it wholesale. The paper focuses on a version of the narrative approach that I have defended previously – the narrative self-constitution view. Reflection on Strawson’s objections indicates that the narrative self-constitution view runs together two separate insights that need to be developed into two different narrative views – a narrative view of persons and a narrative view of selves. Once these strands have been distinguished, Strawson’s objections apply to neither. There remain, however, some deep differences between Strawson’s approach and my own concerning the relations between these two newly distinguished narrative views. The paper concludes by showing how these differences point to important questions about persons and personal identity.

Illustration by Adrian Clark under the Creative Commons