[Fwd: NDPR Kim Atkins / / / Kim Atkins and Catriona Mackenzie (eds.), Narrative Identity and Moral Identity: A Practical Perspective / / / Practical Identity and Narrative Agency]

From: Brent Meeker <meekerdb.domain.name.hidden>
Date: Thu, 02 Apr 2009 11:16:44 -0700

There might be something in this that is of interest to the list.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: NDPR Kim Atkins / / / Kim Atkins and Catriona Mackenzie
(eds.), Narrative Identity and Moral Identity: A Practical Perspective /
/ / Practical Identity and Narrative Agency
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2009 08:12:00 -0400
From: Anastasia Friel Gutting <agutting.domain.name.hidden>
Reply-To: agutting.domain.name.hidden
To: PHILOSOPHICAL-REVIEWS.domain.name.hidden

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2009-04-02 : View this Review Online
<http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=15745> : View Other NDPR Reviews

Kim Atkins, Narrative Identity and Moral Identity: A Practical
Perspective, Routledge, 2008, 175pp., $105.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780415956321.

Kim Atkins and Catriona Mackenzie (eds.), Practical Identity and
Narrative Agency, Routledge, 2008, 296pp., $110.00 (hbk), ISBN

*Reviewed by Andrea C. Westlund, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee*


Narrative conceptions of agency have attracted considerable
philosophical interest in recent years, and both of these books make
significant contributions to the growing literature on this theme. Each
treats a wide range of related concepts, including not just narrative
agency itself but also personal and practical identity, temporality and
the self, practical reasoning, and autonomy.

Kim Atkins' /Narrative Identity and Moral Identity/ is a book about the
nature of human selfhood. Atkins uses the terms "selfhood" and
"identity" interchangeably, and approaches her subject in part through a
discussion of theories of personal identity. Her central interest,
however, is in practical rather than metaphysical identity. A person, in
the sense of interest to Atkins, is a practical unity of first-,
second-, and third-personal perspectives (more on this below), and
questions about personal identity, in her sense, are questions about the
continuity of this practical unity over time.

Atkins adopts Christine Korsgaard's conception of practical identity as
"a description under which you value yourself, a description under which
you find your life to be worth living and your actions to be worth
undertaking" (1). Like Korsgaard, Atkins takes practical identities to
give rise to reasons. As she puts it, "who I think I am provides the
reasons for what I do and how I think, including how I think about
myself" (66). Her central thesis, however, is that practical identities
are /narrative/ identities: "the description under which we value
ourselves and our lives takes a narrative form" (1). Here Atkins goes
beyond Korsgaard in specifying that the kind of unity required for human
agency is specifically narrative unity. On this picture, our reasons
flow from the narratives we construct in response to the self-directed
questions "Who am I?" and "How should I live?".

The book has seven chapters in addition to Atkins' introduction. The
first chapter explores the roots of contemporary debates about personal
identity in Locke, Hume, and Kant, and culminates in a discussion of
Kant's distinction between transcendental and empirical apperception.
Selfhood, for Kant, is bi-perspectival in the sense that it involves
both awareness of the 'I' as a principle of the unity of consciousness
and awareness of the 'I' as appearance. In the second chapter, Atkins
draws on Marcel and Merleau-Ponty to argue that the bi-perspectival
nature of human selfhood is explained by the fact of human embodiment.
The human subject is both a body that sees and perceives and a body that
is capable of /being/ seen and perceived, including, significantly, by
itself. In Atkins' terminology, this is to say that human selfhood is a
unity of (at least) two perspectives, namely, the first- and the
third-personal. Further, these perspectives imply one another: if I were
not an object /in/ the world, I would not be capable of having a
first-personal perspective /on/ the world, and if I did not have a
first-personal perspective /on/ the world, I would have no point of view
from which to perceive myself, third-personally, as an object /in/ the
world. In Chapter 03 Atkins argues that the first- and third-personal
perspectives that are unified in human selfhood also imply a
second-personal perspective. Developmentally speaking, human selfhood is
a product of /shared/ embodiment: it is acquired through bodily and
social engagement with others who care for us, teach us, and,
ultimately, subject us to interpersonal standards of evaluation and
justification. Being held to such standards presupposes second-personal
competence to answer to specific others in relation to whom we
articulate our identities.

The upshot of the first three chapters is that an adequate account of
personal identity (in Atkins' practical sense) will have to explain how
these three perspectives are integrated in temporally extended, human
selfhood. Chapter 04 is the core of the book, since it is here that
Atkins defends the thesis that only a narrative conception of practical
identity can successfully do this. Using Marya Schectman's account of
narrative self-constitution as a springboard, Atkins argues that my
continuing to be who I am cannot be fully explained by impersonal causal
relations that hold between person-stages, but requires the continuity
of a first-personal perspective from which I am able to own or attribute
actions to myself "from the inside". She agrees with Schectman that the
continuity of the first-personal perspective must be understood in
narrative terms, and argues, further, that only a narrative model can
make sense of selfhood as a unity of /all three/ of the perspectives she
distinguishes in earlier chapters.

Atkins argues that continuity of selfhood depends on the activity of
"secondary reflection" -- a form of reflection that responds to, and
seeks to resolve, disturbances to my sense of self. Secondary reflection
is a kind of inner dialogue in which I attempt to answer questions about
who I am and what I should do by "appropriat[ing] my third-personal
attributes as my own from my first-personal perspective to myself in the
second person" (65). Atkins also refers to this as a process of
"self-constancy", through which I undertake to continue* *as the person
I think I am. When one engages in this process, one looks both forward
and backward, attempting to integrate one's past, present, and
anticipated future into a coherent, chronologically ordered whole that
is intelligible from one's own point of view. This is where narrative
comes in: the accounts we give of ourselves, when we engage in secondary
reflection, achieve such integration between past, present, and future
insofar as they take a narrative form. Borrowing from Ricoeur, Atkins
argues that the coherence of our experience depends on its being ordered
in a rule-governed succession, and that narrative interpretation brings
such an ordering to our experience by allowing us to experience events
not just as falling into chronological sequences but as bearing causal
relations to one another and as following trajectories from beginning,
to middle, to end. This narrative view integrates all three perspectives
involved in human selfhood in something like the following way: accounts
of oneself are given /from/ a first-personal perspective, addressed /to/
an actual or implied other, and serve to link third-personally
describable elements of a life (actors, objects, motives, circumstances,
and so forth) into a "temporally extended, causally related coherent
whole, with a beginning, a middle, and an end" (76).

In Chapter 5, Atkins goes on to argue that narrative selfhood has an
ethical aim: "the aim of living a good life with and for others in just
institutions" (80). Here Atkins argues that continuity in identity is
/agential/ continuity, that agents are "subjects of imputation" (that
is, they can be held to account for their actions), and that in this
sense agents "always already" operate within a moral community.
Practical identity is articulated within a moral sphere -- or, more
accurately, within a plurality of moral spheres. (Atkins regards family,
ethnicity, religion, and so forth as demarcating distinct moral
spheres.) Against the backdrop of these multiple spheres of
interpretation, moral identity is rendered coherent by the overall
narrative unity of a life. Substantively speaking, good lives may differ
widely from one another depending on cultural and other affiliations.
But formally speaking, a good life just is a narratively unified,
well-integrated one. The achievement of such unity requires protection
from various sources of fragmentation and violation, which in turn
requires both solicitude ("spontaneous receptivity and responsiveness to
each other" (93)) and a framework of just institutions.

In Chapter 6, Atkins considers how we handle situations of tragic
conflict and other threats to our agential unity or integrity, and
argues that Jan Bransen's account of how we choose "alternatives" of
ourselves aptly captures the kind of practical wisdom we need to
exercise in such situations. Finally, in Chapter 07 Atkins places her
account of narrative agency within the literature on relational
autonomy, drawing in particular on Diana Meyers' view that autonomy
consists in "a set of socially acquired practical competencies in
self-discovery, self-definition, and self-direction" (125). Atkins
argues that the practical competencies or skills we need for autonomous
or self-governed agency are, precisely, narrative competencies -- the
very skills we exercise in giving narratively structured self-accounts
that unify our agency over time.

Atkins' book is ambitious and wide-ranging, and contains much of
interest not only to narrative theorists but also to anyone interested
in theories of agency and moral psychology more generally. I cannot
possibly do justice to all of her arguments here. But I would like to
press a line of questioning about her central thesis: Why must our
practical identities be narrative identities? Otherwise put, why must
the answers we give to questions asked in secondary reflection be
narrative in form, if they are to secure the continuity of our agency
over time?

In a pivotal passage in Chapter 4, Atkins gives roughly the following
argument for her thesis:

1. Selfhood is a unity of first-, second-, and third-personal
perspectives on one's attributes.

2. These three perspectives mutually imply and explain one another.

3. Attributes that make up the agent's identity must cohere with this
multi-perspectival structure.

4. So, the attributes that make up the agent's identity must also
mutually imply and explain one another.

5. Only narrative accounts can capture these relations of mutual
implication and explanation.

Premises 01 and 2 are defended in Chapters 2 and 3, as outlined above.
Premise 3 does not seem problematic. But how exactly does 4 follow?

Let's consider what it would be for an attribute (say, my being a
devoted parent) to cohere with the multi-perspectival structure of
selfhood that Atkins lays out. As I understand the view, the attribute
would have to be capable of figuring in an account that I could give in
response to questions about who I am and what I should do, as these
arise in the process of secondary reflection. This account would have to
be intelligible both from my own point of view, as I look forward and
back, and to the (implied or actual) audience I address. Finally, it
would have to be consistent with basic facts accessible from a
third-personal perspective. My self-accounts are thus constrained in
various ways -- by my own history and aspirations, my embodied nature,
my social context and relations, and by what Atkins calls, simply, reality.

It is not clear why the attributes internal to my temporally extended
practical identity would themselves have to stand in relations of mutual
explanation and implication in order to meet these various constraints.
Consider Atkins' example of Susan, a woman who is fixated on the
(mistaken) idea that she has royal ancestry. Atkins points out that this
purported attribute is not implied or explained by any of Susan's other
attributes. But Susan's self-account also fails to meet the constraints
imposed by the tri-perspectival structure of selfhood in more
straightforward ways. For example, it manifestly fails the reality test
(as Atkins herself points out), and it just as clearly cannot satisfy
interpersonal standards of justification.

It is plausible that, even apart from such social and factual
requirements, /consistency/ with one's other attributes is necessary in
order for an agent to successfully appropriate an attribute as her own.
But a set of attributes might be internally consistent without its
members actually standing in relations of mutual implication or
explanation with one another. My being a devoted parent is neither
explained nor implied by my being a professional philosopher, nor is the
latter explained or implied by the former. Yet these aspects of my
practical identity are (I hope) at least consistent with one another,
and may form part of an identity that is intelligible overall.
Certainly, in some circumstances practical conflicts will arise between
the demands imposed on me by these two aspects of my identity, and in
such cases I will have tough decisions to make. But these are conflicts
that arise for me /as/ a unified agent confronted with reasons to act in
different ways -- not the kind of conflict that undermines the unity of
my agency in the first place. Being a parent and being a philosopher may
both be sources of genuine reasons for me, even if they do not explain
or imply one another.

Of course, Atkins need not claim that each of my attributes must stand
in relations of mutual explanation or implication with every other. Her
view seems rather to be that each attribute that is internal to my
identity must be explained or implied by /some/ other attribute of mine.
But it is not clear why even this must be so, given that (as I
understand it) it does not seem to be demanded by the tri-perspectival
structure of selfhood itself.

Even setting aside such questions about 4, certain questions remain
about 5. Atkins sees narrative as uniquely suited to integrate one's
attributes into a unified identity because of the way (on the model of
narrative she favors) it articulates causal links between aspects of the
agent's experience and organizes them teleologically. But even if
self-accounts that take a narrative form are in fact capable of
constituting or preserving agential unity, it is not yet clear that
/only /narrative accounts can do this. Consider a young, recently
married man who is out late with friends and hasn't thought to call his
wife to let her know where he is. One of his friends asks him why he
hasn't called her -- "You're married now," he says. "You have to call!"
Our young man may well be brought up short by this disruption to his
sense of self, and (pausing to engage in secondary reflection) realize
that he does indeed have reason to act differently. But in this kind of
case, his self-account might simply cite, and re-affirm, his identity as
husband: "That's right, I'm married. And calling in this kind of
situation /is/ part of what being married requires of me." This snippet
of secondary reflection is not narrative in form (he does not, for
example, refer to the history of his relationship with his wife, nor
does he connect the requirement to call to a projected future of marital
harmony), but it does seem to meet the intelligibility-constraints
imposed by the tri-perspectival structure of the self: the account he
offers makes sense to himself, his audience, and from an impersonal
point of view. So why should it be ruled out?

The diachronic nature of human agency has attracted considerable
philosophical attention of late, and has inspired several alternative
models of agential unity. To mention a few examples, Michael Bratman's
planning theory of agency, Agnieszka Jaworska's care-based conception of
minimal autonomy, and John Christman's historical account of autonomy
all attempt to do justice to the temporal extension of agency without
invoking narrative -- or, at least, without invoking it in any very
substantial way. (As I note below, Christman does invoke narrative in
his historical account, but only in a much thinner sense.) The challenge
for Atkins is to show not only that narrative /can/ make sense of
ourselves and our lives, but that without it we /cannot/ achieve the
agential unity required to lead coherent or good lives. While I would
not go so far as to claim that Atkins is wrong about the role of
narrative in self-constitution, I do think that a substantial burden of
proof remains on her shoulders.

Atkins and Mackenzie's edited volume, /Practical Identity and Narrative
Agency/, is organized around many of the same themes that are central to
Atkins' own book. Its papers treat topics including the relationship
between metaphysical and practical identity, the relationship between
practical reasoning and practical identity, the reflective capacities
required for practical reasoning and autonomy, and, of course, the role
of narrative in all of the above. For the most part I will limit myself
to brief summaries of the main claims defended in each paper, and will
reserve my more extended remarks for those that most centrally involve
the concept of narrative.

The first part of the book is devoted to three papers on personal
identity and continuity. Marya Schectman's paper "Staying Alive:
Personal Continuation and a Life Worth Having" probes the relationship
between personal identity and practical concerns. In response to Eric
Olson, Schectman develops a non-animalist account of the kind of
personal unity that underlies the very possibility of raising questions
about a person's autonomy and responsibility for past actions. Her
account of this underlying unity is neither purely biological nor purely
psychological but, rather, based on her notion of a "person-life" -- a
cluster concept that incorporates a range of biological, psychological,
and higher order reflective capacities that typically make up a person's
life. Caroline West's paper "Personal Identity: Practical or
Metaphysical?" is also a critical response to Olson's animalism. West
argues that the metaphysical facts of personal identity cannot be
severed from practical questions about (for example) the conditions of
obligation, entitlement, responsibility and regret. She argues that
"person" is a social kind, with persistence conditions that are partly
determined by individual and community practices. Kim Atkins'
contribution, "Narrative Identity and Embodied Continuity," is of a
piece with the more extended arguments in her book. Here she argues that
the complex structure of first-, second-, and third-personal
perspectives that constitutes a unified self cuts across the
psychological/bodily divide, and that continuity of one's embodied
identity is a matter of continuity in one's self-narrated life story.

The papers in the second part of the book all focus in one way or
another on the deliberative, reflective, and imaginative capacities
involved in constituting the identities of temporally extended agents.
In "Personal Identity Management," Jan Bransen is concerned with
deliberative situations in which I am faced not with the question "What
should I do?" but "Who should I be?" and, more particularly, with the
question "How can I determine the best alternative of myself?". Bransen
argues that to determine the best way of continuing "as the person one
is" (102), one must try to develop and empathically access a range of
different motivational profiles and, in a sort of imaginative "dry run",
assess which will result in the optimal balance of agent satisfaction
over agent regret -- or, otherwise put, which will give one peace of
mind. Catriona Mackenzie's paper, "Imagination, Identity, and
Self-Transformation," also concerns the role of imaginative projection
in self-transformative decisions. Drawing on Bransen's view that
conflicts /within/ the self require us to select among possible
alternatives /of/ oneself, Mackenzie argues that agents resolve such
conflicts by generating a series of different self-narratives and
attempting to determine which makes the most sense. But such narratives
help rather than mislead the deliberating agent only when they can stand
up to assessment from an external perspective that is constrained by the
agent's embodied subjectivity, autobiographical memory, cultural context
and social interactions, and practical identity. In his paper "Why
Search for Lost Time? Memory, Autonomy, and Practical Reason," John
Christman shifts the focus from imaginative projection to
autobiographical memory. Drawing on cases of anterograde amnesia,
Christman argues that autobiographical memory appears to be necessary to
the construction of a temporally extended self-concept. Without
autobiographical memory one cannot interpret past events and actions as
forming part of a coherent self-narrative, and cannot identify prior
plans or normative commitments as /one's own/ in the affective and
experiential sense required for non-alienated, autonomous
decision-making and action.

Part three of the book collects four papers under the heading "Selfhood
and Normative Agency". In "The Way of the Wanton," J. David Velleman
offers an alternative reading of Harry Frankfurt's analysis of
identification, on which the phenomenology of agency, rather than the
problem of agential authority, takes center stage. On Velleman's
interpretation, reflective consciousness itself has the effect of
distancing us from our motives, and the role of second-order volitions
is to bridge this reflective gap and put us back in touch with the
mechanisms that guide our behavior. Velleman suggests, further, that we
can eliminate the gap entirely (rather than merely bridging it) by
losing ourselves in skilled activities. This sort of "higher
wantonness", as Velleman calls it, is similar both to the sort of
spontaneous activity recommended in the Daoist /Zhuangzi/ and to the
"flow" experiences described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In
her paper "Losing One's Self," Cheshire Calhoun explores other
experiences that might be described as involving a loss of self, but in
a very different sense. Calhoun considers cases of depression,
demoralization, and other volitionally disabling conditions under which
persons might be "unmoved by their own reasons for action or have ceased
to be able to see any point in deliberating about what to do" (193). She
argues that our having motivating reasons for action depends on certain
background "frames of agency" being in place, including a lack of
estrangement from one's normative perspective, a belief in the
effectiveness of instrumental reasoning, and confidence in one's
security against tragic misfortune or indecent harm. In their paper
"Normative Agency," Jeanette Kennett and Steve Matthews argue that
agents unify themselves over time by adopting normative reasons for
action, and that narratives that constitute or approximate the best
continuation of an agent's life story are an important source of such
reasons. Moreover, they argue, moral competence is inseparable from the
more general normative competence required for temporally extended
agency. They argue that these theses are confirmed by cases of
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and psychopathy, whose sufferers
display disunified agency (and, in the latter case, severe moral
deficits) along with broad failures of practical reason and normative
understanding. Individuals with such deficits are unable to secure the
special goods that are available to narratively unified agents,
including, centrally, the good of "living a valuable life understood as
a coherent biography" (213). Christopher Cordner's paper "Remorse and
Moral Identity" argues that one's moral identity is derived from
obligations to others that are revealed in the experience of remorse. As
Cordner understands it, remorse is a negative, affective experience in
which one is shocked by the recognition of another to whom one is "tied"
or obligated, and whose claims one has violated. The experience of
remorse is "transsocial" in the sense that the bonds it reveals are no
less than the bonds of common humanity, and the capacity for this
experience is required for "any serious understanding of the moral
equality of all human beings" (247).

The two papers in the final part of the book both draw directly on
narrative concepts to illustrate complex relationships between different
temporal perspectives within (or on) a life. In "Shaping a Life:
Narrative, Time, and Necessity," Genevieve Lloyd connects Spinoza's
"vision of freedom as the joyful acceptance and appropriation of
necessity" (257) back to the ideals of the ancient Stoics and forward to
Sartre's reflections on "posthumous living" in his autobiography
/Words/. Lloyd suggests that we can get a grip on Spinoza's idea through
the concept of /narrative/ necessity, particularly as it operates in
autobiographical writing. The autobiographer writes as though from a
future perspective on his or her own life as a completed whole, in which
the contingency of the present is transformed into the fixity of the
past and the end is prefigured in the beginning. The sort of "backward
living" exemplified in the form of autobiographical narrative is, Lloyd
suggests, familiar to us as narrators of our own lives: we exercise
freedom in "impos[ing] a pattern of necessity on the fragments" (264)
that make up our lives, treating them as having a sort of fixity that in
fact eludes us as long as we continue to live. Finally, in "How to
Change the Past" Karen Jones investigates the role of narrative
interpretation in shaping our emotions, with a particular focus on love.
Jones argues that being in love is an interpretation-sensitive,
trajectory-dependent property. It is trajectory-dependent because it has
temporally-extended truth-makers: whether one counts as being in love at
a particular time (as opposed, for example, to simply having a stomach
ache) depends, in part, on what happens "elsewhen" -- and, in
particular, on the eventual place of one's thoughts, feelings, and
actions in a narratively structured whole. It is
interpretation-sensitive because conceptualizing one's experience as
being in love makes it more likely that the relevant truth-making
trajectory will actually unfold, by providing one with a set of
culturally available scripts to follow.

Along with Mackenzie's introduction, which helpfully contextualizes and
thematizes the volume, these papers treat a rich array of interrelated
topics. They are not only individually worth reading, but also resonate
with one another and work well together as a collection. As Mackenzie
points out, a significant number of contributors treat narrative, and
especially narrative self-interpretation, as central to "the
intelligibility and value of our lives as persons" (24). I will use the
remainder of this review to consider some of the themes and issues that
arise in these papers in more detail.

One recurring theme is the way in which the construction of
self-narratives can help to guide us through deliberative predicaments
by providing us reasons for proceeding in one way rather than another --
including predicaments that destabilize our practical identities and
lead to self-transformation. Kim Atkins, Jan Bransen, Catriona
Mackenzie, and Jeanette Kennett and Steve Matthews all develop
variations on this theme. Atkins, as already noted, commits herself to
the view that agential continuity over time /depends/ on the continuity
of a self-narrated life story. But it is not clear that we need to go
this far in order to make the point that our self-narrations can be a
source of reasons -- indeed, as Kennett and Matthews put it, an
/important/ source of reasons (213) -- and so contribute to a fuller
picture of human agency and practical reasoning. Each of the papers on
this theme brings to light, in its own way, the agential significance of
our capacity to imaginatively project ourselves into the future, along
with the constraints of coherence and intelligibility to which such
projections are subject.

Christman's paper stands apart from those just mentioned insofar as it
focuses instead on our relationship to our pasts -- on autobiographical
memory rather than on imaginative projection into the future. In it
Christman develops a new twist on a historical conception of autonomy
that he has defended elsewhere, suggesting that narrative
self-understanding in the form of autobiographical memory is required
for us to meet the authenticity condition on autonomous choice and
action. It is worth noting that the concept of narrative itself is not,
by Christman's own lights, doing much of the heavy lifting here. In a
related paper, to which he refers in the work under discussion,
Christman argues that on the most common substantive accounts of
narrative connectivity (including, in particular, causal, teleological,
and thematic accounts), "the condition of narrativity for the unity of
selves, persons, and personalities is either implausible or otiose".^[1]
He argues there that narrative unity is a plausible condition for
selfhood or unity of consciousness only when interpreted so broadly that
any agent who engages in reflective self-interpretation on a sequence of
events within her life, and is able "to make sense of these according to
socially mediated semantic rules," will meet it. It is this thin, highly
flexible notion of narrative that Christman employs in his paper in this

This is not the place to engage in detailed discussion of Christman's
critique of narrativity. I mention it, however, because I think it poses
a useful challenge to all who want to make use of the concept: we must
be specific about the notion(s) of narrativity we are employing, and be
mindful of apparent limitations of its (their) canonical forms. The
authors in this volume are not unaware of these issues. Atkins is among
the most explicit about the notion of narrative connectivity she
embraces, which incorporates both causal and teleological elements.
Aspects of both are, I think, present in Kennett and Matthews as well.
Kennett and Matthews also take up the question of how /much/ narrative
unity a life requires, and defend the idea that normatively speaking,
unity of a /whole/ life (as opposed to local unity within a plurality of
narrative strands) is important. Other authors (including Mackenzie, in
her introduction) seem attracted to a more flexible notion of
narrativity. Mackenzie acknowledges critiques by Christman and by Galen
Strawson, but thinks these critiques target an overly narrow conception
of narrativity. She argues that narrative theorists of agency are not
committed to the view that we "live our lives as stories" (15), and that
to read them in this spirit is to miss the important points they have to
make about the nature of practical reason and self-constitution. As
Mackenzie depicts it, narrative is a very general sort of unifying
structure that allows us to identify and forge "patterns of coherence
and psychological intelligibility within our lives, connecting our
first-personal perspectives to our history, actions, emotions, desires,
beliefs, character traits, and so on" (12). It may well be that such a
broad and flexible notion of narrative is most useful in discussions of
practical identity and unified agency. But if so, it does begin to seem
that the term "narrative" is serving, as Christman suggests, as
shorthand for /whatever/ emerges from the process of making sense of our
lives -- and that if we are not careful, we may be misled by the
traditional, literary connotations of the term.^[2]

The final two papers in the volume, however, do make interesting use of
the term's specifically literary connotations: Lloyd draws on the
literary genre of autobiography, which organizes different temporal
perspectives on oneself in specific ways, while Jones focuses on
trajectories or "scripts" that are characterized by the sense-oriented
structure of story-telling. (In the kind of structure that Jones has in
mind, the meaning of earlier events or episodes is derived from their
place within a temporally extended whole.) It is striking that these two
papers also mark a shift in emphasis in the volume, from a preoccupation
with questions of practical identity and agential authority to a concern
with the potentially liberating experience of a certain kind of
necessitation. This theme is most explicit in Lloyd's paper, which, as
discussed above, attempts to make sense of a Spinozistic vision of
freedom as the joyful embrace of necessity. Lloyd seeks to shed light on
an alternative to the dominant, Cartesian account of freedom as a matter
of control by the will, and, in the process, writes quite movingly about
the human confrontation with the unavoidable. But Jones, too, implicitly
draws on a form of narrative necessitation insofar as she argues that
understanding one's experiences under a certain description triggers the
organizational and guiding force of associated stories or scripts.
Necessitating as they are, these scripts are ones that we often
willingly embrace, and whose structuring force in our lives we also want
others to recognize and acknowledge.

The connection between freedom and necessitation that emerges in the
last part of the book resonates in interesting ways with themes
developed in the later work of Harry Frankfurt, including, in
particular, Frankfurt's concept of volitional necessity. It is perhaps
surprising that Frankfurt's work remains so much off-stage in this
volume. After all, many of the papers presented in this volume are
deeply informed and influenced by the work of Korsgaard and Velleman,
work that is itself shaped in significant ways by engagement with
Frankfurtian themes. (Velleman's own paper in this volume, though not
about narrative, is a case in point.) Frankfurt's earlier work did much
to reorient moral psychology around questions of identification,
alienation, and agential authority, the enduring import of which is
evident in many of the contributions to the first three parts of the
book. The papers in the last part of the book point, I think, in a
somewhat different direction, more in accord with the preoccupations of
the later Frankfurt. They suggest that narrativity may be of particular
use in fleshing out the still less-widely discussed theme of freedom in
necessitation, a theme which, as Lloyd reminds us, has long been at the
core of an alternative philosophical narrative about the nature of human


John Christman. 2004. "Narrative Unity as a Condition of Personhood."
/Metaphilosophy/. 35(5): 695-713, p. 697.

Ibid, p. 709.

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Received on Thu Apr 02 2009 - 11:16:44 PDT

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