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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

MacIntyre: Human Beings as Storytelling Beings

Human beings are storytelling beings—their lives are a narrative quest. In his book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre writes: “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” A teleological character can be discerned in every lived narrative, but this does not imply that the life’s purpose is fixed by an external authority; MacIntyre notes that teleology and unpredictability can coexist. He writes: “Like characters in a fictional narrative we do not know what will happen next, but nonetheless our lives have a certain form which projects itself toward our future.” Every life is a narrative quest which aims to reach a certain end, and when a man faces a crossroad, then he moves in the direction in which he thinks he will make a sense out of his life’s narrative. When we make moral choices, we are not exerting our will; we are interpreting the narratives of our life. MacIntyre points out that as an individual, a man cannot identify the good and exercise the virtues—men look at their life as a whole, and they examine the narratives in which they feature. He offers the example of a German who believes that since he was born after 1945, the Nazi crimes are not his moral responsibility. This stance of the German, MacIntyre says, represents a moral shallowness, since it is based on the presumption that the self can be detached from its social and historical narratives. MacIntyre’s narrative account is antithetical to the individualist doctrine. The individualists think that they are what they choose to be, whereas MacIntyre posits that moral reflection requires that I must examine my social and historical narratives.

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