Narrative Unity as a Condition of Personhood

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In this article I critically discuss a claim made by several writers in philosophy and the social sciences that for an individual to count as a person, a single personality, or the subject of a life, the experiences of the subject in question must take a narrative form. I argue that narrativity is a misleading and, in some ways of understanding it, implausible condition of what it is that adds unity to personhood and personality. I pursue this critique by considering canonical accounts of narrativity in philosophy and literary studies. I consider those connections between events that must hold for the sequence to be considered a narrative: causal, teleological, and thematic connections. I argue that for each of these, the condition that experiential sequences (for a given subject) must have this structure is empty: any life sequence that is reflected upon in an interpretive spirit can meet it. What the condition of narrativity amounts to, then, is the more basic requirement that the person must be able to look upon the factors and events of her life with a certain interpretive reflection, whether or not those factors and events have any particular narrative unity in a traditional sense.

Keywords: narrative; personal identity; persons; self

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Penn State University, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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