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Narrative, Identity and the Self

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The concept of narrative has come to play an important role in a bewildering variety of disciplines such as literary theory, linguistics, historiography, psychology, psychotherapy, ethnology and philosophy due to a number of recent trends in the social sciences including: the rejection of strong apriori unities of experience, the focus on intersubjectivity as the grounding level of experience, the turn to language as the focus of philosophical reflection, and the success of semiotics in articulating the rules for the generation and understanding of texts. The first section of the paper presents the framework of Ricoeur's investigation into narrative identity, which he embeds within an encompassing reflection on time and an examination of current theories of personal identity. The second section, then, both specifies salient aspects of Ricoeur's narrative model and shows how, using that model, Ricoeur claims that the concept of narrative identity solves the paradoxes of personal identity. The third section presents Dennett's concept of a narrative self and compares Dennett's and Ricoeur's models. As we shall see, these two philosophers, who work within antagonistic traditions, have surprisingly similar ways of using narrative as a model for understanding the self.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2004


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