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Narrative Identity, Autonomy, and Mortality: From Frankfurt and MacIntyre to Kierkegaard (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy)

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Narrative Identity, Autonomy, and Mortality: From Frankfurt and MacIntyre to Kierkegaard (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy).pdf | Language: English
    John J. Davenport(Author)

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In the last two decades, interest in narrative conceptions of identity has grown exponentially, though there is little agreement about what a "life-narrative" might be. In connecting Kierkegaard with virtue ethics, several scholars have recently argued that narrative models of selves and MacIntyre's concept of the unity of a life help make sense of Kierkegaard's existential stages and, in particular, explain the transition from "aesthetic" to "ethical" modes of life. But others have recently raised difficult questions both for these readings of Kierkegaard and for narrative accounts of identity that draw on the work of MacIntyre in general. While some of these objections concern a strong kind of unity or "wholeheartedness" among an agent's long-term goals or cares, the fundamental objection raised by critics is that personal identity cannot be a narrative, since stories are artifacts made by persons. In this book, Davenport defends the narrative approach to practical identity and autonomy in general, and to Kierkegaard's stages in particular.

John Davenport is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University. He teaches and writes on ethics and moral psychology and agency (including free will and autonomy theory), existentialism, political philosophy (including rights and global governance), and philosophy of religion. With Anthony Rudd, he co-edited the 2001 collection, Kierkegaard After MacIntyre, and he has authored several other essays on Kierkegaard, including three recent articles on the structure of existential faith.

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  • PDF | 248 pages
  • John J. Davenport(Author)
  • Routledge; 1 edition (October 31, 2015)
  • English
  • 9
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  • By kevin d o neill on October 19, 2013

    This is a fine overview of the range of current theories on personal identity in philosophy . Excellent for grad students and professionals.

  • By R.C. Roberts on October 9, 2014

    Narrative Identity, Autonomy, and Mortality is a very sophisticated defense of the idea that individual human identities have a distinguishing story-like structure. The structure of a human identity is not itself a narrative, because narratives require being “told” or articulated in one way or another, and a person can have a personal identity without his story actually being told, either by himself or by someone else. This is why Davenport coins the word ‘narravive.’ A narravive is a person’s life in its narrative-like dimension — the fact that the person has done such-and-such, undergone such-and-such, had such-and-such thoughts, cares, and emotions about what he has done and undergone, etc., and that the cares and projects that give meaning to the life have such-and-such an order of priority and dependency (or rather, had such an order at this or that stage, which he re-ordered in such-and-such way at a later stage, etc.). In principle (though not in practice) all this could be recounted in an actual narrative, though it will have the narrative structure even if it is not articulated. (Attempted narratives of parts of the narravive by their subject will of course themselves take up their places in the narravive.) By distinguishing a person’s narravive from any narrative about it, including the individual’s own, Davenport seeks to avoid the anti-realist implication that a person can make up his own identity just by telling a story about it, or that he could have multiple identities if he or someone else tells incompatible stories about him.The book is also an account of human autonomy — our capacity to be the authors (or better, significant co-authors) of our own virtues or vices — our character. We can be (partially) responsible for becoming the person we have become. Davenport gives an answer in terms of our human ability to note, and then to accept or reject, the values and cares that we exhibit at any time. For example, on reflection I might find myself envying a colleague and wishing he weren’t quite as successful as he is. And I might then criticize and reject that envious “self” of mine, saying “No!” to it, denying that it represents the self I most authentically want to be (while admitting that it was my self in its very recent features). By this evaluative reflecting back on ourselves, and affirming or disapproving of what we see, we create a kind of distance between our evaluating stance and our evaluated stance, and in this distance lies the possibility of a person’s contributing to the formation of his own character. But unlike some of the 20th century existentialists, Davenport follows Kierkegaard and the soberer philosophical tradition in thinking there are moral constraints on what we can make of ourselves while at the same time making something autonomous. In this endeavor of self-“creation,” we have to work within the limits of a given human nature. If, by reflection, we confirm ourselves in evil or in a love of something that is less than the good, we end up in bondage and not real autonomy because we have denied our own moral nature.In the course of developing his narrative conception of autonomy, Davenport expounds a moral-spiritual developmental schema inspired by Søren Kierkegaard’s ideas about life-views or “stages” and the ways in which some of the stages are “higher” than others and constitute a kind of progression from various kinds of aestheticism, through ethical outlooks, and finally to a religious stage characterized by eschatological faith. Each stage is a way of being “unified” in consciousness, and with each successive integration the unity becomes more fully the doing of the agent-subject and/or more fully adequate to the agent’s human nature. Here is the schema: unity-0 is an animal’s capacity to experience successive events as impinging on the same animal; unity-1 is the ability to plan or intend actions and hold the plan or intention in mind so as to bring about actions; unity-2 is the capacity to affect one’s desires and intentions, cares and concerns through one’s own (reflective) evaluations of them so as to bring about a certain degree of overall constancy in them (here we have the beginning of integrity and autonomy); unity-3 is a higher level of ownership of one’s concerns, achieved by way of “infinite resignation,” a holding-on to distinctively ethical concerns even in face of the conviction that they cannot be realized in one’s finite life (this is “deep” or wholehearted ethical autonomy); and unity-4 adds a conceptualization and appropriation of one’s integrated identity as transcending death (this is religious faith).Narrative Identity, Autonomy, and Mortality shows Davenport to be enormously well read, both in the technical philosophical literatures with which he interacts and in general culture, with which he often illustrates his technical points.In my view, Davenport makes substantial advances on the philosophies of the person that he interacts with: Bernard Williams, Marya Schechtman, Harry Frankfurt, Christine Korsgaard, as well as anti-narrativists Derek Parfit, Galen Strawson, John Lippitt, and others, and successfully answers most if not all of the objections that have been leveled against narrative theories of practical identity. At the same time, he makes clearer sense than has been achieved before of both Kierkegaard’s framework of the “stages on life’s way” and of Alasdair MacIntyre’s idea of the narrative unity of a single life.This is a book that demands and bears careful study, one to which the reader will want to return again and again.Robert C. Roberts


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