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 <>

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2009-04-02 : View this Review Online 
<> : 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 3 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 4 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 7 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 1 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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