The toiling lily: narrative life, responsibility, and the ontological ground of self-deception

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 15 (1):103-116 (2016)
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In this essay, I argue that genuine responsibility and ethical self-understanding are possible without narrative—or, at least, that narrative is not always sufficient. In §2, I introduce and clarify a distinction between our ontological subjectivity and everyday practical identity—one made famous by Heidegger and Sartre. On the basis of this distinction, in §3 I argue that narrative is unable to ground ethical choice and decision. For, although acting in light of practical identities is something we do, it cannot wholly capture what it is to be who we are. Irrespective of whatever worldly projects and identities we press into, something about our subjectivity always remains unchanged. Narrative identity, which trades merely on practical identity, thus obscures this ontological dimension of life wherein human action, decision, choice, and responsibility truly originate. By way of conclusion, in §4, I briefly examine depictions of the narrative life found within the authorships of Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Voltaire, illustrating how self-narrative at times invites self-deception and annuls responsibility. A life of genuine responsibility demands more than what the most candid and best intentioned of self-narratives can supply us. Living the good life, I shall intimate, is thus not something that involves mere narrative. It depends, rather, on inwardness



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Joy as presence.Anthony Rudd - 2021 - Journal of Religious Ethics 49 (2):412-430.

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References found in this work

Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity.Charles Taylor - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Against Narrativity.Galen Strawson - 2004 - Ratio 17 (4):428-452.
The Gift of Death.Jacques Derrida - 1996 - University of Chicago Press.
Fear and trembling.Søren Kierkegaard - 1986 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by C. Stephen Evans & Sylvia Walsh.

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