Understanding Narrative Explanation: An Eclectic Approach

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 5 (2):317-344 (2005)
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The paper describes and defends an eclectic approach to narrative explanation in history and social sciences (as well as in natural history). The view of narrative explanation defended allows combinations of several recent ideas concerning the nature of narrative explanation.The guiding idea is that the explanatory power of narratives consists in their capacity to accommodate various forms of explanations and interpretations. Narrative explanations are seen as theories abouthappenings that may consist of diverse forms of explanations, interpretations and explanation sketches. There is no single form of narrative explanation, rather narrative is seen as a form tor synthesizing various explanations.Several problems concerning explanation and narrative are discussed with relation to the proposed approach: laws in explanations, literary or fictional aspects of narratives, relativism, constructivism and noncognitivism or antirealism. Hayden White’s theory of the explanatory role of “emplotment” is discussed and criticized.The upshot is that the eclectic approach defended does not face any problems unique to it: problems faced are general epistemological problem. The literary aspects of historical narrative are interpreted as normative and rhetorical, making the relevance of these aspects tor narrative explanation depend on the question whether there are legitimate moral explanations



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Björn Eriksson
Stockholm University

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