(Updated September 2017)

This module is open both to second and final year philosophy students (single and joint honours). It is also available as an outside option.

Should we think of human lives as narratives or as somehow narrative-like? Should we be trying to make our lives into a good story? Is the self some kind of fiction? Philosophers sometimes think of human selfhood as having a narrative form or structure. In this module, we will take our point of departure from a widely-discussed paper by Galen Strawson in which he launches an all-out attack on narrative theories of the self. Describing himself as an ‘Episodic’, Strawson rejects both the descriptive and the normative parts of the view that human lives are narratives or narrative-like. Drawing on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, MacIntyre, Ricouer and others, we will examine how convincingly the ‘narrativists’ are able to respond to Srawson’s critique.

Learning Outcomes:

The aims of the module are:

• to enable students to undertake a close assessment of the philosophical issues surrounding narrative theories of the self;
• with the help of secondary sources, to undertake a close reading of selected primary texts bearing on this issue;
• to develop the ability to produce argumentatively precise and robust critical analysis of philosophical and literary texts and ideas.

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

• articulate and critically evaluate narrativist theories of the self;
• explain how various texts, both from the philosophical tradition and from literature, bear on the debates about narrative and the self;
• produce a detailed essay plan and extended essay (4,000 words) which provides both synopsis and critical assessment;
• present a selected text and field questions from peers.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

• define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
• seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
• process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
• compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
• write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
• be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
• think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
• maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
• think critically and constructively.