Narrative Identity and Diachronic Self-Knowledge

Journal of the American Philosophical Association 2 (1):164-179 (2016)
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Abstract

Our ability to tell stories about ourselves has captivated many theorists, and some have taken these developments for an opportunity to answer long-standing questions about the nature of personhood. In this essay I employ two skeptical arguments to show that this move was a mistake. The first argument rests on the observation that storytelling is revisionary. The second implies that our stories about ourselves are biased in regard to our existing self-image. These arguments undercut narrative theories of identity, but they leave room for a theory of narrative self-knowledge. The theory accommodates the first skeptical argument because there are event descriptions with retrospective assertibility conditions, and it accommodates the second argument by denying us epistemic privilege in regard to our own past. The result is that we do know our past through storytelling, but that it is a contingent feature of some of our stories that they are about ourselves.

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Kevin Harrelson
Ball State University

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