Narrative explanation

Philosophical Review 112 (1):1-25 (2003)
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A story does more than recount events; it recounts events in a way that renders them intelligible, thus conveying not just information but also understanding. We might therefore be tempted to describe narrative as a genre of explanation. When the police invite a suspect to “tell his story,” they are asking him to explain the blood on his shirt or his absence from home on the night of the murder; and whether he is judged to have a “good story” will depend on its adequacy as an explanation. Can we account for the explanatory force of narrative with the models of explanation available in the philosophy of science? Or does narrative convey a different kind of understanding, which requires a different model and perhaps even a term other than ‘explanation’?

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J. David Velleman
New York University


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