What is Narrative Ethics

December 30, 2010 · Posted in Articles / Papers, Blog 

I have been hearing about something called narrative
ethics. Essentially this I’d an approach to ethics which is
understood in two ways. One way takes a personalist approach to a
dilemma that is focussed on the story of the moral agent, their
history and situation and relates moral decision making to this
‘narrative’. Another form is to actually use an existing narrative,
such as the Bible, and use it to approach a moral understanding of
what to do. An example of this is the use of Exodus by Liberation
Theology. So narrative ethics is quite different from ethics that
are principle based. It is a kind of combination of personalism,
virtue theory and situation ethics, rooted in historical
experience. How this would work in practice needs teasing out so I
might write a piece for REonline trying to do so. However there are
some obvious problems. It sounds rather relativistic. How can we be
sure we are really doing the right thing and not simply something
that fits our personality? Do moral principles have no place


One Response to “What is Narrative Ethics”

  1. Mike Radford on March 7th, 2011 8:09 am

    Hi Bob,

    I am not too familiar with narrative ethics but I did write a paper a few years ago on ethical education in story telling. Stories might be in part written as ethically hypothetical situations, or ethical possibilities. As you suggest, the advantage of a narrative is that it contextualises the ethical issue and encourages the reader to think about the richness of the ethical environment.

    But this does not preclude an analysis of the narrative in terms of the principles that are implicit to the moral decisions within the story. Certainly narrative illustrations might draw attention to the consequentialist dimension to ethical decision making but a good story might illustrate the tension between the two that sometimes occurs. The sacrifice of principle in the interests of the common good is a regular theme in narrative.

    Best, Mike.

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