The ever-expanding literature on narrative reveals a striking divergence of claims about the epistemic valence of narrative. One such claim is the oftstated idea that narratives or stories generate both “hot” (motivated) and “cold” (purely cognitive) epistemic irrationality. A familiar, rival claim is that narrative has an exclusive capacity to embody or convey important types of knowledge. Such contrasting contentions are not typically presented as statements about the accidents or effects of particular narratives; the ambition, rather, has been to identify a strong link between a single, positive or negative epistemic valence and narrativity, or the traits in virtue of which some discourse, utterance, or series of thoughts is aptly classified as a narrative or story. In this essay I contend that arguments in this vein are dubious.Not only are contentions about the specificity of narrative tenuous and controversial, but even if they were not, there are serious problems with the postulated connections between narrativity and the epistemic merits or demerits of narratives. These difficulties are identified in a critical discussion of prominent examples from the literature. My conclusion is not that there is nothing worth saying about relations between narratives and various epistemic desiderata, but that one prevalent theoretical ambition in this area ought to be renounced in favor of more viable avenues of inquiry.
Copyright © 2009 The American Society for Aesthetics
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