The Narrative Nature of Ethical Discourse

Doctoral Dissertation


This thesis develops an account of ethical discourse through a unified approach to ethical evaluation, practical reasoning, and action explanation. It pursues a comparative analysis with respect to modern moral theories, theories of practical reasoning, and action theories so as to explain how a unified approach can resolve the chronic problems in each area. The thesis argues that, just as philosophy of science is concerned with explaining the nature of scientific discourse rather than establishing scientific truths, so too ethics is concerned with explaining the nature of ethical discourse rather than establishing ethical truths. The question of what is worth pursuing in life is not a question that philosophy is supposed to answer by providing a normative theory; it is a practical question that one needs to address in practice with respect to a particular situation. This is what ethical discourse is about, and ethics is a meta-level discourse about the nature of this discourse. The thesis proposes a phenomenological view of ethical discourse on which narrative is the central metaethical notion. In practice, what we are trying to assess, prospectively or retrospectively, are actions that we either might perform or have performed. So we inevitably turn to a form of description that shares the formal structure of action relations and reveals the evaluative qualities of particular actions. Narrative is precisely description of that kind. It is only in the broader context of a particular event that actions exhibit certain qualities; and it is only with respect to a narrative account of an event that we can judge or form an intention for acting in a particular way. Therefore, practical reasoning consists of narrative deliberation about possible actions, not just for arriving at a practical decision, but even for forming an intention; and explaining an action retrospectively consists in giving a narrative account of that action as well as of the reasons for the intention with which the action is done. Ethical discourse is the generic name for practical reasoning and action explanation, because narrative is the common form of prospective and retrospective practical assessment, and practical assessment is never merely a question of what it is rational to do, but involves evaluation of what is worth doing.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-05242011-165612

Author Buket Korkut
Advisor David Solomon
Contributor Elijah Millgram, Committee Member
Contributor Karl Ameriks, Committee Member
Contributor Fred Dallmayr, Committee Member
Contributor David Solomon, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Philosophy
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2011-05-12

Submission Date 2011-05-24
  • United States of America

  • Ethics

  • Action Explanation

  • Modern Moral Philosophy

  • Narrative

  • Moral Normativity

  • Practical Reasoning

  • Aristotle

  • Ethical Realism

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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