Saturday 29 January 2011

Ethics and narrative

I mentioned that I've been reading a fascinating book: Ethicability by Roger Steare.

He talks about three kinds of ethical approach:

1) Rule-based (eg deontology)
2) Social agreement based (eg utitilatarianism)
3) Values or principles based.

He points out that all three have their use, and also suggests that the first tends to make us behave as children, the second as adolescents and the third as adults.

This made me wonder if there might be a parallel with modernism and post-modernism and... whatever comes next. 

Modernism could be seen as rule-based; and when people object to my claims for the possibility of absolute truth, I think they may be objecting to this: rules laid down to be applied to all people in all places and at all times.

Post-modernism, social constructionism (the position of many in the narrative world) etc might be regarded as a reaction against that, and an attempt to replace rules with agreed interpretations that are necessarily variable depending on who agrees them.  This interpretation resonates with me as some of the academics in particular with whom I have debated this seem to be reacting against precisely that rule-bound notion of truth that 1) would suggest - and one or two also seem to me to have something of the adolescent's idealism, pride in rebellion, and impatience with other perspectives...

I (naturally!) think I am in the more mature position of 3)  I make truth claims for values, such as the intrinsic goodness of love rather than hate, of hope rather than despair and of faith rather than nihilism.

THese may need to be interpreted and mediated through social discourse (at level 2) and may on occasion need to be translated to rules (as at level 1 - for example, I would hate to meet a driver who thought the rule that we drive on the left side of the road [in the uk]  was not in any sense true and therefore not binding on him or her...)
So I think some of the conversations I have been in have been based on a series of false assumptions - both ways: I think people were assuming I was wanting to make truth-claims of type 1) and have reacted against them; and I was assuming they were reacting against what I really think and believe and reacted against that!

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