PHILOSOPHY OF ACTION AND THEORY OF NARRATIVE1
TEUN A. VAN DIJK
1. INTRODUCTION 1.1. The aim of this paper is to apply some recent results from the philosophy of action in the theory of narrative. The intuitive idea is that narrative discourse may be conceived of as a form of natural action description, whereas a philosophy or, more specifically, a logic of action attempts to provide formal action descriptions. It is expected that, on the one hand, narrative discourse is an interesting empirical testing ground for the theory of action, and that, on the other hand, formal action description may yield insight into the abstract structures of narratives in natural language. It is the latter aspect of this interdisciplinary inquiry which will be emphasized in this paper. 1.2. If there is one branch of analytical philosophy which has received particular attention in the last ten years it certainly is the philosophy of action. Issued from classical discussions in philosophical psychology (Hobbes, Hume) the present analysis of action finds applications in the foundations of the social sciences, 2 in ethics 3
This paper has issued from a seminar held at the University of Amsterdam in early 1974. Some of the ideas developed in it have been discussed in lectures given at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris), Louvain, Bielefeld, Münster, Ann Arbor, CUNY (New York) and Antwerp, in 1973 and 1974. A shorter version of this paper has been published as Action, Action Description and Narrative in New literary history 6 (1975): 273-294. Only slight corrections and additions have been made in the present version, mostly in the references. On some points, due to its late publication, the paper is somewhat outdated. I am indebted to Waltraud Brennenstuhl for some comments on the first part of the paper. 2 See especially Louch 1966, where a critical examination of classical work on explanation in terms of laws of action is given. 3 The relations between the philosophy of action and ethics are obvious, and most work in the domain of analytical ethics pays attention to these relations pertaining to the obligations restricting our courses of action. In the present paper, however, these relations will remain undiscussed, and we therefore must refer to some classical texts collected in Foot 1967 to Hare s well-known monograph (1952), and to a recent collection Honderich 1973. Note also that much of this work should also be studied within a logical perspective, viz. within deontic logic
T. A. van Dijk / Philosophy of action and theory of narrative
and in linguistic pragmatics. 4 At the same time well-known work 5 by such philosophers as Melden, Kenny, Peters, Anscombe, Austin, Chisholm, Danto, and others has been given closer scrutiny within a logical perspective 6 by such philosophers, logicians and linguists as Davidson, von Wright, Porn, Nowakowska, Kummer and Brennenstuhl. These are only a few names from the enormous literature on the topic, to which should be added names from the closely related fields of the philosophy of mind 7 and language. Below we shall focus on the results from the logical approach to action and action description because it provides a more explicit basis for a theory of narrative. 1.3. Whereas classical work on (literary) narrative 8 mainly discusses topics like perspective time and tense, the relationship between plot and story, and between (see HiIpinen 1971). It should be stressed that the basic ideas of ethics and deontic logic might show its relevance also in the analysis of narrative, especially in some types of literary narrative, e.g. in the existentialist tradition, dealing with problems of moral obligation. 4 Most interestingly perhaps in Austin s work (e.g. Austin 1962; 1970) and further in the work of those influenced by him notably Searle (1969) and Grice (1967). Grice s principles of rational, cooperative conversation are given within the perspective of the basic principles...
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