Narrative and accountability

Some challenging (and sobering) corollaries to MacIntyre’s attention to life as narrative.

I am forever whatever I have been at any time for others — and I may be called upon at any time to answer for it — no matter how changed I may be now. There is no way of founding my identity — or lack of it — on the psychological continuity or discontinuity of the self. The self inhabits a character whose unity is given as the unity of a character.

To be the subject of a narrative that runs from one’s birth to one’s death is is, I remarked earlier, to be accountable for the actions and experiences that compose a narratable life. It is, that is, to be open to being asked to give a certain kind of account of what one did or what happened to one or what one witnessed at any earlier point in one’s life…

The other aspect of narrative selfhood is correlative: I am not only accountable, I am one who can always ask others for an account, who can put others to the question. I am part of their story, as they are part of mine. The narrative of any one life is part of an interlocking set of narratives. Moreover, this asking for and giving of accounts itself plays an important part in constituting narratives.

— from After Virtue

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3 Responses to “Narrative and accountability”


  1. 1 periphery May 2, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    The first and last paragraphs of this quote formed one of the take-away messages of my long poem. Remember?

  2. 2 withastone May 2, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Yes, I was thinking of your poem and also some of the epigraphs to it as I read the MacIntyre and wrote the post. Do you still hold to that vision of things?

  3. 3 withastone May 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Just another way in which you have anticipated MacIntyre…


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