When you think about your life, does it take the form of a narrative, a tale told with you as the protagonist? Is there an arc to your life, an account that makes some overall sense of the things you have done and the things that have happened to you? Philosopher Galen Strawson doesn’t see his life in this way and neither do I.
The idea of the narrative self is the claim that “we constitute ourselves as selves by understanding our lives as narrative in form and living accordingly” (Schechtman, 2011), although there is not necessarily a need to explicitly formulate that narrative. The position I will be arguing against in this article is the one that claims that all ‘selves’ are narrative in form and everyone is therefore constantly narrating their lives in order to construct their ‘selves’. Indeed, if you didn’t narrate your life in this way, the claim goes, you wouldn’t even have, or be, a self.
This article summarises a part of the Philosophy Bites podcast in which British philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards discusses the 19th Century disagreement between John Stuart Mill and James Fitzjames Stephen over the respective natures of men and women and what this should mean, particularly for the latter, in society.
Contemporary wisdom in the 19th Century was that women were naturally unsuited for intellectual pursuits and girls therefore ought to be educated differently. Moreover, laws were necessary to prevent women from trying to overstep the bounds of their nature. John Stuart Mill questioned this, in what seems to be an airtight argument, when he noted that if it were true that women were naturally incapable of working in government or becoming a scientist, for example, laws preventing them from pursuing such interests would be redundant, because they couldn’t succeed in them, and moreover, it being against their nature, they wouldn’t want to do such things in the first place.