Buddhist Studies Forum
Sara McClintock, Emory University

The Inescapability of Narrative in Philosophy — A Buddhist Perspective

Abstract

It is well known that narrative can be a powerful means for conveying philosophical truths, and some have even argued that there are certain kinds of truths that can only be conveyed through narrative. This paper does not dispute that claim, but it makes a different argument. Starting with an understanding of narrativity drawn from the work of Gerald Prince, and moving to a Buddhist-inspired understanding of philosophy as the production of a particular series of mental events, the paper seeks to demonstrate that even the most recondite, abstract philosophy is always already narrative in nature. The implications of this inescapability of narrative include that even the most systematic of philosophical arguments nevertheless can be seen as a series of contingent events that emerge through the ongoing interaction of conceptual, discursive, and material transactions productive of both reality and truth. While such “narratives” may not rival their more riveting counterparts—i.e., actual stories—in terms of drama, they still function as narratives by affectively impinging on audiences in ways that leave those audiences fundamentally changed.

Cosponsored by the Asia Center, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, South Asia Institute, Fairbank Center, South Asian Studies, Committee on the Study of Religion, and Harvard Divinity School.