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The Logic of Narratives: Or, The Power of History Over Philosophy

July 27, 2012

When I first began thinking about the “logic of narratives” the term “narrative logic” came to mind. Based on what I read here that term doesn’t apply, or at least doesn’t apply fully, in relation to my line of thought. I am not concerned with how an “audience may create events and explanations or otherwise elucidate details not included in the narrative.”  I am concerned with how narratives create meaning while not apparently following the strictures of logic—meaning logic as conceived by philosophers.

Specifically I’m amazed at how our minds do not seem to need, nor even want, all of the “connective tissue” needed to make a logical argument when reading narratives. It is true that rational readers will tolerate neither large gaps in evidence nor nonsensical pairings of the same. But some mysterious sense of story seems to fill in for gaps in logic (in one way, then, I am thinking about “narrative logic”). Yet I’m less concerned with the mystery of the audience in this process than how it can occur generally and still not hurt the power of the narrative. The narrative becomes, it seems, larger and more important than logic in giving us a basis of understanding.  This applies to both the storyteller and the reader.

Plausibly ordered evidence, presented coherently and with some through-line, and with some style (simple to complex), seems to trump all forms of argument presented, as by philosophers, in logical form.  How is this so? What does it say about our minds? About logic as taught in philosophy? And finally about the power of storytelling—of history? – TL


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  1. That’s one heck of an ad that somebody tacked onto your post about logic and narrative! It kind of overwhelms your post.


  2. Bruce: Hmm…When I’m signed in via WordPress, the advertisement doesn’t show. Perhaps the ad is a casualty of looking at the site without being signed in? – TL


  3. Paul permalink

    The form of narrative that you speak of would give the creative mind of the reader/audience the opportunity to fill the space, so to speak, allowing them to become a necessary part of the narrative. This would seem more engaging than a formalized philosophical tome that required a very close reading. Maybe the power of the narrative is in the ease of consumption, maybe it co-opts.


  4. A friend shared this relevant article: Trout, J.D. “Scientific Explanation and the Sense of Understanding.” Philosophy of Science 69 (June 2002): 212–233.


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  1. Explanations, Narrative, and Understanding: Intersections Between Science and History « Thinking Through History

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