(De)Constructing an Account of the Self: Narrativity and Self-Opacity as Resources for Contemporary Ethics in Alasdair MacIntyre and Judith Butler


Location: O'Shaughnessy Hall, Room 339

Elizabeth Antus, Ph.D. student, theology

In light of a deep-seated postmodern skepticism about the success of delimiting clearly the individual as moral agent, many 20th and 21st century thinkers engaged in philosophical and theological questions have struggled to articulate the parameters of the individual’s agency and identity in non-absolutist, non-hegemonic terms. Specifically, Christian ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre and secular Jewish philosopher Judith Butler have gravitated toward engaging with the notion of narrative identity as the key to understanding the moral self without abstraction, false universalism, and isolationist individualism. In this paradigm, a person makes moral decisions based on who she understands herself to be given the entire story of her life with and among others.

For MacIntyre, discerning and constructing this narrative arc of one’s life will equip one with the best framework for making moral decisions. Butler, however, ultimately turns to the category of self-opacity in order to highlight the fractures and limitations of this self-narrating activity and to suggest that this very opacity to ourselves may, in fact, provide an invaluable resource for moral decision making, particularly the practice of empathy toward those deemed radically other.

In this presentation, Antus will articulate MacIntyre’s and Butler’s respective positions on the (non)narrativity of the self and will critique each using the best insights of the other. Such mutually critical evaluations ultimately reveal both the limits of narrative self-intelligibility and the need for an ever-provisional version of it.

In order to advance the program’s commitment to interdisciplinary research and inquiry into the subject of gender, the Gender Studies Program is pleased to announce this research workshop. The event will include a presentation by Antus followed by a seminar-style discussion.