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Stories and the contemporary moral landscape

Back in PhD-land I recently spent a week at the glorious Royal Society of Arts spending time with lots of interesting academics from History, Literature, Sociology, Politics, Religion and Education as well as Philosophy. Besides marveling at the beautiful period paint colours and enjoying the top notch sarnies we were there as part of the University of Kent’s AHRC project: ‘Researching the Contemporary Moral Landscape: concepts, methods and approaches to public engagement’

My research is in the philosophy of education; specifically on the relationship between narratives and moral learning; the means by which we identify ‘the good life’ and attempt to live it. My current thesis is that the familiar narratives found in literature, film, journalism, politics etc., provide a landscape within which people can explore moral concepts, rehearse moral emotions and accrue morally relevant life experiences. I also suggest that the narratives created by people in their everyday lives contribute to this landscape in ways that order and reorder their emergent and provisional moral knowledge and invite others to do the same.

I also argue that the narratives we use in philosophical enquiry with children, and the way in which we deal with them forms part of this picture.

The metaphor of a landscape was one I had previously used in a somewhat sloppy and inconsistent way; this conference has encouraged me to consider the metaphor more wholeheartedly. I’ve started to explore the utility of conceiving of narratives as landscapes; structures that provide space for the phenomena I’m interested in observing and conceptualising; phenomena like blame, duty, intention, fairness etc. The metaphor is useful in several other ways too: like narratives, landscapes are shared, landscapes change over time, and landscapes can be mapped – but often such maps reveal as much about the cartographer as they do the terrain.

This post is by Grace

Philosophical Questions