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  • Writer's pictureRicky

How to Tell Better Narratives of Character (ft. Canceling)

Our discourse around canceling seems a bit too simplistic.

But how can we do better?

We’ve all done bad things we wish we could take back. In these moments, we can reveal (or even discover!) bad aspects of our character we can no longer choose to ignore. And then we’re faced with yet another choice: to double down and stick by our guns, or to try to make amends and grow.

But moral responsibility is notoriously slippery. Sometimes we like to draw this out for undergrads by showing them weird moral puzzles like this:

  1. All events are caused by the laws of physics plus the starting conditions of the universe.

  2. But you’re not responsible for either of those!

  3. So how can you be responsible for anything you do?

Even when we go, well maybe you should change your characterwhat do you mean by “should”? If every decision I make is just another spinning gear in the complete causal history of time and space, how can I be responsible for who I choose to be?

Choice itself seems to slip away…

There is so much bad literature on free will if you’re really into this. (I’m sure some of the literature’s fine, too.) But when you’ve spent long enough doing moral philosophy, you start to want to find constructive ways forward.

Sure, we have a great scientific story about how everything that ever happens can be explained by the same kind of considerations (something something quantum indeterminacy…) This mechanistic story is definitely useful in its own place, but maybe not when we’re thinking through how we’d like to live together. Nothing says this story is “the most true.”

That’s why I’m more interested in the following question:

Can we get better at telling other kinds of stories too, stories that might help us make better sense of ourselves?

A really simple story might go like this: Okay when you do the bad thing your score goes down, and when you do the good thing your score goes up.

But this kind of story...well, maybe it’s a little too simple. At least all the numbers aren’t zero anymore. But what are we doing with all these numbers anyway?

If we want to make better sense of ourselves, we need to figure out what makes some stories more insightful or illuminating or even just more helpful than others.

And I just had a great chat with Cargile Williams about how to do just that.

Check it out on Apple, Spotify, or right here courtesy of Podbean:

P.S. Here’s a link to check out one of the books Cargile talks about:

The Mess Inside by Peter Goldie.

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