Family, ethics and the

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

6. Narrative conceptions of families

Literature aside, families tend to create and recreate their own stories that serve to inspire loyalty, pride and identification with one another and with selected ancestors. By such stories of courageous grandparents, generous uncles, devoted sisters, good and bad in-laws, notions of family honour are defined and family trees are selectively pruned and shaped, thereby setting the moral parameters within which family members are expected to move, even if at odds with wider social mores.

This narrative approach is far from the Kantian conception of morality as based on general principles, applied impersonally across family and cultural boundaries (see Universalism in ethics). For any moral philosopher who insists that moral principles or lists of virtues and vices be derived from or constitute a human nature, to give moral weight to such family stories might seem to endorse a kind of idiosyncratic, asocial moralism without sufficient concern for the role of families in a civic culture. There is, however, nothing inherently asocial in a moral education that appeals to ancestral deeds and family tradition. Family heroes and villains are often remembered for their public as well as their private acts, virtues, and vices. Told and retold with revisions, these family litanies are akin to the common law, or much religious moral pedagogy (see Moral education). Philosophically, this narrative approach to family morality can find a framework in the existentialist ethics of thinkers such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Marcel (see Existentialist ethics).

Such literary approaches would favour an ethics of precedent rather than an ethics of principles, not unlike the common law and the teachings of the major Middle Eastern religions.

Citing this article:
Ruddick, William. Narrative conceptions of families. Family, ethics and the, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L025-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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