The dramatic essence of the narrative approach


Even though it is not a methodology on the level of principlism or casuistry, narrative bioethics nonetheless contributes to and guides decision-making in the field of biomedical ethics. However, unlike other methodologies, the narrative approach lacks a set of specific patterns and formal rules for doing so. This deficiency leaves this approach more vulnerable to the influence of historical factors; in fact, the vital history of a person is made up of thousands of scenes, which one must select and group under different norms. Yet the historicity of narrative does not destroy its normative value; rather, it gives rise to a confluence of stories that contradict one another on the basis of their practical consequences. This problem is less severe in traditional cultures, where some stories take precedence over others according to the normative value conferred through the supposed authority of their sources. But it manifests in an intense manner within current multicultural societies. It is imperative to find the thread that leads outside the labyrinth of subjectivity. This paper shows that the end of this thread lies, paradoxically, not in actions but in the subject-actors that perform them—specifically when such subjects are conceived as dramaturgical characters in narrative.

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I wish to express my gratitude to Katelyn MacDougald for her thorough and excellent job revising the language and bibliography of this article. Her linguistic expertise definitely helped to improve the paper. This work is part of the Research Project “El discurso de los bioderechos. Bases filosóficas y jurídicas para su fundamentación, caracterización y aplicación” (The bio-rights speech. Philosophical and legal basis for its foundation, characterization and application) (DER2014-52811-P), directed by José Antonio Seoane and funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

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Correspondence to Oscar Vergara.

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Vergara, O. The dramatic essence of the narrative approach. Theor Med Bioeth 39, 361–374 (2018).

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  • Biomedical ethics
  • Narrative approach
  • Methodology
  • Practical reason