ICBioethics Blog 

Abstract Argument vs. Personal Narrative

Written by: Leah Jeunnette, Ph.D.(c)

How often do we change beliefs based on experience? And does that show flexibility or hypocrisy? Individuals start with an abstract argument, but may shift to a personal narrative seemingly overnight — powerful experiences challenge closely-held beliefs in ways previously unimaginable.

An abstract argument is a belief based upon philosophical theories, hypothetical scenarios, and reasoning — not personal experience.  Personal narratives determine beliefs based on processes and outcomes of experiences.

Is one more correct than the other?  What if you have a specific abstract argument you held for years, but a singular personal narrative leads you to change? Doesn’t that occur all through life? We could call it personal growth or admitting when you’re wrong.

Example: You have always asserted that nursing homes were unacceptable for your elderly parents, knowing they feel loved and cared for in your home.  But after five years, the burden of care takes its toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Your marriage suffers; your kids are resentful.  Is it acceptable to change course based upon your personal narrative?  In this case, maybe . . . but which personal narratives can/should change abstract arguments?

Regarding important values and beliefs, is experiential learning (i. e., now I’m in this boat!) the best teacher? Doesn’t that slide downward towards arbitrary situational ethics? What if your personal narrative appears to be the exception, not the rule?

When is it OK to allow yourself freedom to override the abstract and act contrary to it?

Mitch GennusoComment