Tell me a story

I’m re-reading Donald (now Deirdre) McCloskey’s If You’re So Smart (1992). I’ve been on about narratives for quite some time, so I disappoint myself by taking so long to pull the book of the shelf.


McCloskey, besides writing clearly and succinctly, tells a good story. The tetrad–fact, logic, metaphor, and story–deserve more attention. Like the biologist telling a story about genetic manipulation, and using a model to answer questions the story fails to explain, science and technology (among other genres) are rife with tales. I wonder if my bio and chem colleagues think of themselves of storytellers? I should ask.


I also wonder what kind of story–and what model (a kind of yang to story’s yin)–would be necessary to change minds about the moral status of machines and artificial agents. Before Rachel Carson, before Peter Singer (perhaps Jeremy Bentham played a bit part), environmental ethics and animal rights groups had many facts and employed logic to impart them. After Carson and Singer, these groups have more coherent metaphors and stories. Does that partly explain the rise of these groups? Am I coming up with something akin to Kipling’s ‘just-so’ stories by these examples? Am I using metaphor and story right now–mixed with a dash of fact and logic–to persuade?




I need to start thinking more about story, fact, logic, and metaphor. I should consider how each will play a role if any convincing is going to get done about addressing the moral status of machines. They also will play a role in the book chapter I write for later this year. They also factor into the book review I have recently begun.


With all that in mind, a few sentences to kick off Tuesday writing (for you, Thomas):

Labels like genetically-modified, transgenic, etc. help shape biologists understanding of organisms.

Through description, we make normative claims (postphenomenologists) about method.

From Postphenemological Investigations, I understand that we can only move forward by reflecting upon the past (Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty).

Postphenomenology needs a coherent story.


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