Walter Powell-Linfield University Philosophy Lecture Series


Making Sense of Ourselves and Others: Narratives Not Theories

Streaming Media

Document Type

Video File


1 hour 35 minutes 25 seconds

Publication Date



Cognitive Psychology | Epistemology | Philosophy | Philosophy of Mind


Making sense of each other's reasons is a cornerstone of human social life. It involves attributing beliefs, desires, and hopes in complex ways. Our capacity to do this is unique: we do not share it with animals or very young children. It is so deeply ingrained in our daily existence that we tend only to notice it, and its critical importance, when it is damaged or absent altogether (as it is for severely autistic individuals). What is the basis of this competence? How do we come by it?

In this lecture, Dr. Daniel Hutto (professor of philosophical psychology at the University of Wollongong) introduces the idea that this remarkable ability is essentially a skill in producing and consuming a special sort of narrative, acquired by engaging in storytelling practices. As Waterhouse's A Tale from the Decameron (1916) reminds us beautifully, narrative practices have been at the heart of human society throughout our history. Hutto defends the stronger claim that narrative practices might be absolutely central for stimulating important aspects of our social understanding, and he notes that, if true, it excludes the prospect that this crucial ability is one which is built-in to members of our species. Knowing the answer matters—fundamentally—when it comes to deciding which therapies are the most promising and appropriate for treating certain mental health disorders and which sorts of educational opportunities should be provided for younger children. Equally, it matters when thinking about whether and how we, as adults, might improve abilities to understand ourselves and others.


Sponsored by the Walter Powell Endowed Lecture Fund.