Some recent writers on ethics, prominently Jonathan Haidt, have seen emotion and narrative as central to moral judgment and behavior. However, much of this work is not clear about the precise nature of emotion and narrative or the relation of the two to each other and to ethics. Research in distinct narrative traditions — a form of comparative literary study — offers a possible solution. The author has argued that a number of prototype-based story structures recur across a broad range of genetically and areally distinct traditions. These structures derive from emotion systems and general principles of emotion modulation and involve ideals that are both hedonic and ethical. We may better understand the complex relations among narrative, emotion, and morality in terms of these story universals, their sources in emotion systems, and their associated ideals, which collectively predict a range of ethical responses to any given situation. In addition, even the usual ethical orientations of emotions and prototypes may be altered through the particularization of stories. In this way, emotional response and initial emplotment bias ethical response and evaluation, but the former do not simply determine the latter. The author illustrates these points by the sometimes surprising similarities relating European, Chinese, and Indian works.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.