Narrative, cognition, and rationality

Authored by: David R. Olson

The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415551076
eBook ISBN: 9780203809068
Adobe ISBN: 9781136672927


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Rationality, the giving of reasons, is the hallmark of the human mind, a native endowment, a universal human trait. Cognitive psychologists analyze the processes involved in reasoning and propose mechanisms to explain these processes, sometimes appealing to the relation between language and rationality (Dennett, 1978; Carruthers, 1996). I propose to examine the relation between language and rationality in terms of modes of discourse or genre in which distinctive ways of thinking and reasoning are called for. Although the genres of literature are both very diverse and ill defined, I shall focus on two general classes of extended discourse that Bruner (2002) described as narrative and paradigmatic—what we may think of as literary and scientific modes of discourse. The claim is that the invention of distinctive modes of discourse and, equally, their mastery by children entail distinctive modes of thought. Thus, if the claim is true, there is not one way of thinking but as many ways as there are distinctive modes of discourse. And the task of this chapter is to sketch out these distinctive ways.

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