Narrative identity, technology and virtue: being and becoming empathetic in the digital age

As digital technologies become increasingly intertwined with everyday life, so does their potential impact on the construction of personal identity and (moral) character. Applied normative questions surrounding the relation between identity and digital technologies require a philosophical and moral framework on the nature of identity. Historically, theories of self often relied on a substantial-self approach arguing for a permanent, constant, absolute, unchanging entity underlying or transcending experience. However, it is increasingly argued that this static approach lacks justification and seems incoherent with research from other disciplines (for example psychology and neuroscience) (Siderits, Thompson, Zahavi, 2011; Metzinger, 2004). Alternatively, the narrative approach, which understands the self as a narrative construct, seems to be more appropriate, useful, and interdisciplinarily convincing. In short, this approach holds that the construction of self-narratives allows for the continuity of self through subjective, autobiographical narrative structures with which people form their life story (Schechtman, 2011; Heersmink, 2017). This shift in conceptualizing the self is also crucial for how we understand our identities as moral agents, particularly virtue development. The narrative approach provides a fresh perspective to virtue ethics (Darr, 2020). In our talk, we explore how this can be used as an ethical and conceptual framework to explore normative questions on digital technologies and identity. As a case study, we will provide an intricate conceptualization of empathy understood as a virtue, and sketch out how digital communication technologies can shape and mediate the cultivation of empathy as a virtue, understood as integrated in one’s life narrative, on different levels.

Darr, R. (2020). Virtues as qualities of character: Alasdair MacIntyre and the situationist critique of virtue ethics. Journal of religious ethics, 48(1), 7-25.
Heersmink, R. (2018). The narrative self, distributed memory, and evocative objects. Philosophical Studies, 175(8), 1829-1849.
Metzinger, T. (2004). Being no one: The self-model theory of subjectivity. the MIT press.
Schechtman, Marya, ‘ The Narrative Self’, in Shaun Gallagher (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Self (2011; online edn, Oxford Academic, 2 May 2011),, accessed 29 Apr. 2024.
Siderits, M., Thompson, E., Zahavi, D. (2011). Self, no self? Perspectives from analytical, phenomenological, & Indian traditions. Oxford university press.


Caroline Bollen

Other authors:  

Lyanne Uhlhorn

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Digital Humanities Tilburg