The Pragmatics of Narrative Knowledge

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Jean-Francois Lyotard was a French philosopher, sociologist, and literary theorist. His interdisciplinary discourse spans such topics as knowledge and communication, the human body, modernist and postmodern art, literature and critical theory, music, film, time and memory, space, the city and landscape, the sublime, and the relation between aesthetics and politics. He is best known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition. He was co-founder of the International College of Philosophy with Jacques Derrida, François Châtelet, and Gilles Deleuze. Lyotard looks at the pragmatics of narrative and scientific knowledge. He explains that knowledge and science are not synonymous. Science is a subset of knowledge that requires its statements to be based on repeatedly observable phenomena and it must be possible for them to be judged valid or not by the appointed experts. He goes on to argue that knowledge generally (unlike scientific knowledge) contains not just denotative statements of truth but also statements on ethical, aesthetical and of technical wisdom and someone with such knowledge, capable of making ‘good’ utterances, is deemed competent in their respective field. Lyotard argues that these criteria for ‘good’ utterances are culturally specific and this leads him to narrative knowledge, the ‘quintessential form of customary knowledge.’ He says that popular stories within society serve as myths to establish institutions or as legends or fables representing positive or negative models of integration into those institutions. Using the example of the Cashinahua people (a pre-modern culture) whose stories always begin and end with agreed formulae (explaining who the narrator is, how he knows the story and why others should listen) Lyotard explains that, ‘narrative tradition is also
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