Agora Speaker Series 2023 - Dr Regina Fabry

Narrative Gaslighting - Regina Fabry (Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University)

Self-narration, many philosophers argue, makes important contributions to our sense of self. Orthodox accounts describe self-narration as an internalistic and individualistic process, which relies on implicit mental organising principles (Schechtman, 1996) or a particular mode of thinking (Goldie, 2012). More recently, however, communicative-interactive accounts have emphasised the crucial roles of communicative exchange and social interaction for self-narration (e.g., Hutto, 2016; McConnell, 2016). On one such account, interlocutors influence the unfolding of self-narration to varying degrees, ranging from linguistic and paralinguistic expressions of active engagement to proper co-narration (Fabry, 2023). While these accounts have many advantages, they face problems that their internalistic-individualistic rivals can avoid. As McConnell (2016) notes, once we allow for the possibility that interlocutors contribute to self-narration, self-narrators can become targets of malicious manipulation and nefarious interference. In this talk, I will explore one such problem: narrative gaslighting. Gaslighting, following Abramson’s (2014) analysis, can be defined as a kind of communicative act that destroys the target’s standing as a cognitive and moral agent. This destruction proceeds by undermining the target’s conception of themself as a subject who remembers, interprets, and responds to their own lived experience in ways that are reliable and reasonable. In many cases, I will argue, gaslighting can be described as a malicious and nefarious form of co-narration, one in which the interlocutor continuously undermines the target’s self-narrative competence, and thereby their cognitive and moral agency. I will conclude by considering the implications of my description of narrative gaslighting for communicative-interactive accounts of self-narration.