A Thomist, a Screenwriter, and a Media Psychologist Walk into a Bar: Cultivating Character through the Attention-Directing Power of Story Structure




Marple, Catherine A.

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Many scholars and storytellers use narratives to help cultivate character in their audiences. The unique power of narrative structure, however, has received less attention. To a virtuous person, the morally relevant features of a situation—the correct goal and the best means of pursuing it—stand out. Thus, cultivating virtue requires that we repeatedly identify and attend to such features. Narrative structure consists of characters selecting and pursuing goals; when we engage in a story, we attend to a goal and a means of pursuing it. Insofar as the goals and means are moral, the story directs our attention virtuously. When a child learns to write, the parent guides her hand; so, too, vicarious attention-direction can cultivate our character. Thus, the attention-directing power of narrative structure is a promising tool for moral growth. It can play a significant role in virtue development research and practice.



Cognitive Psychology, Narrative Structure, Thomas Aquinas, Screenwriting, Media Psychology, Virtue Ethics