“To understand people as cultural beings, one must tell stories about them”

gatherum

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Could a Bit of Tolstoy and Austen Improve Economic Forecasting?—Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Knowledge@Wharton; talking about their book Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities

Economic insights alone are insufficient when one considers how to foster economic growth in diverse cultures, the moral questions raised when universities pursue self-interest at the expense of their students, or deeply personal issues concerning health care, marriage, and families. In their passion for mathematically based explanations, economists struggle in at least three areas: accounting for culture, using narrative explanation and addressing ethical issues that cannot be reduced to economic categories.

To understand people as cultural beings, one must tell stories about them. Human lives do not unfold in a predictable fashion the way Mars orbits the sun. Unlike algebra and Newtonian mechanics, life displays “narrativeness:” It requires explanation in terms of stories. And the best appreciation of narrative, and of how different eras shape people of various inclinations, can be found in novels, which should be considered not just a literary form, but also a distinct way of understanding the social world.