In “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument,” Walter Fisher argues that man is by nature a storyteller who can argue through his stories. Stories will compete with other stories for audience acceptance which is based on good reasoning through narrative fidelity and narrative probability. (Fisher 273) By paradigm, Fisher means a formal structure of an experience and guidance in studying the nature and functions of that experience. The narrative paradigm is proposed as an alternative to existing paradigms.
What is interesting is that Fisher sees a portion of Hauerwas’ work as foundational for the narrative paradigm; Hauerwas, a theologian in the early 1980s, wrote, “The social significance of the Gospel requires recognition of the narrative structure of Christian convictions for the life of the church,” and “Every social ethic involves a narrative, whether it is conceived with the formulation of basic principles of social organization and/or concrete alternatives.” (Hauerwas, qtd. in Fisher 274)
For Fisher, the rational world paradigm dominates argument. In this paradigm, human beings are rational beings who use argument as the typical mode of decision-making and communication. Conduct of communication is ruled by the specific legal, legislative, scientific, or public situation. Rationality, the ability to reason, is determined by the author’s skill in employing subject knowledge to argumentative ability and advocacy. The world is a series of logical puzzles solved through analysis and the application of reason. Rationality is learned and depends on participation in society, preferably a democracy. (Fisher 275)
Fisher suggests that the narrative paradigm is slightly better for public moral argument and all other forms of human communication. (277) In the narrative paradigm, human beings are storytellers. Humans make decisions and use good reasons to communicate in various situations, genres, and media. (Fisher 278) History, biography, culture, and character govern the creation of good reasons.
Narrative probability, “what constitutes a good story,” (Fisher 279) determines rationality of the discourse; also, the discourse is rational if it passes the audience’s test of narrative fidelity, “whether the stories they experience ring true with the stories they know to be true in their lives.” (Fisher 279) In the narrative paradigm, the world is a set of stories among which humans choose to live a good life; the stories in the set are continuously changing. (Fisher 279) The narrative paradigm requires no specific society; narratives have existed in different times across different cultures.
Narrative rationality is descriptive and offers an understanding of action and decision; narrative rationality also allows for criticism because the paradigm offers an idealized vision of society. (Fisher 280)
Elitists will find the narrative paradigm difficult to accept because narrative is truly democratic; all societies have had storytellers who were judged by the people who had a tendency to hold onto the true and just. Perhaps John’s Gospel has survived so long because the hearers and readers of the Gospel held onto the true and just ethic of equal treatment for all, regardless of race or gender. Significant, too, is that the common person is eligible to critique discourse in the narrative paradigm, unlike in the rational world paradigm which requires education (legal, legislative, scientific, or civic) for participation and critique.
I have combined Lloyd Bitzer’s framework and Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm to produce the process for my rhetorical analysis. Bitzer’s framework is important because it bases rhetoricity on the situation surrounding the creation of discourse. Fisher’s paradigm calls narrative, the telling of stories, a rhetorical discourse; this is significant because John’s Gospel generally tells the story of Christ’s life and the two sections of the Gospel that interest me specifically tell the story of Christ interacting with women.