The Senses of an Ending

Kathy Behrendt


One might suppose that life’s end is of special importance to narrativist views of the self, even if the specific nature of that import is opaque. Many philosophical discussions of the narrative self touch upon the end of life. End-related terms and concepts that occur in these discussions include finitude, completion, closure, telos, retroactive meaning-conferral, life shape and a closed beginning-middle-and-end structure. Those who emphasise life’s end in non-philosophical narrative contexts are perhaps clearer on its significance. The end is thought to have a key role in the story of a life, securing or enhancing the life narrative’s meaning or value, and thereby warranting special treatment and attention. Call this thought ‘the special-ends hypothesis’. I test the applicability of the special-ends hypothesis within philosophical narrativist accounts of the self. I examine narrativist claims pertaining to the end of life, taking seriously the specific terms they deploy, and considering the contexts in which they occur. Superficially it seems that narrativists endorse the special-ends hypothesis, overtly or by implication. But as perspective is gained on the broader theoretical context in which the concepts are situated, this apparent support diminishes. Ultimately, I argue, for most narrativists, the end of life has no special role to play in securing or enhancing the meaning or value of life as a whole.