Art and Rhetoric In the Narrated World: Walter R. Fisher's Narrative Paradigm As a Unified Theory of Discourse

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jeanette Harris

Advisor Department



A revival of interest in narrative theories in recent years has encouraged scholars of literary criticism, psychology, sociology, and philosophy to examine narrative with new vigor. Walter R. Fisher has attributed this interest in narrative theory to a general movement from a "rational world paradigm" to a "narrative paradigm," which views narrative as the central metaphor for our understanding of the world. It is precisely this notion of human rationality as narrative that is most crucial for the study of writing theory, in particular its effect on the long-standing schism between argument and narrative, rhetoric and art. By placing narrative rationality at the center of his paradigm, Fisher creates a theory that effectively unifies discourse, collapsing the distinction between rhetoric and art. Because Fisher views narrative as the basis for human rationality, he is also able to argue that narrative maintains its own logic, its own rhetoric. Moreover, the persuasive power of rhetoric appears, in light of Fisher's paradigm, inherently linked to narrative. This is not to say that narrative is argument and vice versa, but rather that because we see both narrative and argument in terms of narrative rationality, Fisher' s paradigm effectively creates a synthesis of the two. The implications of Fisher's narrative paradigm for writing theory and pedagogy would seem to be far-reaching. By unifying discourse, Fisher brings together composition and creative writing, making it possible to view writing assignments in the composition classroom as "creative," while reemphasizing the persuasive nature of creative writing texts. Furthermore, by establishing narrative as the fundamental principle of rationality, Fisher's theory implies a new and more accurately representative model of reasoning. Whereas previous conceptions of rationality have been based on empirical models and/or models which rely on some type of formal logic, Fisher's narrative rationality provides a model of reasoning that more closely approximates everyday thought, which is essentially nonlinear and often intuitive rather than syllogistic.