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This chapter considers ethical prototypes, which give needed specificity to the very general ethical orientations defined by principles and parameters. In ethical decision and behavior, we are concerned with sequences of actions and the motivations guiding these actions. In other words, we are concerned with stories. In this chapter, I argue that the prototypes at issue in specifying our ethical orientations are, most importantly, the universal story structures that I have sought to isolate in earlier works – heroic, romantic, sacrificial, family separation, seduction, revenge, and criminal investigation. These narrative structures are inseparable from human emotion systems. Indeed, story universals are shaped by emotion–motivation systems (along with some general patterns in emotion intensification); those systems (and patterns) account for their universality. In addition, these story genres are of crucial importance for the way we think about and respond to various worldly concerns, such as politics. The third chapter extends these arguments to ethics.
Just as the second chapter provides a literary development of the relatively abstract first chapter, so too the fourth chapter provides literary developments of the cross-cultural genres treated in the third chapter. Specifically, this chapter considers literary cases of all the prominent, universal genres, examining their implications for ethical evaluation and action. In keeping with the cross-cultural range of these genres, this chapter considers works from different time periods and different regions. It includes discussions of the Bhagavad Gītā, Hamlet, and All’s Well That Ends Well, Yuan period Chinese dramas (The Zhao Orphan and Selling Rice in Chenzhou), as well as more recent fiction and nonfiction from India (Nectar in a Sieve) and Australia (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence). The longest section develops a particularly detailed interpretation of the sacrificial structure in F. W. Murnau’s film, Nosferatu. I undertake a more extensive development of this analysis to illustrate more clearly the impact of story structure on moral response.
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