Numbers > Number 19 > The integration of narrative thinking and detective logic in Chesterton’s Father Brown
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ISSN: 1885-365X
LANGAN, Patrick Contact 0000-0002-6022-6488

The integration of narrative thinking and detective logic in Chesterton’s Father Brown

4 de octubre de 2022
10 de octubre de 2022


The vast body of detective stories offers a model of how to integrate two complementary forms of thinking: logic thinking and narrative thinking. This article offers an hypothesis, created by Chesterton, in which Father Brown is a paradigm of the relationship between these two forms. Since the existence of logical thinking tools has been affirmed for more than two thousand years, this article focuses on the existence of narrative thinking tools specifically in the character of Father Brown. Demonstrating the existence of these narrative thinking tools is an important first step toward achieving an integration with logic. This article therefore represents a preview of further studies that are being done as part of the doctoral thesis: How the Existence of Narrative Thinking in Chesterton’s Detective, Father Brown, equipped him to know reality. This article proposes that there is room for further study to actually codify these narrative thinking tools, just as Aristotle had done for logic. Also, it points to the possibility of a detective model of thinking, especially because detective stories continue to be so popular.

1. Introduction

1.1 Two Modes of Thinking

When there is a crime, investigators at the scene gather the evidence. The police interview witnesses and suspects. A small crime could amount to over a thousand pages of evidence but imagine if this evidence were neatly classified in a folder with color tabs. The Police Officer, wanting a search warrant, brings the thousand-page folder to a judge to obtain it. This folder in effect represents logical thinking. Normally the Police Officer must show probable cause in order to even get a warrant. The judge then takes the folder and looks at it. It is not that he doesn’t want to read the warrant’s thousand pages. In fact, he will read everything; but it is not yet intelligible. He needs a narrative to know what happened, or he cannot make sense of this folder of information. Otherwise, the evidence remains simply unintelligible. This is where two experts in psychology, L. Hawpe and J. Robinson, come into play: they mention the importance of narrative thinking in the courtroom).1 In this example, there are indeed two modes of thinking, as J. Bruner has also affirmed:

There are two modes of cognitive functioning, two modes of thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality. The two (though complementary) are irreducible to one another.2

Here logical and narrative thinking are brought together. Such thinking raises further questions that should be answered: what is logical thinking and what is narrative thinking? For that matter, what in fact is logic? Is this based upon, and in reference to, Aristotelian logic better known as «classic logic?» Peter Kreeft defines this as follows, «When Aristotle wrote the world’s first logic text, he was reflecting on what Socrates had already done, defining the principles of Socrates’ practice.»3

Classic logic distinguishes three kinds of thoughts, that is, three «acts of the mind»:

  1. Simple apprehension (i.e. the concept; man).
  2. Judging (i.e. the judgement; man is mortal).
  3. Reasoning (i.e. syllogism; Man is mortal. Joe is a man, therefore, Joe is mortal).4

What then is narrative thinking? Hawpe and Robinson have argued that, «Narrative thinking is therefore a type causal thinking. The narrative thinking consists of creating a fit, between a situation and a story schema.»5 They also suggest that when it is successful, the story-making is a coherent and plausible account of both how, and why, something happened. Expressed in a different way, this could imply the integration of these two modes of thought, or as the integration of Aristotelian logic and Poetics (how a story works). Although the word narrative and story can have different meanings according to their context, in this article the words narrative and story are used interchangeably.

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