Consideration of ethical questions is enhanced when they are focused around stories about individual cases. Says James Boyd White (1984),
You cannot have a legal case without a story about real people located in time and space and culture. The law must have a narrative, and the narrative is in the first place told in the language of its actors. That is where the law begins, and in a sense where it ends, for its object is to provide an ending to that story.
It is the story-form, apparently, that message recipients use to put the various elements of a case together, even if they are not presented in narrative fashion by message senders (Bennett, 1978). The story form, says Bennett, engages widely shared cognitive routines. It permits the processing of vast amounts of information, including the cross-referencing of ongoing themes in an interaction against analogous experiences. Says Bennett, "the story is the only communicational form that places a problematic action in an informational context that constrains a unique and rhetorically defensible interpretation of it."
Even when reconstructed as narratives about individual cases, ethical questions are never amenable to objective decision-making; they are far too complex for that. The discussion of a controversial past occurrence is a double-tiered drama: a play about a play in which judgments about the words and actions of the discussants in the here-and-now interact with judgments about the recounted there-and-then. In even the simplest cases, all manner of questions may be at issue: What kind of case is this? What are the relevant precedents, frames, exemplars for judging it? How is it like/unlike other cases in our experience? What did the key actors intend by their actions? How trustworthy is (or are) the account-giver's presentation of facts in the case? How coherent is the account as a drama or story? What ends should be served by the hearing and judgment of the case? Who should sit in judgment? According to what standards? Utilizing what procedures for gathering, interpreting, and weighing evidence? These considerations are by no means independent of one another. Indeed, as I shall try to illustrate, the parts themselves may be redefined and recreated in the process of their being discussed and inter-related.