Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
'Most of us are still groping for answers about what makes life worth living, or what confers meaning on individual lives', writes Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self. 'This is an essentially modern predicament.' Charles Taylor's latest book sets out to define the modern identity by tracing its genesis, analysing the writings of such thinkers as Augustine, Descartes, Montaigne, Luther, and many others. This then serves as a starting point for a renewed understanding of modernity. Taylor argues that modern subjectivity has its roots in ideas of human good, and is in fact the result of our long efforts to define and attain the good. The modern turn inwards is far from being a disastrous rejection of rationality, as its critics contend, but has at its heart what Taylor calls the affirmation of ordinary life. He concludes that the modern identity, and its attendant rejection of an objective order of reason, is far richer in moral sources that its detractors allow. Sources of the Self provides a decisive defence of the modern order and a sharp rebuff to its critics.
Tapestry of philosophies with flashes of brilliance
By Peter A. Kindle - July 1, 2002
Taylor took two years to write this book; it took me nearly as long to read it! It is a five-part tome of 525 pages of text and 71 pages of footnotes. In this entire collection I cannot remember a single section that could be read without my complete concentration. Quiet and solitude are minimal prerequisites before tackling this book - a good grasp of the history of philosophy wouldn't hurt either.The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor's basic premise is rather simple, "we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34)." His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood. The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical... read more
A True Classic!
By Secret Squirrel - March 28, 2005
Sources of the Self is an exceptional piece of scholarship. In SOS, Taylor engages in a course of philosophical anthropology to demonstrate that our understanding of the self as interior is by no means universal. For Taylor, understandings of the self are inextricably linked to our understandings of the good. Thus, self-understanding is directed by evolving conceptions of the source and location of the good. This idea has been lost, according to Taylor, because of the narrow conception of the good in our modern world and the naturalist suppression of moral ontology.
Taylor defends this argument in two ways. First, he provides a strong argument that the self exists within inescapable moral frameworks. "To know who you are" Taylor argues, "is to be oriented in moral space." These frameworks are composed of hierarchical moral distinctions (i.e., some things are viewed as better than, or more important than others -- for instance, in our time, the notion of respect for... read more
An articulate philosophy of man
By Carool Kersten - October 1, 2000
With 'Sources of the Self' Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written a seminal work along the lines of Ernst Cassirer's classic 'An Essay on Man'.Deploring the minimal ethics of modernity and dissatisfied with post-modern nihilism, Taylor positions his moral theory in the Aristotelean tradition of 'ethos'. But Taylor does not embrace a pre-defined, teleological destiny. Rather, his premise is that in articulating 'the self' we will discover who we are, what we are supposed to do and where we are going. Taylor's quest into what made man into what he is, is traced back to classic Greek thought and Augustinian theology. Subsequently the author takes us to early modernity: from Locke, via Neoplatonists like Shaftesbury, to the period of Romanticism. Eventually this odyssee of the mind is germinating into present-day man as a self-expressing creature.The richness of Taylor's argumentation is often dazzling; here speaks a man of wide and deep erudition, an authoritative voice... read more
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