Zachary's Reviews > Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor
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Apr 11, 09

bookshelves: philosophy
Read in April, 2009

Heidegger always claimed to be ethically neutral. For him, ontology grounds thinking primordially, and thus ethical thinking can only come after the ontological groundwork is laid down. This was of course bullshit. His concept of authenticity [Eigentlichkeit:] was always essentially a normative guiding concept, and his adherence to it shows the degree to which he ignored the phenomenological lessons of his mentor Husserl--Heidegger, thinking himself already in possession of what was 'proper', failed to bracket out sufficiently his cultural presuppositions, as Husserl advised us to do. Perhaps this very failure is a symptom of the general failure of the phenomenological method. This is what the neo-Nietzscheans would have us believe. Charles Taylor's work is an attempt to, somewhat surreptitiously, follow through the ethical work that Heidegger began with Being and Time without ever making it explicit. Taylor is concerned with a kind of phenomenological articulation of our "background understanding" (what Heidegger called the Vorgriff) of the "moral framework" that we hold intuitively. He embarks on a kind of genealogical project of the authentic self, concerned not with what it is good to do, but, crucially, what it is good to be:

being a self is inseparable from existing in a space of moral issues, to do with identity and how one ought to be. It is being able to find one's standpoint in this space, being able to occupy, to be a perspective in it.


He wants to articulate this historically, through an analysis of the history of (mostly catholic) thinkers. Yet, tellingly, he will lose the interest of most contemporary readers who are not already oriented within his own "framework" very quickly by his neither stating explicitly the phenomenological basis of his method and articulating the problems of this method and his solutions to them, nor dealing in a serious way with the 20th century thinkers (the neo-Nietzcheans) who have offered serious and significant critiques of any attempt to approach moral reasoning in this fashion. He rejects the Foucauldian as pathological (p. 31), showing from the start that he is filled to the brim with assumptions about the nature of moral thought that he will simply occupy the rest of our time in his weighty (and I might add, poorly written) tome in fleshing them out.

The goal of phenomenology was never to find that one grasps quite immediately whatever it is that confirms ones assumptions, but rather to unsettle those assumptions and expose what lies beneath them.

Unfortunately Taylor doesn't make clear that he has any understanding of this.
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Rob the Obscure So, what do you think? A helpful work? Or a distraction?

And where in the hell did you get that picture? Who is it?


Rob the Obscure So, what do you think? A helpful work? Or a distraction?

And where in the hell did you get that picture? Who is it?


Zachary Robert wrote: "So, what do you think? A helpful work? Or a distraction?

And where in the hell did you get that picture? Who is it?"


I stopped Sources of the Self about halfway through. It's badly written ("hypergoods" and "inarticulacy" are key words), and essentially a crypto-Heideggerian argument, which I don't get along with very well. I took a good deal of notes on it, and when I get back to them (monday) I'll post a proper review.

That's Adorno in the picture, at the beach, looking pensive.


Elena Holmgren In the first chapters, Taylor specifies that he is interested in following the Kantian pattern of "transcendental critique," ie, his project is identifying the necessary, a priori as it were conditions behind a given experience. His task is first interpretive, as he states - he must interpret the experience he is to construct a transcendental critique of. So this isn't phenomenological work, but a beast of an entirely different (Neo-Kantian) kind. Your phenomenological, Neo-Nietzschean critique of his project is of course valid, but I can't help finding worth also in his kind of undertaking. Each has its proper place.


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