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Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,440 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In this extensive inquiry into the sources of modern selfhood, Charles Taylor demonstrates just how rich and precious those resources are. The modern turn to subjectivity, with its attendant rejection of an objective order of reason, has led—it seems to many—to mere subjectivism at the mildest and to sheer nihilism at the worst. Many critics believe that the modern order h ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Harvard University Press (first published 1989)
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Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand.”

Taylor locates the problem of self-knowledge at the heart of our naturalistic culture. He shows how the naturalistic paradigm we i
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just finished this magnificent book this week.

Although it took me a couple of years to read because of my schedule, it completely rearranged my mental furniture. Not many books can do that - for anyone! At least for anyone my age. Haha.

In any case, Taylor examines the history of ideas and the sources for our sense of who it is that we are. He finds these sources in a variety of places, and the problem is that we sometimes view the contemporary sources to be in conflict. However, he believes t
I pretended to understand this book in grad school to impress a few professors whom I respected. Frankly, the book confused me and I could not track the author's thoughts or grasp any of the concepts. I keep the book on my office shelf in hopes that someone recognizes it and assumes that I am an intellectual. Three stars because smart people seem to love this book.
Justin Evans
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Don't tell my dissertation advisers that I hadn't read this before I finished- they might revoke my degree. On the other hand, they might say "well, you don't really need to read this unless you're a convinced naturalist/procedural ethicist/purveyor of socio-biology. Which you're not." And this is the problem. Like reading Wittgenstein when you're not already an analytic philosopher, this is only going to blow your mind if you haven't read any 20th century philosophy and are a little uncomfortab ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wish I had read this book twenty years ago.
In the face of a certain philosophical inarticulacy among 20th century participants in modern Western civilization (which is more or less everyone on the planet to some degree), about why we care so much about, for example, the right to direct one's own life, about the dignity of ordinary people, about the reduction of suffering, Taylor sets out on a voyage of exploration of the historic intellectual and cultural currents which have combined in creati
robin friedman
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Charles Taylor's Sources Of The Self

The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written two extended studies of what many people describe as modernity. The more recent of these books, "A Secular Age" (2007) examines the ways in which modern life became increasingly secularized or "disenchanted". Taylor in that book offered a long historical and analytical discussion of how people had, over centuries, tended to move away from a religious, transcendental outlook on life. Taylor received the Temple
Paul Crider
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
Taylor really lives up to the hype, although I must say as someone influenced by a lot of folks themselves influenced by Taylor, the book did feel like a bit of a slog at parts.

One of the basic theses is to affirm value pluralism, particularly values prone to conflicting with one another. But Taylor's contribution (in my estimation) is to bring the depth of intellectual genealogy to these values, or "moral sources." He paints a vivid picture of how these moral sources have evolved, and how they
Adam Gurri
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the deepest, most subtle books of philosophy and its history that I have ever read.
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the absence of context, tradition and culture the modern self is impenetrable. Taylor provides the history necessary in order to understand how modern people (or at least up to the year 1989) got their meaning and purpose.

The story presented is not an easy one to follow. A lot of the names he talks about are just names to me (Rilke, Ardono, D. H. Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats, and hundreds of more, I’m very ignorant on literature and poetry). I’m almost certain I could pick a paragraph at random fro
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This is one of the most important books one can read on modern philosophy from a moderate Christian perspective. It is also readable. I highly recommend it.
David Clark
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is my second reading of Taylor's now "classic" text outlining the spiritual and historical origins of modern western culture. To be clear, by "spiritual origins" I mean Taylor primarily dissects Christianity's contribution to the formation of Anglo-American culture. Taylor, a Catholic, is even-handed when handling protestant/catholic issues but covers little of non-Christian religious traditions. First published in 1989, Taylor's analysis has stood up well and remains a key source. (in addi ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sources of the Self offers a sympathetic and compelling account of the modern identity. Taylor's approach is historical and interpretative; he aims to explain how it is that the dominant aims and values of modernity, concerns related to interiority, or a subjectivity, ordinary life (i.e., commerce, the nuclear family, etc), and the importance of the natural world can be seen to be compelling, to articulate goods that are valuable and worth pursuing. The result is a complex narrative that, in dif ...more
Jeremy Rios
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Expansive, if not quite comprehensive, account of key changes in perception of the 'self' from the ancient world to the present. A fascinating read, although at times cumbersome and a little repetitive.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Taylor has a way of writing about intellectual history that leaves you subtly changed. After reading this, you'll no longer be able to escape the understanding that your imagination, ideas and aspirations are dependent on the streams of thinkers preceding you. Their approaches to timeless problems are embedded in your grammar. This doesn't mean you are trapped inside a narrow band of thinking. On the contrary, you may be able to exercise greater insight and imagination as a result of knowing thi ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A tome, but even with some dated interpretations of various philosophers, I read this entire book on the red 1,3,9 train and the 7 train heading to work at Citicorp while getting the MFA in NYC-- Taylor's vision of the social, psychological, economic development of the self and his thirst for communitarian principles won me over!
Aaron Winston
Jan 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly compact (all things considering) historical analysis of selfhood in the Western tradition. Highly recommended to those who are interested.
Dale Muckerman
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The question as to what is the good is for Taylor an enquiry into what are the values of our society and where did they come from. Taylor provides an in depth look that might change the way you look at the world. In many ways, our culture is in agreement as to what our values are. The problem is that the values themselves are in some ways contradictory and in tension with each other. We value a neutral disengaged scientific point of view, yet also value universal benevolence, freedom, and the in ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An impressive historical exploration of the conflicting moral sources that shaped modernity--the ancient Greek and Abrahamic ideas of an ordered cosmos, the Enlightenment belief in disengaged reason, and Romantic views of Nature and self-expression. Taylor examines the historical trends leading to our modern sense of self -- the gradual evolution of the notion that the self possesses "inner depths"; the gradual "disenchantment" of the world; the dramatic elevation of the worth of everyday life - ...more
Joel Zartman
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The trouble with most of the views that I consider inadequate, and that I want to define mine in contrast to here, is that their sympathies are too narrow. They find their way through the dilemmas of modernity by invalidating some of the crucial goods in contest."

That is in a nutshell what this long, difficult, and crucial book is about. It is an astonishing work of intellectual history. Also, incidentally, but obviously, it is a lesson in what a breadth and depth of reading all the canonical b
Eliezer Sneiderman
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Still processing this book. I think the first third worked better than the rest of the work. Taylor documents the development of the modern concept of "Identity" and analyzes how it has changed over time. Self-actualization used to be connected to deeper questions of "Good" and "Existence". Today, the concept is very, very thin.
David Collins
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Super insightful and illuminating on how history/philosophers have helped or facilitated our current understanding of self. Definitely will be reading again in the future because there’s a lot here to unpack and one reading isn’t sufficient for all the treasure that buried in this book.
Aren Lerner
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely the most interesting book I think I've ever read! Taylor's discussion is vital for understanding the modern sense of self and the moral dilemmas that have come to characterize the current social climate.
Beni Beattie
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book full of dialectical embellishments and this and that: a great book to ask the essential modern question what is that is I?
Billie Pritchett
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
There are a couple ways to tell the history of ideas. You can try to take a big concept, operationalize the definition and then follow that concept across time. A book that tells that kind of history is Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature.. Pinker takes the concept of violence, defines violence in terms of death by war and homicide, follows the stats from humanity's early history until our present age, and reveals to the reader, surprisingly, that violence has been declining across every ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Taylor's sweeping historical-slash-philosophical narrative is rightly called his magnum opus. The book is a strange collection of philosophy, which mainly takes place in the four chapters of Part I, and a historical analysis of certain philosophical and artistic developments in the history of Western thought, which makes up the remainder of the book, Parts II-V. As Taylor writes in his preface, one interested only in the philosophical analysis of identity could well stop after the first four cha ...more
Joseph Sverker
Charles Taylor's scope is very impressive in this book. He covers much ground and supports his vase very well, that there has become an internalisation of the self in the modern times. Although one can wonder what he means with "modern" when he starts the development with Augustine. Although, he does show clearly that it was not up until Descartes that the subject really was seen as internal. Descartes laid emphasis on the instrumental and solitary reason as Taylor points out. I am not so sure w ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A terrifically engaging, if philosophically demanding, study concerned with the historical constitution of the modern "self," or with what might be described as the idea that stands at the very center of all contemporary moral-political discourse and debate. I have found myself more impressed with Taylor's achievement almost every time I open it up again to continue my study. And while I have scribbled in the margins numerous quibbles with Taylor in his treatment of certain thinkers, especially ...more
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: theists with time on their hands
This book is huge, in every sense - he tries to do far too much and juggle an incredible number of arguments all at once, while also attempting to write the "history of the Western mind" in 600 pages. The basic point he wants to make is strong and important, etc., but it gets lost in both Western essentialism (Catholics tend to do this) and fuzzy historical grounding. He steps back every hundred pages or so and says, "You know, I'm not offering historical causation here." But then he goes ahead ...more
Neil White
Aug 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a massive book in every sense of the word, it is physically imposing, it takes on a phenomenally large subject matter (tracing philosophical ways of defining identity from Plato through modern and postmodern writers) and it is an incredibly insightful and deep work. It really helped me better understand not only the modern questions that we face in our culture but where the way we framed these questions originated. I am exhausted at the end of this book and it will probably take a while ...more
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Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor, Journalist, Film critic

Charles Margrave Taylor CC GOQ FBA FRSC is a Canadian philosopher, and professor emeritus at McGill University. He is best known for his contributions to political

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“To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand.” 28 likes
“Experience is that wherein our previous sense of reality is undone, refuted, and shows itself as needing to be reconstituted. It occurs precisely in those moments where the object 'talks back'.” 1 likes
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