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Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,495 ratings  ·  65 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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Elenabot
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
...more
Tracy
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
...more
Yodar
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. ...more
Brian Griffith
This big fat book undertakes to explore the evolution of "selfhood" or "identity" -- as it's been known from ancient to recent times. The evidence is drawn mainly from philosophers, theologian-philosophers, and then poets or novelists. The thinkers Taylor cites are almost all Western and almost entirely male. Actually, I don't think he cites a single woman. So it's more accurate to call this a history of the Western male self, as described by the 0.1% most thoughtful, articulate, or verbose of t ...more
Alina
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Taylor does something radical and scandalous. He exposes that what we take as an inevitable, natural conception of the self (and the ethical framework of respect and justice that follows from it) is in fact historically contingent. This conception is a product of cultural, political, and religious events over the history of western civilization. In this huge 600 page book, Taylor presents these events, from ancient Greece, to Christianity, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and modernism. We do not ...more
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
Andrew
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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.
J.I.
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
Caleb
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. ...more
Kristian-Alberto
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
A must-read interpretative analysis of modernity and our self. Truly a study that help whomever reads it to understand themselves and our times better. While the book could have been organised better and the main argument could have been laid out more clearly, it is without a doubt a masterpiece of the 20th century.
Elizabeth
Feb 01, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tom
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
Myles
When I was younger I felt I could read moral philosophy and epistemology until the cows came home. I am forever curious about the state of reality and humankind’s place it.

So I read this book with a little nostalgia about the years before I became tethered by familial and commercial responsibilities.

I wondered if I could still read philosophy.

This probably wasn’t a good book to start with. I have fond memories or reading an earlier work of Taylor. This voice was clear, his scholarship was profou
...more
Erin Blaire
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
500+ pages on the history of philosophy that composed the modern self and its moral sources. Can it be that Taylor’s account of constitutive goods falls into a potential moral relativism? Or does his suggestion of a cosmic order with a theistic background impinge on a moral authority of some transcendental authority and standard to which our constitutive goods can conform to?
For the first matter, yes, if the acceptance of goods without a regard for its consequences perpetuated by subjectivism b
...more
William
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! ...more
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. ...more
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.
Jonathan Hockey
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Rereading some of the ideas in this book, just to clarify my perspective and thoughts relative to it.
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
Seth
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
...more
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. ...more
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?
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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.” 30 likes
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