On 5/16/06, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
If you want to move slowly, I would suggest picking a particular chapter or even part of a chapter to work through. The nature of this forum is such that we should expect topic and attention drift to set in quickly.
This is the option I'd favor, and I'd start with Chapter 1, section 1.1. I very much want to avoid the sort of thing of which I myself am so often guilty and is so nicely illustrated by Lawrence's haring off after Henry Morgenthau. I.e., leaping blithely away on chains of free association before stopping to ask,
1. Do we really know what Taylor is trying to say? 2. Do we understand, historically or logically or both, why he frames it this way? 3. In what particular ways does it explicate, challenge or alter our own usual assumptions?
In that spirit, let us consider Taylor's first two paragraphs. He begins by describing his project: "I want to explore various facets of what I will call the 'modern identity'." This apparently simple sentence raises all sorts of issues.
"I want to explore": Why "explore"? Why not "define," "analyze," or "explain"? "various facets": Why just "various facets"? Why not the whole thing? "what I will call the 'modern identity'": Why call attention to the act of personal labeling? And why is that the outside the quotation marks that bracket 'modern identity'?
All these questions point to a tentativeness that, we shall see later, is, according to Taylor, characteristic of 'modern' selves.
"To give a good first approximation of what this means would be to say that it involves tracing various strands of our modern notion of what it is to be a human agent, a person, or a self."
"a good first approximation" and "tracing various strands": No definitive argument this. Instead the start of a process that follows multiple paths and still (remember "tracing") produces only a sketch, a simulation if you will, of a topic that evades final resolution.
"But pursuing this investigation soon shows that you can't get very clear about this without some further understanding of how our pictures of the good have evolved. Selfhood and the good, or in another way selfhood and morality, turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes."
"how our pictures of the good have evolved": Why "pictures"? Why not "theories" or "logic" or "mathematics" or (stealing from Stanley Cavell) "conversations" instead? Is this just the unthinking use of cliche or is there something deliberate about the choice of pictures, visual representations that are grasped as wholes before analysis picks them apart?
"Selfhood and the good....turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes": Here, as the next paragraph makes clear is the starting point of Taylor's analysis, the proposition that selves cannot be understood apart from they way they envision the good, a proposition that to Taylor places him in opposition to sociobiological or other naturalistic reductions that treat how the good is envisioned as epiphenomenal, something to be explained away by more 'fundamental' factors that suffice to explain the nature of selves as we encounter them.
"Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to dar here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for the notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will. This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense, as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life, and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public."
Here I would like to hear what others have to say, and particularly about the distinctions
"what is right to do" vs. "what is good to be" and what comes to mind when you read, "a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense."
-- John McCreery The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
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