[lit-ideas] Re: Honor? Charles Taylor anyone?

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 16 May 2006 11:36:57 +0900

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.

Taylor continues:

"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.

Taylor again:

"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

Taylor again:

"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



-- John McCreery The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN

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