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

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 15 May 2006 21:28:02 -0700



Your comment about what I am doing doesn't make any sense, John.  Did you
assume what was in my note - or the intention of it - without reading it?  


I am reading Morgenthau and have read Fukuyama.  I have been in an ongoing
discussion on Fukuyama for years.  My note comprises a discussion of
Morgenthau's categories of modern political thought and relates them to
Fukuyama's thesis and his criticisms on the Bush neocons.  The only mention
I have of Taylor in my note is a definition from Eric's article and a
lead-in comment that what I am reading isn't "unrelated" to what I read of
Taylor in Eric's review.  I don't have and therefore am not reading Taylor's








-----Original Message-----
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of John McCreery
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2006 7:37 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Honor? Charles Taylor anyone?


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

"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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