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Sources of the Self

Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press: March 1992), 624 pages.

The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor’s basic premise is rather simple, “we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34).” His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood. The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical perspective. In this view, self was dependent on a vision of the True or the Ideal. The hierarchical nature of reality presupposed in classical thought meant that self-definition was subservient to the whole. Traditional Christian thought embraced the classical perspective and the preference for self-definition by externals. Obviously, this short sketch of classical thought seems to be absurdly irrelevant in our contemporary world. Self is definitely not defined in relation to externals, but by an extreme interiority, complete rejection of hierarchical schemes, and the assumption that reality is defined empirically rather than conceptually. This book traces the transformation of the classical perspective through history in each of these areas: the movement toward inwardness, the affirmation of ordinary life, and the voice of nature. ~ Peter A. Kindle at

Table of Contents

    • Preface
  • PART I Identity and the Good
    • 1. Inescapable Frameworks
    • 2. The Self in Moral Space
    • 3. Ethics of Inarticulacy
    • 4. Moral Sources
  • PART II Inwardness
    • 5. Moral Topography
    • 6. Plato’s Self-Mastery
    • 7. “In Interiore Homine”
    • 8. Descartes’s Disengaged Reason
    • 9. Locke’s Punctual Self
    • 10. Exploring “l’Humaine Condition”
    • 11. Inner Nature
    • 12. A Digression on Historical Explanation
  • PART III The Affirmation of Ordinary Life
    • 13. “God Loveth Adverbs”
    • 14. Rationalized Christianity
    • 15. Moral Sentiments
    • 16. The Providential Order
    • 17. The Culture of Modernity
  • PART IV The Voice of Nature
    • 18. Fractured Horizons
    • 19. Radical Enlightenment
    • 20. Nature as Source
    • 21. The Expressivist Turn
  • PART V Subtler Languages
    • 22. Our Victorian Contemporaries
    • 23. Visions of the Post-Romantic Age
    • 24. Epiphanies of Modernism
    • 25. Conclusion: The Conflicts of Modernity
    • Notes
    • Index