Sources of the Self
Most of us are still groping for answers about what makes life worth living, or what confers meaning on individual lives’, writes Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self. ‘This is an essentially modern predicament.’ Charles Taylor’s latest book sets out to define the modern identity by tracing its genesis, analysing the writings of such thinkers as Augustine, Descartes, Montaigne, Luther, and many others. This then serves as a starting point for a renewed understanding of modernity. Taylor argues that modern subjectivity has its roots in ideas of human good, and is in fact the result of our long efforts to define and attain the good. The modern turn inwards is far from being a disastrous rejection of rationality, as its critics contend, but has at its heart what Taylor calls the affirmation of ordinary life. He concludes that the modern identity, and its attendant rejection of an objective order of reason, is far richer in moral sources that its detractors allow. Sources of the Self provides a decisive defence of the modern order and a sharp rebuff to its critics.
The major insight of Sources of the Self is that modern subjectivity, in all its epistemological, aesthetic, and political ramifications, has its roots in ideas of human good. After first arguing that contemporary philosophers have ignored how self and good connect, the author defines the modern identity by describing its genesis. His effort to uncover and map our moral sources leads to novel interpretations of most of the figures and movements in the modern tradition. Taylor shows that the modern turn inward is not disastrous but is in fact the result of our long efforts to define and reach the good. At the heart of this definition he finds what he calls the affirmation of ordinary life, a value which has decisively if not completely replaced an older conception of reason as connected to a hierarchy based on birth and wealth. In telling the story of a revolution whose proponents have been Augustine, Montaigne, Luther, and a host of others, Taylor’s goal is in part to make sure we do not lose sight of their goal and endanger all that has been achieved. Sources of the Self provides a decisive defense of the modern order and a sharp rebuff to its critics.