The Ethics of Authenticity / Edition 1

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Overview

Everywhere we hear talk of decline, of a world that was better once, maybe fifty years ago, maybe centuries ago, but certainly before modernity drew us along its dubious path. While some lament the slide of Western culture into relativism and nihilism and others celebrate the trend as a liberating sort of progress, Charles Taylor calls on us to face the moral and political crises of our time, and to make the most of modernity's challenges.

At the heart of the modern malaise, according to most accounts, is the notion of authenticity, of self-fulfillment, which seems to render ineffective the whole tradition of common values and social commitment. Though Taylor recognizes the dangers associated with modernity's drive toward self realization, he is not as quick as others to dismiss it. He calls for a freeze on cultural pessimism.

In a discussion of ideas and ideologies from Friedrich Nietzsche to Gail Sheehy, from Allan Bloom to Michel Foucault, Taylor sorts out the good from the harmful in the modern cultivation of an authentic self. He sets forth the entire network of thought and morals that link our quest for self-creation with our impulse toward self-fashioning, and shows how such efforts must be conducted against an existing set of rules, or a gridwork of moral measurement. Seen against this network, our modern preoccupations with expression, rights, and the subjectivity of human thought reveal themselves as assets, not liabilities.

By looking past simplistic, one-sided judgments of modern culture, by distinguishing the good and valuable from the socially and politically perilous, Taylor articulates the promise of our age. His bracing and provocative book gives voice to the challenge of modernity, and calls on all of us to answer it.

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Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books

The great merit of Taylor's brief, non-technical, powerful book...is the vigour with which he restates the point which Hegel (and later Dewey) urged against Rousseau and Kant: that we are only individuals in so far as we are social...Being authentic, being faithful to ourselves, is being faithful to something which was produced in collaboration with a lot of other people...The core of Taylor's argument is a vigorous and entirely successful criticism of two intertwined bad ideas: that you are wonderful just because you are you, and that 'respect for difference' requires you to respect every human being, and every human culture—no matter how vicious or stupid.
— Richard Rorty

New York Times Book Review

Charles Taylor is a philosopher of broad reach and many talents, but his most striking talent is a gift for interpreting different traditions, cultures and philosophies to one another...[This book is] full of good things.
— Alan Ryan

Chicago Tribune

Taylor's crystalline insights rescue us from the plague on both houses in the debate over modernity and its discontents.
— Joseph Coates

Manchester Guardian

Reading Taylor's unexpected but always perceptive judgments on modernity, one becomes forcefully aware of the critical potential of that old philosophical injunction "know thyself". This little book points to the importance of public reflection and debate about who we are. It also forcefully draws attention to their absence from our public culture.
— Ben Rogers

Philosophy and Social Criticism

These lectures provide not only an inviting summary of [Taylor's] recent thought but also, in many ways, a more revealing statement of his underlying convictions. Taylor's own voice comes through clearly in this book—the voice of a philosophically reflective and hermeneutically rooted cultural critic.
— Joel Anderson

Place and Environment Ethics
Charles Taylor's Ethics of Authenticity is a concise, clear discussion reexamining these and closely related "malaises" of modernity while focusing on meaning, its importance in our lives, and why our attempts to find our identities matter--whether these identities be personal, social, political, aesthetic, or scientific. He affirms the moral ground underlying modern individualism, but challenges us to go beyond relativism to pluralism.
— Paul Roebuck
London Review of Books - Richard Rorty
The great merit of Taylor's brief, non-technical, powerful book...is the vigour with which he restates the point which Hegel (and later Dewey) urged against Rousseau and Kant: that we are only individuals in so far as we are social...Being authentic, being faithful to ourselves, is being faithful to something which was produced in collaboration with a lot of other people...The core of Taylor's argument is a vigorous and entirely successful criticism of two intertwined bad ideas: that you are wonderful just because you are you, and that 'respect for difference' requires you to respect every human being, and every human culture--no matter how vicious or stupid.
New York Times Book Review - Alan Ryan
Charles Taylor is a philosopher of broad reach and many talents, but his most striking talent is a gift for interpreting different traditions, cultures and philosophies to one another...[This book is] full of good things.
Chicago Tribune - Joseph Coates
Taylor's crystalline insights rescue us from the plague on both houses in the debate over modernity and its discontents.
Manchester Guardian - Ben Rogers
Reading Taylor's unexpected but always perceptive judgments on modernity, one becomes forcefully aware of the critical potential of that old philosophical injunction "know thyself". This little book points to the importance of public reflection and debate about who we are. It also forcefully draws attention to their absence from our public culture.
Philosophy and Social Criticism - Joel Anderson
These lectures provide not only an inviting summary of [Taylor's] recent thought but also, in many ways, a more revealing statement of his underlying convictions. Taylor's own voice comes through clearly in this book--the voice of a philosophically reflective and hermeneutically rooted cultural critic.
Ethics, Place and Environment - Paul Roebuck
Charles Taylor's Ethics of Authenticity is a concise, clear discussion reexamining these and closely related "malaises" of modernity while focusing on meaning, its importance in our lives, and why our attempts to find our identities matter--whether these identities be personal, social, political, aesthetic, or scientific. He affirms the moral ground underlying modern individualism, but challenges us to go beyond relativism to pluralism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674268630
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 664,259
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.61 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Taylor is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

I. Three Malaises

II. The Inarticulate Debate

III. The Sources of Authenticity

IV. Inescapable Horizons

V. The Need for Recognition

VI. The Slide to Subjectivism

VII. La Lotta Continua

VIII. Subtler Languages

IX. An Iron Cage?

X. Against Fragmentation

Notes

Index

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