Posted by: gcarkner | November 3, 2012

Quality of the Will…7

A Key Qualifier on the Moral Framework

Through his discussion about frameworks, Taylor recovers an interest in a commitment to the good. In his understanding, development of identity emerges in a way that is closely linked to one’s orientation within a particular moral framework or horizon, that is, where one is positioned with respect to one’s moral map and the goods within one’s horizon. This is the defining edge of meaning in one’s life; he claims that a self with depth (a thick self) must be defined in terms of the good: ‘In order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparably higher’ (Taylor, 1989, p. 47). What one calls the good is the most significant defining factor: ‘What I am as a self, my identity, is essentially defined by the way things have significance for me and how I orient myself to the good’ (1989, p. 34).

Genuine self-understanding, clarification, moral self-discipline and education require that the self be identified and articulated within such a moral horizon. It also means that, ‘one orients oneself in a space which exists independently of one’s success or failure in finding one’s bearings’ (1989, p. 133). One is also able to grow up or mature into one’s framework. This adds another dimension to the objective pole in his moral ontology: the moral horizon has a status independent of the self, though intimately and dialectically entwined with the self. One definition of nihilism is the denial/refusal or loss of such a framework. This is existentially painful.

There is another important distinction in Taylor’s proposal. He identifies the existence of many different and conflicting horizons (maps) that frame and discern individual moral space. Is he merely proposing another sophisticated form of relativism, one of moral frameworks? In this regard, he does offer an important qualifier about frameworks in a response to critical papers on his work, Philosophy in An Age of Pluralism (J. Tully, Ed., 1994). He denies the arbitrariness of one’s framework, or the equality of all frameworks, in favour of a more critical, reflective and thoughtful perspective, where some frameworks actually calculate as being of higher value than others.

Realism involves ranking (some) schemes and ranking them in terms of their ability to cope with, allow us to know, describe, come to understand reality. Some schemes are better or worse than others … Moral realism requires one be able to identify certain moral changes as gains or losses, yet it can be sensitive to the complexities of life and of moral choice. (Taylor, 1994, pp. 220 and 224)

This is not quite the same as scientific realism (although there is some overlap re the concept of ‘fitness’) where the forces of nature operate in a certain way whether humans observe them in that way or not, and where the scientist bends his analysis or theory to fit newly discovered facts. The moral goods do not exist outside of the human realm; it is human beings only that see significance in a moral good and a particular moral framework; this is Taylor’s concept of resonance. An important nuance in moral realism states that some frameworks are truer to authentic human experience and make more sense than others, that is, that they are more plausible, and nobler, a better fit.

Gord Carkner


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