Posted by: gcarkner | January 9, 2020

Provocative Quotes on Identity from Charles Taylor

Provocative Quotes from Charles Taylor on Language, Morality and Identity

 

A society of self-fulfillers, whose affiliations are more tentative, revocable (without covenant) and mobile, cannot sustain a strong identification with community.

[M]y discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others. We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.

To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand. (Sources of the Self)

I want to defend the strong thesis that doing without moral frameworks is utterly impossible for us; otherwise put, that the horizons within which we live our lives and which make sense of them have to include these strong qualitative discriminations. Moreover, this is not meant just as a contingently true psychological fact about human beings … Rather the claim is that living within such strongly qualified horizons is constitutive of human agency, that stepping outside these limits would be tantamount to stepping outside what we would recognize as integral, that is, undamaged human personhood. (Sources of the Self)

Our language has lost its constitutive power. This means that we can deal instrumentally with realities around us, but their deeper meaning (the background in which they exist), the higher reality which finds expression in them, is ignored and often invisible to us. Our language has lost the power to Name things in their embedding, their deeper, richer and higher reality. The current incapacity of language is a crucial factor in our incapacity of seeing well and impacts our flourishing. Our language, our vision and our lives often remain flattened in late modernity. (A Secular Age)

We become full human agents, capable of understanding ourselves, and hence of defining our identity, through our acquisition of rich human languages of expression. (The Language Animal)

Language changes our world, introducing new meaning into our lives, open to the domain it encodes. Language doesn’t simply map our world but creates it. (The Language Animal)

We can come to see the growth of civilization, or modernity, as synonymous with the laying out of a closed immanent frame; within this civilized values develop, and a single-minded focus on the human good, aided by the fuller and fuller use of scientific reason, permits the greatest flourishing possible of human beings. … What emerges from all this is that we can either see the transcendent as a threat, a dangerous temptation, or an obstacle to our greatest good. Or we can read it as answering to our deepest craving, need, fulfilment of the good. … Both open and closed stances involve a step beyond available reason into the realm of anticipatory confidence. (A Secular Age)

Constitutive language can open new spaces for human meanings and identity: new terms, new expressions, enactments, new fields of articulacy and how to recognize and bring to expression new domains of meaning. The disciplined languages of objective description suitable for science are comparatively late achievements of human culture.  In light of all this, it is clear that the regimented, scientific zone can only be a suburb of the vast, sprawling city of language, and could never be the metropolis itself.  (The Language Animal)

Language can only be understood if we understand its constitutive role in human life…. Language is the domain of right and wrong motives. (The Language Animal)

We make these meanings exist for us by enacting them, then expressing them, naming them, critically examining them, arguing about them, fighting (sometimes) about them.  (The Language Animal)

Hermeneutics (interpretation) helps us make sense of human actions and reactions, responses and attitudes, behavioural causes and effects. This kind of reflection makes these humanly understandable, graspable and palpable or real for us. Such interpretation of self happens against the backdrop of a whole “landscape of meaning” within which an agent operates. This includes a whole constellation of motives, norms and virtues. Such packages of interpretation are rooted in an overall philosophical anthropology. This process of searching for coherence within ourselves, within our moral framework, is essential to a healthy, robust identity and essential to our own integrity. Whatever meaning we attribute to the part has to make sense within the whole, whose meaning it also helps to determine. (The Language Animal)

Our moral reactions have two facets … On the one side, they are almost like instincts, comparable to our love of sweet things, or our aversion to nauseous substances … on the other, they seem to involve claims, implicit or explicit, about the nature and status of human beings. From the second side, a moral reaction is an assent to, an affirmation of a given ontology of the human … The whole way in which we think, reason, argue, and question ourselves about morality supposes that our moral reactions have these two sides: that they are not only “gut” feelings but also implicit acknowledgments of claims concerning the objects. (Sources of the Self)

The best account of morality must be one that incorporates the fact that individuals experience goods as being worthy of their admiration and respect for reasons that do not depend on their choice of them. Beginning with humans and the way they experience morality, Taylor claims that the most plausible explanation of morality is one that takes seriously humans’ perception of the independence of the goods. (Sources of the Self)

We generally reproduce the society in which we are brought up because we have been trained in certain “habituses”, which are not at all stereotyped reactions, but flexible modes of improvisation. A habitus is basically the reembodied sensibility which makes possible structured improvisation. To take on a habitus  is to embody certain social meanings. (The Language Animal)

I want to claim that a complex of key human phenomena, norms, footings, institutions, social orders, political structures and the offices that figure in them are constituted and transformed in discourse, often in rhetorical speech acts which purport to refer to established values, or invoke existing structures, but which in fact bootstrap [such values]…. The animals were indeed there before their names were ever uttered, but the language we have to describe the political life of Athens is the precipitate of  the constitutive discourse in which this life came to be. (The Language Animal)

Stories give us an understanding of life, people, and what happens to them which is peculiar (i.e., distinct from what other forms, like works of science and philosophy, can give us), and also unsubstitutable…. It is through story that we find or devise ways of living bearably in time…. We must have a take on reality and what constitutes progress, or we entertain an identity crisis…. How I tell my story defines my identity, which is central to being a self.  Each of us has an inner biographer—linking past, present and future mental states. This kind of temporal (diachronic) mapping is essential to a healthy identity…. It is imperative that I care about my future self as much as my present self…. As we grow morally, our maturing meanings involve us in seeing better, believing better and ultimately living better. (The Language Animal)
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God’s love is one active contemporary source of the good, the love of which has empowered people to do the good and exemplify the good in their character, social life and politics. Taylor suggests that to avoid nihilism, we need a transcendent turn to avoid the extremes of self-hatred, guilt and shame; or alternatively the extremity of hating morality itself—spiritual lobotomy. The transcendent turn to agape becomes vital: “The only way to escape fully the draw toward violence”, he writes, “lies somewhere in the turn to transcendence—that is, through the full-hearted love of some good beyond life” (Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?, 1999, 28).
Diversity Skill Set & Wisdom for Dialogue
  • Able to pursue ideas amidst diversity and think for yourself.
  • Champion a continual search for the truth, and disagreement with lies and deception, propaganda, poor scholarship.
  • Beware: too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.
  • Don’t buy into relativism or subjectivism (unfortunately, 70% of Canadians do just that). It cannot be lived well—definitely notgood for human flourishing.
  • Remember that your personal opinion might be poorly examined and ill-informed, weak empirically, bigoted or seriously biased.
  • Celebrate high values/virtues/ideals: honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, decency, respect for life, good environmental stewardship, taking responsibility for your behaviour and for others (inclusive humanism).
  • Shun dishonesty, cheating, abuse, exploitation, theft, fraud, plagiarism, things causing emotional pain and suffering to others, the not-so-good or dark side of human character.
  • Ask yourself what leads to a truly good life?
  • Learn to distinguish between good, better, best decisions. Not all theories or worldviews are of equal value. There is a hierarchy among the moral goods.
  • Think about the consequences of your actions and decisions, including the unintended ones.
___________________________

Charles Taylor and the Modern Quest for Identity: 

Dialogue on a Great Mind

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner &  Dr. Marvin McDonald

4:00 pm, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Henry Angus Room 241, UBC

 

Charles Taylor’s Moral Ontology of Frameworks:  Taylor’s Moral Ontology.current


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