Posted by: gcarkner | March 4, 2020

Quality of the Will Series: Post 2.

Charles Taylor Wagers on (Critical) Falsifiable Moral Realism

Indeed, who are we late moderns and where are we headed as a culture? Charles Taylor challenges the current superficiality regarding moral convictions with its over-emphasis on living one’s desires on a philosophical trajectory of freedom-choice-self-interest. Some call this the cult of self. Can we not aspire to higher ideals? His argument for moral realism is five-fold. In terms of moral givens, he argues that certain perennial features of the self are present irrespective of culture or the way they are expressed or understood. He starts his analysis with the question of how humans operate as moral beings in their actual moral experiences, and how they actually reflect upon those experiences. So he is interested in praxis (behavioural practices) as well as moral theory. Beginning with humans and the way they experience morality (the moral phenomenon), he claims that the most plausible explanation of morality is one that takes seriously a human’s perception of the independence of moral goods. It has been my privilege to wrestle with Taylor’s engaging ideas for more than a decade and I find them weighty and full of resonance with my experience and observations. There is real depth and nuance to his take on morality. It ought to captivate the best minds and the most genuine hearts.

He does not feel it appropriate to substitute a philosophical abstraction (for example utilitarianism) for how people live and think. Firstly, he argues for the ubiquity of moral intuitions and judgments in human experience. These are intuitions that transcend basic human desires for survival, sex, or self-realization. They are also referred to as second-order desires, strong evaluations or qualitative discriminations. One notes the important reference to the quality of the will. This concept of second-order desires invokes the ancient idea of the good. It is one which, although interwoven with the self, transcends the self in significant ways. It is higher and deeper, so to speak, not reducible to choice.

Secondly, he argues that there is a need for a larger moral picture to facilitate the task of making sense of moral experience (debates, deliberations, decisions and actions). He calls this picture (or map) a moral framework. Each framework is made up of several goods held together in a coherent relationship with one another, producing a moral worldview. The individual moral self discovers a dialectical relationship with its framework. It is not a static set of conditions, but rather dynamic and developmental. It matures over time.

There are three consequential axes of moral frameworks that are not properly defined by natural laws of science. They are meta-scientific:

  1. Beliefs about the value of human life, the respect that is due to others, and what this will cost us, demand from us.
  2. Beliefs about what kind of life is worth living. This permeates all our choices and actions.
  3. The dignity we afford ourselves and others, based on how we understand our role and usefulness to society, and our place or calling within the larger scheme of things.

Thirdly, he recognizes that there is a key defining good within each moral framework, which he calls the hypergood. The hypergood is the preeminent good and operates as a controlling influence and organizer of the other goods within the hierarchy of the framework. It is a driver, sets the moral tone and defines the overall character of the framework.  Thus, it is quite central to the discussion of the moral agency and to understanding a person at depth.

Fourthly, Taylor recognizes a significant narrative and communal texture to the pursuit of the good in moral self-constitution. Humans tend to interpret their lives in narrative and communal terms as they pursue moral goods. These goods give the individual a vision and mission to life, a trajectory for life. This important narrative-articulate dimension of self helps one find a unity amidst the complexity of moral experience and the plurality of goods vying for one’s attention. It offers a sound basis for evaluating one’s progress in life. Taylor dedicates a whole chapter to this concept in his 2016 book The Language Animal. Moral goods are also contained and maintained by a community of persons and this defines the community’s identity.

Fifthly, Taylor speaks of the sources of the moral or sources of the self, which he refers to as the constitutive good. The constitutive good (a category of moral motivation) gives meaning to and empowers the hypergood and the other life goods within the moral framework: it acts as a moral driver. It provides the ground of the worth or value of the life goods, and allows the individual to live the good life. This is a very significant, core idea for Taylor, one worth pondering more deeply. He expands on this idea of constitutive language in The Language Animal (chapter 6)–it acts as a complement to scientific language.

Thus, moral identity is intricately interwoven with the pursuit of the good in life in Taylor’s moral ontology. Healthy people build an intimate, passionate relationship with the good asa source of inspiration and motivation. Psychopaths and sociopaths, on the other hand, deny the relevance of any moral framework or good: narcissists and pathological liars follow this path (5% of the population). They are the hard core of the cult of self-interest, but they do not discredit the power of moral frameworks for most people.

Taylor discerns these five categories as givens, structural features that are common to the life of all morally and psychologically healthy human beings. He wants to problematize the occlusion or exclusion of such parameters, such qualitative distinctions for moral reasoning, because he believes that within the life of the self, there is a multiplicity of goods to be recognized, acted upon and pursued. These goods animate our lives and enhance culture. Taylor emphasizes the importance of being wise and self-conscious/circumspect about these goods. It is quite a challenging and enlightening proposal, a moral ontology of the self at its best, noblest or most whole. It also offers a positive, constructive, open platform for dialogue on moral self-constitution and ethics.

I will further unpack Taylor’s view in future posts. The nuances are exceedingly important. Clearly, this approach pushes back against current forms of ethical relativism and moral subjectivism which often lead to nihilism, moral autism (Matthew Crawford), confusion and anxiety/depression, decreased moral power/agency and tribalistic divisiveness within society. The cult of self leads to auto-intoxication (Camus) and results in a collective moral suicide, a tear in the social moral fabric. Taylor offers a healing paradigm for our contemporary Western moral brokenness, our estrangement/alienation from self, others and the sacred, from the forces that give us ultimate meaning and purpose. To live well/nobly, he suggests, is a high human achievement, a form of resistance to radical evil (anti-humanism). One can apply his critical moral realism to a range of issues: everyday life to the biggest ethical conundrums.

Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in Philosophical Theology, University of Wales

Key Readings/Dialogue with Taylor:

Posted by: gcarkner | March 2, 2020

Quality of the Will Series: Post 1.

The Recovery of Positive, Constructive Ethical Dialogue

Many people today are discouraged and confused by the moral drift in Western society and wonder if they can have any voice or influence in a world with such a strong emphasis on individual choice, subjectivist approach to values, aesthetic taste in ethics and radical, self-defining (self-justifying) concepts of freedom. Freedom currently in the West is often claimed as an ontological position, a reality within which one can justifiably choose one’s own moral parameters and construct or re-invent the self. In his important book, Sources of the Self (1989), and followed by A Secular Age (2007), Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor attempts to track and understand the moral soul of early and late Western modernity, especially what he calls the North Atlantic viewpoint. The narrative is a complex one, but vital to comprehend if we are to truly understand ourselves and our friendsThere are many ideological forces at work and many experiments in promoting an ethics of happiness, or consequence, or situation, one of pleasure or principle. The focus of ethics can be radically varied.

Religiously-oriented  people today can feel powerless and a bit odd, even guilty, for holding any moral convictions at all, that is, besides a consumeristic will that follows its self-interest desires. On this important topic, visiting Notre Dame Early Modern European History scholar Brad S. Gregory has a most profound Chapter 4. “Subjectivizing Morality” in his 2012 publication The Unintended Reformation. Many today feel themselves caving in or abandoning their inherited standards of behaviour under the weight of the cultural slippage–towards nihilistic relativism and radical individualism. Where can people turn for assistance, discernment and wisdom on this matter?

McGill University, MontrealMcGill University where Taylor taught

In the West, is there any basis left for normativity, for accountability, even for responsibility for the Other? Is it all just about my agenda, my choice, my naked will, or my aesthetic self-invention and personal fulfilment? “What is the quality of this choice, this will?” asks Taylor as he retrieves an ancient idea of qualitative discriminations in ethics–the language of the moral good or goods (See Part 1. of Sources of the Self). In what is  choice grounded, and how is it guided? We late moderns can be very naive about our Faustian deals when we make choice or expressivism an absolute within an ideology of unshackled freedom and self-determination. Post-Romantic philosophers like Michel Foucault offer an Art of Self or an ethics as aesthetics as a morality substitute in an age of nihilism and anomie (transgressive, norm-less existence).

This twelve part blog series on the Quality of the Will  suggests that pre-eminent Canadian philosopher of the self Charles Taylor can be a very strategic assistance on the issue at hand in his discussion of moral frameworks as a source of identity. He wants to recover/retrieve a robust moral grounding in order to avoid contemporary solipsism (think Julia Roberts in the movie Eat, Pray Love). He believes that these goods can empower us as moral beings once again. They need not remain buried in contemporary moral discourse. Following in the footsteps of one of Oxford’s greatest philosopher Iris Murdoch, this project (Malaise of Modernity; Sources of the Self) entails a dynamic, adventurous and exciting recovery of the ancient language of the good and a renewal of a fresh social normativity–a renewal of moral discourse in the polis. Taylor is highly skilled in employing an engaging language that a pluralistic audience can understand, both at the intellectual and practical choice/moral agency level. It resonates with many in a significant way! One has to be willing to think harder and go much deeper than much contemporary thought on ethics and morals. We attest to the fact that is worth the effort, the grappling with unfamiliar vocabulary. It offers fresh hope for Western pluralistic cultures and sub-cultures.

This twelve part series outlines his monumental contribution to moral and ethical thinking (the ontology of the good). It reveals a phenomenological aspiration to the good inherent in most humans if they are willing to reflect more deeply with Taylor, an aspiration which can be a robust challenge to the ethical solipsism and Zarathustra will-to-power outlook so common today.

What are the valid and sustainable parameters of our current moral quest, our current quest for freedom, wholeness, identity, happiness within our various spiritual journeys, the quest for meaning and identity in our lives? How do we map this in today’s world and put it to work for positive change? Taylor is an avid moral geographer. Moral ontology is deeply important and central to all other discussions about the moral self. It offers real insight into the inner landscape (infrastructure or deep structure) of the self. Therefore it remains central to engage the current debates of our day in the midst of a cultural loss of moral consensus, as astutely noted by virtue philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Moral autism is not an acceptable or stable place to rest.  Conversation (2012-06-16) with Charles Taylor rooted in A Secular Age (his Templeton Prize winning tome).

We trust you will enjoy reading and reflecting upon, perhaps debating with, this series of posts as much as we enjoyed writing them.

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in Philosophical Theology, University of Wales

Dissertation: “A Critical Examiniation of Michel Foucault’s Concept of Moral Self-constitution in dialogue with Charles Taylor.” Find it in the British Library in London, Oxford University Library, or Oxford Centre for Mission Studies Library.

See also Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, Moral Believing Animals.


Posted by: gcarkner | February 22, 2020

Dr. Raymond Aldred on Truth and Reconciliation

Meeting Postponed Until Further Notice due to Covid-19 Safety Concerns

Samples of Ray’s Perspective from YouTube


In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, Canadians have often viewed Christianity as the enemy of Indigenous people. But there is another side to the story, claims Professor Raymond Aldred. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada actually call themselves Christian and appreciate what they have learned from Christian leadership over the years. Aldred notes that there is currently real hope for a better day, a way forward for our Indigenous people. This hope begins in community, in rethinking our identity, who we are and where we have come from. In this address, he will show the need to tell the truth and use human imagination to heal relationships with the land/creation, with family, clan and community, and with the Creator. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ quest for healing is a shift in identity from shame to dignity of heritage. Mohawk writer Patricia Monture notes that key to this shift is a decision to take responsibility for all relationships, “Responsibility is at the heart of Indigenous freedom and self-determination.” We must strive to live in harmony with all things and all peoples, including the new visitors. We also wish to heal our treaty covenant relationships: through the threefold strategy of telling the truth, listening to one another, and seeking a common plan to repair the damage of abuse. Employing the principles of restorative justice, the difficult task of retelling our stories offers an important, creative way forward. These stories help us revisit the pain, face reality, and rediscover the good roots of our heritage. These vital steps constitute the effective direction of hope, as Ray has discovered through much experience.



Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Aldred holds a Master of Divinity from Canadian Theological Seminary,  and a Doctor of Theology from Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology. Currently, he is the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program, whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education. He is professor of Theology: Narrative, Systematic, Indigenous at the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus. A status Cree, he is ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada. Born in Northern Alberta, he now resides with his wife in Richmond. Formerly Ray served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He is former Director for the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada, now a committee member, where he works to encourage Indigenous churches. Ray also has had the privilege of addressing several college conferences and meetings to raise awareness of these issues. He and his wife, Elaine, are involved in ministry to help train people to facilitate support groups for people who have suffered abuse.

Posted by: gcarkner | February 5, 2020

Sources of Identity: Thomas Merton

From: Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 9.43.00 AM

In all the situations of life, the “will of God” comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love. (15)

We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good. His inscrutable love seeks our awakening. (15)

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…. We are even called to share with God’s work of creating the truth of our identity….. To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation,” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God as he reveals himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation. (32)

The secret of my full identity is hidden in Him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with Him and in Him, the work will never be done…. Not to accept and love and do God’s will is to refuse the fullness of my existence. (33)

To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self…. My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality  and outside of life. And such a self cannot help be but an illusion…. The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God…. Ultimately, the only way I can be myself is to become identified with him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfilment of my existence. (33-35)

The true inner self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from indistinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent. (38)

People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. (47)

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. If, therefore, I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfilment, or joy. To find love I must enter into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God. And to enter into his sanctity I must become holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect. (60, 61)

I who am without love cannot become love unless Love identifies me with himself. But if he sends his own love, himself, to act and love in me and in all that I do, then I shall be transformed, I shall discover who I am and shall possess my true identity by losing myself in Him. (63)

Posted by: gcarkner | January 31, 2020

Existential Identity Crisis of Millennials



Millennials are claiming that life is hard and often exhausting. Life today is like climbing a bare rock face, without instruction or ropes, as per this young man at Joshua Tree National Park in California. The feel vexed by self-worth issues and deeply lonely, even though they are heavily networked on social media. They are overwhelmed with diversity and pluralism and are crying out for mentorship and guidance (discernment) as to how to do life in a high tech age, one which overwhelms them with far too much information to process.  They also long for orientation, inspiration and transformation, personal growth and meaning. This talk attempts to map some of the Millennial burdens/struggles (the clouds or vexing problems and addictions that hover over them) and offers a trajectory for solutions, actions and engagement towards a more resilient, healthy identity growth, a more mature diversity. It shows an exit from our contemporary existential despair or dread that Kierkegaard opined about, and helps point the way to recovery.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner

See also on topic of identity James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love.

Faithful Presence: I have argued that there is a different foundation for reality and thus a different kind of binding commitment symbolized most powerfully in the incarnation. The incarnation represents an alternative way by which word and world come together. It is in the incarnation and the particular way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ that we find the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution and difference. If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with  whom  we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. This is the heart of the theology of faithful presence.

~from James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. OUP, 2010.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 20, 2020

Charles Taylor and the Modern Quest for Identity

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


Dr. Carkner




Question Period


Pre-eminent McGill University Emeritus Philosopher Charles Taylor is an iconic international scholar in the field of the late modern self. His critical thinking bridges Continental and Anglo-American thought. Millennials are currently facing a significant existential identity struggle and Taylor’s work can help.

Dr. Carkner will trace the contribution of Charles Taylor on the question of identity, drawing on his three major tomes: Sources of the Self(1989); A Secular Age (2007); The Language Animal (2016). Throughout his work, Taylor offers a highly sophisticated approach; he helps the individual to develop a strong consciousness that avoids identity crisis and collapse of meaning, with its accompanying anxiety (angst). For the reflective person, he believes that identity, morality and spirituality are inescapably interwoven. But the quest for identity also involves a quest to recover lost or repressed human language capacity—in particular, constitutive language. This recovery can open whole new worlds for Millennials and others as they wrestle with identity and purpose. In The Language Animal, Taylor reveals the various contours of language necessary for this recovery of a robust identity. Significant to this perspective are the moral sources within one’s moral framework that are discovered through building a relationship to the good.  The best account of life makes sense of these moral sources of metabiological (human) meaning. Taylor notes that as we grow morally, our maturing meanings involve us in “seeing better, believing better and ultimately living better”. Dr. Carkner will apply these insights to one current existential dilemma in the West, the crisis of affirmation.

Dr. McDonald will focus on the application of Taylor’s idea of moral footing and its implications for dialogue across difference within the celebrated Canadian cultural mosaic. He will show how this insight applies, with special reference to the Gerard Bouchard-Charles Taylor Commission Report of 2008 called “Building the Future: a Time for Reconciliation.” Taylor gives us deep insight into this dynamic identity question. It is critical for fruitful dialogue and bridging between groups who represent diversity to each other. Discernment is required for mature integration. What is the respect and dignity that is due others? What will it cost us and how will it benefit all concerned? Taylor’s astute understanding increases our ability to reframe this important discussion.


Gordon E. Carkner holds a PhD in philosophy of late modern culture from University of Wales, UK (2006). His dissertation is entitled “A Critical Examination of Michel Foucault’s Concept of Moral Self-Constitution in Dialogue with Charles Taylor.” He has been invested in the work of Charles Taylor for over two decades. His own writing and research interacts regularly with the Taylor’s thought including the 2016 publication, The Great Escape from Nihilism: Rediscovering Our Passion in Late Modernity, a critique of Western culture which analyses the quest for identity. In the context of the UBC’s Graduate Christian Union and The Forum, Gordon  is passionate about questions of meaning and identity, faith and culture, science and religion. His work as a chaplain and meta-educator helps to shape young leaders for a strong future contribution. He offers graduate students extracurricular space to reflect on their work and their lives at UBC, feeding them targeted resources and faculty support. His research interests are in the area of freedom, identity and the moral good, secularity and philosophical anthropology.

Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, Associate Professor of Counselling Psychology and he also teaches in the Gender Studies Program at Trinity Western University. He directed the MA in Counselling Psychology during 2001-2017. He is a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight.

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)
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

Posted by: gcarkner | December 16, 2019

Advent Reflections 2019

 Everything is New in 2020 in Light of the Incarnation

He Comes, God is Coming, Can’t You Feel It?

God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, trust is forged between word spoken and the reality of which it speaks, between the words we speak and transcendent realities to which we point. The Word became flesh … a human life … a work of art … shaping a new humanism … a new community … a new social imaginary. Integrity is his name. God with us is the hope of a new creation, a new covenant, new purpose, abundant new life.

Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi (1609-1629) Photo: Wikimedia Commons


At just the right time, it was kairos time, richer, deeper, more meaningful than any chronological time. He comes to dwell among us in incarnate human flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses, words that give life and vision, fuel the imagination about justice, righteousness and passion. Here lies the great invitation to counter nihilism, violence, lies, will to power.

The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before…. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon. (Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas)

It is high time to slow down and search the deeper things of life, reach higher than ever before for a transcendent I-Thou encounter with divine Otherness. It is time to ponder the big questions of meaning, purpose and identity as the profound light from heaven dispels darkness and confronts evil. Indeed, there is more here than meets the eye, and there is plenty of wonder that captivates. Where are our best philosophers, historians and scholars, poets and scientists? What say they about the dramatic Christ event? There are clues to a great turn in history: both fulfilment and promise. What kind of thunderous inbreaking is this? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, these angelic visitations? Advent is a sign of good things to come for Mary, for the Jewish people, for the whole world. It speaks of infinite hope.

We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, gone for long walks, felt his robust embrace, dined and broken bread together, heard wisdom from his lips that set our minds and hearts on fire. We have been embraced by his care and inclusion. We have captured a mission that drove us to reach the world. It was a compelling message of dikaiosune justice, caritas grace and agape love, one that drills down deep into human culture. Deep calls to deep. We saw him die and rise again, ascend through the heavens. He has inaugurated an economy of grace and goodness, humility and compassion.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | December 5, 2019

Epiphanic Encounters


Mary Encounters the Wholly Other

Luke 1: 26-56

Epiphanies are suggestive of transcendence. Michael Morgan (1994, pp. 56f)) points out that Charles Taylor sees a parallel between the epiphanies of art and poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the I-Thou epiphany of religious encounter with the divine. Taylor elaborates the idea of epiphanies (1989, pp. 419f, especially 490-93). He sees Post-Romantic and modernist art as oriented to epiphanies, episodes of realization, revelation, or disclosure. Epiphanies and epiphanic art are about a kind of transcendence, about the self coming in touch with that which lies beyond it, a ground or qualitative pre-eminence. One might call it a gift of the imagination or a re-enchantment of reality.

Taylor reviews various ways of articulating epiphany in Sources of the Self (1989, pp. 419-93). He articulates how God, inserted into this idea of epiphany, fits as a moral source (Sources of the Self, pp. 449-52). Epiphanies can be a way of connecting with spiritual and moral sources through the exercise of the creative imagination: sources may be divine (Taylor), or in the world or nature (Romantics like Thoreau), or in the powers of the imaginative, expressive self (Michel Foucault).

These epiphanies are a paradigm case of what Taylor calls recovering contact with moral sources. A special case of this renewal of relationship between the self and the moral source is religion and the relation to God, which he sees in the work of Dostoyevski. The relationship to art parallels the relationship to religion. The self is oriented in the presence of the inaccessible or sublime, that which captures one’s amazement or awe, for example, when one’s eyes are riveted to a certain painting like Monet’s Lillies, and one’s inner emotions are deeply moved by a poem. One is taken beyond oneself, in an experience of transcendence; the experience involves both elements of encounter and revelation. It can come in a discovery such as finding out the chemicals in our bodies were once part of the death of a star; we are stardust, embedded in creation itself; we owe the stars our very life.

When Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history, she is in awe, overwhelmed. It is truly an epiphany, an I-Thou encounter with radical alterity. Heaven and earth reach out to each other at this juncture and something dramatic occurs. This news changes everything. Time stands still in this kairos moment. She allows transcendence and immanence to intermingle within her body, her life. Mary’s story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal, informed by the descent of transcendence into a historical teenager’s life. We know it as the incarnation. D. Steven Long writes in Speaking of God (309): “The purpose of the church is to recognize and acknowledge those conditions by which we can, like Mary, say yes to God and in so doing make Jesus present to the world. Those conditions are the way of holiness and that assumes the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty.”

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | November 28, 2019

Christmas Reading Suggestions


The God Who Plays by Brian Edgar

The True Story of Canadian Human Trafficking by Paul Boge

Postcards from the Middle East by Chris Naylor

All the Light We Do Not See by Anthony Doerr

Christ the Heart of Creation by Rowan Williams

On the Road With Saint Augustine by James K.A. Smith

The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware by Simon Conway Morris

The Psalms as Christmas Praise by Bruce Waltke & James Houston

The New Testament in its World by N.T. Wight and Michael Bird

This Day: Sabbath Poems 1979-2013 by Wendell Berry

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selections from His Poems, Letters, Journals, and Spiritual Writings (Margaret R. Ellsberg editor)

Czeslow Milosz: Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World  by Tom Holland 

On the Future Prospects for Humanity by Martin Rees

The Second Mountain: The Quest for the Moral by David Brooks

The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith by Sy Garte, Alister McGrath

Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue by Paul Allen

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder

Science and the Good: the Tragic Quest for Foundations of Morality by James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christian Humanism by Jens Zimmermann  Dr. Anders Kraal, UBC Lecturer in Philosophy on “Philosophy’s Struggle with God”


Christmas on the Edge by Malcolm Guite

Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of  turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.

And from this day our  world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »