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Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity Paperback – March 1, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0674824263 ISBN-10: 0674824261

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Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity + A Secular Age + The Ethics of Authenticity
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674824261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674824263
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book is primarily a historical account of the modernist protest against the disengaged and instrumental modes of thought and action that arose when theistically grounded morality crumbled, but that themselves focused too little upon our inner life, i.e., our powers of creative imagination and the substantive goods of ordinary life, which Taylor alleges give meaning to human life. Associating each ideology with a particular conception of our identity as selves, he defends the modern view, keeping in mind that self-realization must recognize that some things are important beyond the self. Taylor rambles somewhat and often talks about " the good," as though human beings were fungible in their capacities for appreciation and action; but the wealth of illustrative material and frequent insights are thought-provoking. For scholarly collections.
- Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Taylor has taken on the most delicate and exacting of philosophical questions, the question of who we are and how we should live...and he has made this an adventure of self-discovery for his reader. To have accomplished so much is an important philosophical achievement. (New Republic)

Sources of the Self is in every sense a large book: in length and in the range of what it covers, but above all in the generosity and breadth of its sympathies and its interest in humanity...Few books on such large subjects are so engaging. (Bernard Williams New York Review of Books)

A magnificent account, full, fair, well read, well written, complicated and high spirited--a credit, one might say, to the modern self that is capable of plumbing the depths of its own heritage in such a generous way. (Jeremy Waldron Times Literary Supplement)

Surely one of the most important philosophical works of the last quarter of a century. (Jerome Bruner)

For sociologists, there is no more important philosopher writing in the world today than Charles Taylor. (Alan Wolfe Contemporary Sociology)

Undoubtedly one of the most significant works in moral philosophy and the history of ideas to appear in recent decades. (Frances S. Adeney Theology Today)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I highly recommend this important book.
Justin Pack
Taylor would like to revitalize the ancients' emphasis on what he calls a substantive theory of the good.
Ryan L. Lanham
Both books show a great deal of erudition and take an approach both analytical and historical.
Robin Friedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Kindle on July 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Taylor took two years to write this book; it took me nearly as long to read it! It is a five-part tome of 525 pages of text and 71 pages of footnotes. In this entire collection I cannot remember a single section that could be read without my complete concentration. Quiet and solitude are minimal prerequisites before tackling this book - a good grasp of the history of philosophy wouldn't hurt either.
The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor's basic premise is rather simple, "we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34)." His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood.
The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical perspective. In this view, self was dependent on a vision of the True or the Ideal. The hierarchical nature of reality presupposed in classical thought meant that self-definition was subservient to the whole. Traditional Christian thought embraced the classical perspective and the preference for self-definition by externals.
Obviously, this short sketch of classical thought seems to be absurdly irrelevant in our contemporary world. Self is definitely not defined in relation to externals, but by an extreme interiority, complete rejection of hierarchical schemes, and the assumption that reality is defined empirically rather than conceptually.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Secret Squirrel on March 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sources of the Self is an exceptional piece of scholarship. In SOS, Taylor engages in a course of philosophical anthropology to demonstrate that our understanding of the self as interior is by no means universal. For Taylor, understandings of the self are inextricably linked to our understandings of the good. Thus, self-understanding is directed by evolving conceptions of the source and location of the good. This idea has been lost, according to Taylor, because of the narrow conception of the good in our modern world and the naturalist suppression of moral ontology.

Taylor defends this argument in two ways. First, he provides a strong argument that the self exists within inescapable moral frameworks. "To know who you are" Taylor argues, "is to be oriented in moral space." These frameworks are composed of hierarchical moral distinctions (i.e., some things are viewed as better than, or more important than others -- for instance, in our time, the notion of respect for persons). Second, Taylor argues that previous goods have been victim to historical suppression.

The bulk of the text is aimed at re-articulating historically suppressed goods. This illustration provides a fascinating romp through the history of ideas from Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau and MANY others, as well an interesting pieces about cultural history (e.g., the Puritans, art theory, etc).

One caution -- this is NOT an easy read. The argument itself is in the first few chapters, the remander is illustration. But keep the argument in mind the whole way. You will have to work to get through it - but it is well worth it! You will never see the self the same way again.
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79 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Carool Kersten on October 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
With 'Sources of the Self' Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written a seminal work along the lines of Ernst Cassirer's classic 'An Essay on Man'.
Deploring the minimal ethics of modernity and dissatisfied with post-modern nihilism, Taylor positions his moral theory in the Aristotelean tradition of 'ethos'. But Taylor does not embrace a pre-defined, teleological destiny. Rather, his premise is that in articulating 'the self' we will discover who we are, what we are supposed to do and where we are going.
Taylor's quest into what made man into what he is, is traced back to classic Greek thought and Augustinian theology. Subsequently the author takes us to early modernity: from Locke, via Neoplatonists like Shaftesbury, to the period of Romanticism. Eventually this odyssee of the mind is germinating into present-day man as a self-expressing creature.
The richness of Taylor's argumentation is often dazzling; here speaks a man of wide and deep erudition, an authoritative voice of intellectual history, seemingly equally at home in science, history and the arts.
In the post-modern wilderness of de-construction, Taylor's articulate and subtle history of mentality is an intellectual joy.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written two extended studies of what many people describe as modernity. The more recent of these books, "A Secular Age" (2007) examines the ways in which modern life became increasingly secularized or "disenchanted". Taylor in that book offered a long historical and analytical discussion of how people had, over centuries, tended to move away from a religious, transcendental outlook on life. Taylor received the Templeton Prize for this impressive study.

Nearly 20 years earlier, Taylor wrote the book I am reviewing here, "Sources of the Self" (1989). This book is, if anything, more difficult to read than its successor. The book addresses the same complex of questions as does "The Secular Age", but from the other end. Rather than focusing on God and secularization, the book describes "the making of the modern identity" -- concepts of human selfhood and human personality that have helped made modern life what it is.

Both books show a great deal of erudition and take an approach both analytical and historical. As Taylor says, in order to know where we are, we have to know where we have been. In "The Secular Age", Taylor identifies himself at the outset as a practicing, believing Catholic. In the earlier book, he keeps his hand somewhat more hidden. His own commitments might even be missed under a casual reading of an extraordinarily dense book.

Although the book wanders and lacks strong focus, Taylor's primary interest lies in showing what gives meaning to life. In the opening Part of this five-part book, Taylor explores the relationship between views of personal identity and views of the good.
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