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The Ethics of Authenticity 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674268630
ISBN-10: 0674268636
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Editorial Reviews


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 London Review of Books)

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 New York Times Book Review)

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

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 Manchester Guardian)

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 Philosophy and Social Criticism)

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 Ethics, Place and Environment)

From the Back Cover

At the heart of the modern malaise, according to most accounts, is the notion of authenticity, to selffulfillment, 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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 142 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (September 22, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674268636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674268630
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a short and powerful book. The frequent references to Taylor's "Sources of the Self" may indicate that it is a mere introduction to the longer work, but I feel that it stands well alone.
Taylor, a Canadian, observes the conservative-liberal debate in America from an outsider's position. He is able to distance himself from the rhetoric, vocabulary, and narrow categories of this debate. I found his insights well worth consideration.
In essence, Taylor attempts to redefine the debate. His concerns are threefold. First, radical individualism has disavowed most moral absolutes, eroded the meaningfulness of life, and resulted in a centripetal self-orientation that denigrates relational connectiveness. Secondly, Taylor is concerned that modern thought has become dominated by a reason that finds the highest good in the economic maximizing of ends. This "instrumental reason" demeans others as mere means to an end, disregards important perspectives that are not integral to the cost/benefit equation, and creates a technological supremacy that may cost us our humanity. Thirdly, Taylor is concerned that institutions have embraced instrumental reason as supreme and creating a power-base that may stand in the way of reform.
Most of this book deals exclusively with Taylor's thoughts on the first of these concerns. Conservatives will be upset that Taylor does not call for a return to older values and older worldviews. Instead, he accepts the modern emphasis on individualism and the corollaries of self-fulfillment and self-actualization. He parts with these liberal ideals by arguing that the centripetal self-focus can only find meaning outside of the self.
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Format: Hardcover
Lately I'd been reading various critiques of modernity- Leo Strauss and Alan Bloom, the "neoconservatives", and conservatives in general, who see nothing but a great moral and intellectual decay in modern society, beset by postmodern relativism and an intellectual trap that can't be escaped short of "noble" (read: blatant) lies. While I found many of their arguments quite convincing, something just didn't quite sit right with me.

Taylor explained exactly what's wrong with such critiques- they ignore the fact that "relativism" is merely a perversion of a powerful moral standard that these conservatives ignore- the ethic of authenticity, of being true to one's self and to the rights of others, a liberal standard of the enlightenment that conservatives threaten to destroy along with the excesses of postmodern nihilism. Taylor then goes on a quest to take down both the "boosters" and "knockers" of modernity- and points out where they're right and wrong.

For anyone wrestling with the liberal and conservative debates in this country today, I recommend this little volume heartily, along with Taylor's (much larger) "Sources of the Self" and Ken Wilber's "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution", which takes on the same issues from multiple perspectives.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Taylor focuses on three malaises of modernity in this short book. The first is individualism, which comprises a set of liberties and beliefs having to do with the privilege of the individual to determine his or her course of life. Taylor thinks individualism has removed us from concerns originating outside the self; the result is a narrowing and flattening of our lives. The second malaise is the primacy of instrumental reason. Cost-benefit analyses and means-to-an-end rationality have cost us our genuine respect and concern for human beings. In effect, humanity takes a back seat to the bottom line. Morality is pushed out of ethics, since what we should do depends on what we can get and what we need to get it, and not on what is right or good, praiseworthy or blameworthy, virtuous or vicious. Finally, the third malaise of the modern era has to do with the implications of individualism and instrumental reason for political, social, and economic institutions. Here Taylor's analysis is brief and weak. He basically laments what he sees as a lack of a sense of civic duty among the inhabitants of politically developed nations. The progress of technology and the organizational structure of bureaucracies have weakened our democratic initiative. We are in danger of becoming willing victims of a "soft" despotic government. The only way out of our current situation is to develop and adhere to an ethic of authenticity that makes concerns beyond the self a necessary precondition of self-concern. Furthermore, if we are to fly out of the "iron cage" of modernity, we must acknowledge various modes of reasoning and chose those that preserve our moral integrity. Although Taylor does not offer us detailed solutions to the proposed malaises, he at least turns our heads toward some of the possible paths we may take.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Taylor's efforts are admirable, and he writes compellingly, despite a very strange writing style that seems to encompass a number of grammatical mistakes. His initial arguments, on a general level, are convincing, especially his work on the three malaises.

Unfortunately, his work falls short when he tries to prove what authenticity is, and why authenticity should entail any kind of service to concepts other than oneself. Taylor has said that, oddly, it is an ethical requirement to be authentic. But how can this be the case, when it is impossible to judge when any person is acting in a way that 'is true to himself?' And, moreover, what guarantee does Taylor have that when every person acts authentically, there will be the political cohesion that he strives for? Taylor has expressively stated in correspondences with critic Quentin Skinner that God will cause us to come to the same ethical and political code of beliefs when we all act authentically. I simply think that this is a very ambitious claim, and due to the very nature of religion to cause individuals to act in grossly differing ways, one that is simply irrational. In this sense, I find the very nature of authenticity to be irrational.

I am not moved by his depiction of why are society is actually in an ethical crisis. Taylor seems to idolize the sets of values that 'held societies together' in a pre-modern era. It is questionable why any of us should do this. In terms of our political freedom we are outrageously better off having been freed from the very concepts that Taylor wants to impose on us once again, such as national religion.

Moreover, Taylor thinks that a 'continuing struggle' can be resolved with his views on authenticity.
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