The Ethics of Authenticity (Chapters 6-10)

The Ethics of Authenticity, Chapters 6-10

In the first five chapters, Taylor argued that contemporary society suffers from three malaises: rampant individualism, the dominance of instrumental reason, and the loss of political freedom brought about by social fragmentation. The bulk of the book looks at the first issue. Whereas various commentators deride modern individualism as purely amoral narcissism that is impervious to criticism, Taylor shows that contemporary ideas of self-fulfillment are rooted in a deeper conceptual history. He argues that choice for the sake of choice is only valuable insofar as we choose well, which means that act of choosing is less important than the object of choice. Such objects cannot be determined by the chooser; rather, they are determined in dialogue with other people. Other people, in other words, are in some way necessary to personal responsibility and authenticity inasmuch as they help determine what a good life looks like.

In this chapter, Taylor will continue looking at how we got to a culture of self-fulfillment, and in the last two chapters he will briefly discuss the other two malaises.

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Charles Taylor’s The Ethics of Authenticity (Chapters 1-5)

Contemporary civilization is often said to suffer from narcissistic individualism, enslavement to technology and institutions, and a loss of political freedom caused by apathy. Critics have condemned the contemporary discourse of self-fulfilment as a withdrawal from moral concerns; however we should instead understand it as a kind of moral calling, albeit one that calls us away from caring about that which transcends the self—we need to separate a “good” ideal of personal authenticity from a “bad” one. The ideal of authenticity is one with with sources at least three centuries old in (political and philosophical) Enlightenment theories of individualism, but it’s mainly an inheritance from the Romantic period. Authenticity only makes sense against an interpersonal background of values and significances, so any discourse on self-fulfilment based on shutting out society is self-defeating. There is a sense in modern culture that (impersonal) social relationships as well as intimate relationships are valuable insofar as they aid self-fulfilment, but this notion is self-defeating.

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