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The purpose of most philosophical inquiries can be arguably linked to the quest for the meaning of our lives. The concern for human development thus can be viewed as an attempt to formulate an intelligible discourse within which the human person can develop his full potentials and lead a meaningful life. Pope Paul VI notes in Populorum Progressio that the aspiration of men is “to seek to do more, know more and have more in order to be more” and the vision of development should be “every man and of the whole man” (#6, #14). To achieve these, a good and sound anthropology is necessary. Taylor thus, comes to the fore. In Sources of the Self, Taylor notes that “selfhood and the good, or in another way selfhood and morality, turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes” (Taylor, Sources of the Self 3). He grapples with the meaning or fulfilment of our lives, the spiritual (strong evaluation) as well as respect for life, integrity and well-being, even of others. He is concerned about deep, powerful and universal moral intuitions. This paper thus examines Charles Taylor’s topology of the self (as moral, political, spiritual, and creative subjects of meaning) and its implications for human development. Our morality involves claims about the nature and status of human beings and an assent to or an affirmation of a given ontology of the human person. In Sources of the Self, Taylor notes that the history of philosophy seems to reject this ontology of the human (4-5) – naturalism – the view that nature, of which man is part, is to be understood according to the cannons, which emerged in the 17th century revolution in natural science (Baker). Taylor’s critique of foundational tendencies of modern epistemology lies in its three errors: (i) a free, rational but disengaged self, (ii) the punctual self (instrumentalism reason), and (iii) atomism (Taylor, Overcoming Epistemology 471-73). This focus on the self, flattens and narrows our lives, making them poorer in meaning and less concerned with others or society. It leads to a disorientating dislocation from those things that give meaning and sense to our lives (Baker). The implication is
it is primary and spiritual (Taylor. The implication here is that the individual self does not invent her moral outlook or private conception of the good. It is good to focus on what it is good to be and the content of obligation not merely on what is good or right to do or the good life – a shift from Aristotelian ethics. We can conclude then that the self makes or interprets meaning for itself in view of higher values – an allusion to an invitation to continuous growth. This self-making is an art. SOS 112). agency is important in the contemporary conception of the self. are “subjects of significance” (Introduction 460) – beings for whom things matter (personal agency) – implying that the self is connected to its purpose and project. judged or decided about (Baker). achieving or being.2 that we become like disassembled parts without bolts and nuts to fasten us together. A holistic growth is only possible in community. We are self-interpreting animals (459). Human beings. OE 478). This view cannot grant social and emotive growths which are constitutively part of a holistic human development. The human being or the self can only flourish in society. so is human development inseparable from a sound morality that transcends a disengaged self to a self-articulation in harmony with the spirit in things (461). The human subjects must rely on an understanding of persons as becoming individuals only through participation in an intersubjective reality (Calhoun). The moral frameworks are presided by hyper-goods (irreducible social goods) providing the standpoint. OE 482-83). One’s social world provides the range of things worth doing. on which they must be weighed. Thus. Taylor argues that overcoming atomism shows the “priority of society as the locus of the individual’s identity” (Taylor. Taylor is of the view that the self is defined by its relation to the framework of goods that define the ‘good life’ for that self. for Taylor. We cannot avoid social attachments. As a neo-Aristotelian. Taylor’s self-making agent then is synonymous to Ramose’s . Just as “being a self is inseparable from existing in a space of moral issues” (Taylor.
an embodiment of ubu-ntu. and global warming. the imperative is always ontologically to be in tune. Taylor’s possible response could be that the language. the imperative to become a human being. He argues that it is essential to human identity that one’s community be recognised politically and socially. “to dance along with be-ing” and to be attuned. It goes without saying then that a well ordered and harmonious society. A major threat to the development of the self in the contemporary world can be likened to the proliferation of nuclear weaponry. upon which the fundamental ethical. For the African. is the haven for personal development. the “interconnection of mutual service which the things in this world of harmonious functions render to each other” (Ramose 59. the dignity of the human person will be enhanced and the path to human development made easier should the ethics of authenticity and the politics of recognition be encouraged. underscores the evil of these hindrances. The challenge atomists may pose though is that the individual is capable of embodying the entire harmony in herself (multi-talentedness). the self is not devoid of communal attachments and hence the concerns of the individual should not be the sole concern of politics. The self is also a political entity.3 ngabantu. Taylor holds that the age of modernity and post-modernity is pluralistic. Thus. In Taylor’s view. Some forms of political liberalism endanger multiculturalism and recognition by promoting homogeneity (Baker). SOS 275). Taylor. The lack of recognition of the other. talent and love for music or dance cannot be conceptualized outside of society. Taylor is against the view that the self is self-sufficient outside of society. This metaphor of a dance epitomizes the harmony that should exist in society for a holistic development of the self. where the individuality of the other is recognized but in dialogue with other individuals. OE 482-83. Ramose 52-53). economic and political injustices leading to wars and terrorism. and bureaucracies (lack of freedoms) be eliminated . Thus. social and legal human worth and conduct is based (Taylor. the denial of the human person as subject of significance.
15-17. The main thrust of the reformation was the shift from the external (hierarchy) to the inner personal commitment of the believer (Taylor. argues in Development As Freedom. by striving for the transcendental values. Sen. This idea was fuelled by scientific positivism. is atomistic and leaves no room for the ontological view of the self. for Taylor. SOS 215). the source of life. . We are thus able to draw Taylor’s affinity to Catholic Social Teachings and with human development. This became identified with the empirical paradigm of experience being the locus of religion (Lombo de Leon and Leeuwen 78). the self paves the way for progress and fulfilment. Thus.4 (Stacer). This. it appeared religion had been dethroned. 292-97). The vertical hierarchical structure of society became horizontal. like the modern philosophers that Taylor criticises. for the removal of “unfreedoms” and the expansion of people’s capabilities as the fundamental way of ensuring human development (3-4. Amartya Sen. from the economic point of view. Taylor likens its associated denial of special form of life (priesthood and monastic life) to “denying the very distinction between sacred and profane” (Taylor. It is for this reason that Pope Paul VI can say with Taylor that “by reason of his own union with Christ. Part of the problem of atomism is due to secularisation and overcoming it has implications for the progress of the human person. man attains to new fulfillment of himself. “The rejection of mediation implied the rejection of both social hierarchy and the role of the sacred in society” (Lombo and Leeuwen 78). SOS 217) – an interpenetration which affirms ordinary life. However. denies an ontological feature of selfhood. human beings aspire to go beyond life to what is of intrinsic value beyond human flourishing. After the reformations and the revolutions that ensued. This is the goal of human development. to a transcendent humanism which gives him his greatest possible perfection: this is the highest goal of personal development” (Paul VI #15).
the spiritual and the creative self. the political. But on an honest note.5 Taylor’s philosophy of the self thus combines both liberal and transcendental values permitting the possibility of higher values. He has tried to awaken us to the ontology of the human being and not merely the nature and status of the human person. The empirical epistemologist can react and claim that the metaphysical construct of the self eludes rational evaluation and so cannot be the foundation for ordering our lives. Taylor’s philosophy challenges our thought frames and can obviously be the basis of elevating the human person through positive progress. The individual is both subject of his culture but also a citizen of the world. It has shown how development being for man and the whole man cannot allow a disengaged conception of the self typical of modern philosophy. The question is: is it not possible for other interpretations some of which could possibly contradict Taylor’s interpretation? It is taken for granted that communion with society will normally produce desired results. . Besides. This implies that social institutions and the provision of social infrastructure should bear in mind not just the individual’s interests but gauge it through the lenses of human dignity and the common good. Taylor’s analysis of history and the implications he draws from it seem to portray that there is a single consequence of history. This is equally applicable to what transpires at the international and global level. The political implication is that “there may be a need to sustain and promote the communal attachments crucial to our sense of well-being” (Baker). This does not imply that Taylor’s philosophy of the self is without problems. Recognizing the connection of the self with society allows man to accept the other and thus organize society and resources for the common good and not for individual self interest. what Taylor has named (the malaise of modernity). This paper has shown how overcoming atomistic and foundational epistemic paradigms can lead to human development by examining their implications for morality.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Russell. “Introduction”. Accessed: 15th October. Catholic Social Thought: The Document Heritage.org/taylorc. Lombo de Leon. 2009. Metaphysics and Comparative Philosophy. 1989. http://www. Development As Freedom. http://www. 2009.php?LAN=E&TABLE=EP&ID=315 Accessed: 22nd October 2009. “Populorum Progressio”.6 LIST OF SOURCES Baker. McNeil.co. David J. Francisco and von Leeuwen Bart. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989. Arrupe College. 1989. New York: Random House. 1999. Stacer. Charles. New York: Orbis Books. Harare. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.htm.philosophers. Paul VI.htm. “On Charles Taylor’s Work”. Ed. Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers 2.uk/cafe/phil_may2003. “Charles Taylor”. Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers 2. “Philosopher of the Month: May 2003 – Charles Taylor”. 1998. Taylor. http://www. Sen. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.ethical-perspectives. Calhoun. Class Lecture. 1992. Accessed: 17th October. . Shannon. 2009. John.malaspina. O’Brien and Thomas A. Craig. Amartya.be/viewpic. Dene. ………. “Overcoming Epistemology”. 18 Sept. “Charles Taylor on Secularisation” Ethical Perspectives (2003).
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