Two Theories of Modernity Author(s): Charles Taylor Source: The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Mar. - Apr.

, 1995), pp. 24-33 Published by: The Hastings Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3562863 . Accessed: 21/10/2011 06:25
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each of which has a language ness." Center Hastings Report in a specific constellation of understandings of. first in a that all will probably be forced to Scholar Lectures. different from its foreThe contemporary Atlantic ciety our forefathers back. industrialization. These languages are often mutually unsocial. Rather. present-daysociety and. March-April 1995 Two Theories of Modernity by CharlesTaylor With this model in mind.They toward which all cultures converge ern West mainly in terms of two different "takes" what on makes our contemporary soas they discard beliefs that held the rise of a new culture. and the like. In all these cases. including the intellectual ones. a "cultural" theory of motwo ways of underdernity is one that characI standing the rise of Modernity is not that form of life terizes the transformations are in effect that have issued in the modmodernity. would be one that conceives which is analogous to the sense it often has in anof modernity as the growth of reason.or an ever-clearer of personhood. in"cultural"one.we can look world is seen as one culture movement from one constellation on the difference between (or group of closely related of background understandings to cultures) among others. an "acultural"theory is one that By earlier centuries to today as involving something like describes these transformations in terms of some culture-neutral operation. for example.it is a bears. Canada. we can see the change from contrast. say. words. common). mations. 25. each with their own obviously also has a lot in culture. that of medieval Europe as another. or the like. and the second "acultural. states of distinction between fact-finding and evaluation. I'm leaning on a use of the word culture deed a paradigm case. but is rather seen perspective. go through-and of Distinguished series HansJonas Visiting undergo. Or standings else modernity might be accounted for in terms of mind/soul.Thisis the Montreal. concentration of populations. virtues and vices. of in relation to others and the good. of human cultures. which repositions the self with its own specific underanalogous to the difference standings. as well as intellectual changes: the transfortranslatable. and zis ofPolitical UtarlesTaylor Professor set of transformationsthat any and every culture can McGillUniversity. modernity is conceived as a Science Philosophy. nature. say. as of a type that any traditional culture could unthings I want to call the first kind of understanding a dergo. goods and bads. cultures it carries us from and to." And in this tion that is not defined in terms of the specific society which seems to be the dominant one. or and a set of practices that define specific underthe rise of instrumental rationality. Or alternatively." as the demise of a "traditional" and the rise of the "modern. In An example of an acultural type of theory. are seen as coming about as a result of increased mobility. defined in I am evoking the picture of a plurality various ways: as the growth of scientific consciousthropology. By this I mean an opera"development.Hastings Center Report. social relations. here seem to be at in large ourculture 24 . no. the good. to and China or India.In one take. between medieval Europe person. 2 (1995): 24-33." using these terms. These changes are not defined by their end point CharlesTaylor."TwoTheories of Modernity. look rather different. or the development of a secular outlook.we can think of the difincluding its own predecesference as one between civilisor civilization (with which it zations. In other be contrasted to all others.

any culture could suffer the impact of growing scientific consciousness. This may be seen as coming about as a result of institutional changes: for example. But. by a loss of roots. "rationalization" was for Weber a steady process. good. we have to enlarge somewhat the description above. Under certain conditions. The change may be positively valued--or it may be judged a disaster by those for 25 . just as they are hampered by the dominance of others. On the other side. besides offering a theory of rationalization which can at any rate be taken as a steady. also gave a reading of the Protestant ethic as defined by a particular set of religiomoral concerns. like industrialization.Hastings Center Report. In the case of "social" explanations. individualism or instrumental reason-are assumed to have. that religious beliefs involve unwarranted leaps. for example. Or else the changes have been explained partly by culture-neutral social developments. which in turn helped to bring about modern capitalism. that instrumental rationality pays off. and so on. that have an impact on values but are often not seen as reflecting specific options in this domain. the voices are fewer if powerful. causal weight is given to historical developments. And even the "social"explanations tend to invoke reason as well. Instead of seeing the transformationsas the unfolding of capacities. religion or traditional morality--which then become unsustainable because they have no independent rational grounding in the way the beliefs of modernity-in. In order to see why. offers a reading of modern scientific culture that paints it as actuated by a specific constellation of values. those that see it not as gain but as loss or decline? Curiously enough. And Max Weber. which places unlimited confidence in the powers of frail human reason. any metaphysic could be dislocated by the split between fact and value. But these have often been just as aculturallyconceived. "organic" forms of social cohesion.we have to bring out a bit more clearly what these theories foreground and what they tend to screen out. To grasp the difference from another angle. human beings will just come to see that scientific thinking is valid."For instance. Is this bad? I think it is. Many have explained its development at least partly by our "coming to see" something like the range of supposed truths mentioned above. The Distortions of the Acultural So acultural theories predominate. March-April 1995 person. any religion could undergo secularization. one might object.To see this. are thought to bring about intellectual and spiritual changes because they shake people loose from old habits and beliefs--in." is seen as the exercise of a general capacity that was only awaiting its proper conditions to unfold. since the social transformations. cultureindependent force. such as Durkheim's move from "mechanical" to differentiated. The point rather is that the operation is defined not in terms of its specific point of arrival. they are rather described as a type of transformation to which any culture could in principle serve as "input. This is not to say that the theory cannot acknowledge good historical reasons why this transformation first arose in one civilization rather than another. The overwhelming weight of interpretation in our culture.but as a general function that can take any specific culture as its input. It should be evident that the dominant theories of modernity over the last two centuries have been of the acultural sort. or Tocqueville's assumption of creeping "democracy" (bywhich he meant a push towardequality). like mobility and industrialization. society. the operation is not seen as supposing or reflecting an option for one specific set of human values or understandings among others. how about the widespread and popular negativetheories of modernity. positive and negative. by the hubris that denies human limits and denies our dependence on history or God. but they aren't definedas the espousal of some such constellation. tends to the acultural. These transformations may be facilitated by our having certain values and understandings. They are defined rather by something we come to see concerning the whole context in which values and understandings are espoused. they too have been acultural in their own way. negative theories have often interpreted them as falling prey to dangers. Acultural theories tend to describe the transition in terms of a loss of traditional beliefs and allegiances. occurring within all cultures over time. or why some may undergo it more easily than others. mobility and urbanization erode the beliefs and reference points of static rural society. that facts and values are separate. Modernity is characterized by the loss of the horizon. any set of ultimate ends could be challenged by a growth of instrumental thinking. So modernity in this kind of theory is understood as issuing from a rational or social operation that is culture-neutral. explanations of modernity in terms of "reason"seem to be the most popular. for instance. Nietzsche. by a trivializingself-indulgence which has no stomach for the heroic dimension of life. On one interpretation. for example. Or the loss may be supposed to arise from the increasing operation of modern scientific reason. When it comes to this explanations in terms of "rationality. But above all.

just as the explanation that we have come to forget important truths brands it as unquestionably wrong. to the breath Of the night-wind. Increasing recourse to instrumental rationality allows us to get more and more ofwhat we want. that is. since a cultural theory supposes the point of view in which we see our own culture as one among others. of individualism. But these come to the fore because they are what we humans "normally"value. that is. For the most part our ancestors looked on other civilizationsas made up of barbarians.Hastings Center Report. because that's what they "naturally" when no longer held do in by the old religions. Retreating. But now I only hear Its melancholy. in Nietzsche's image. From another. down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. The sea of faith recedes. Otherwise put. Once myth and error are dissipated. From one point of view. It is hard to live through a change of this moment without being partisan. and we were only ever deterred from this by unfounded injunctions to limit ourselves. it is not surprising that the first accounts of revolutionary change were acultural. when the very idea of cultural pluralism was just dawning in the writings of. The Attraction of the Acultural Before trying to say how bad or good this is. instrumental rationality. But the underlying image of eroded faith could serve just as well for an upbeat story of the progress of triumphant scientific reason. It would have been absurd to expect the contemporaries of the French Revolution. or a purblind enmiring in egoism. Now nothing stamps the change as more unproblematicallyright than the account that we have "come to see" through certain falsehoods. metaphysics. or savages. if realizable at all. and this at best is a recent acquisition in our civilization. we moderns behave as we do because we have "come to see" that certain claims were false---or on the negative reading. people behave as individuals. not definable simply by the negation of what preceded it. What this view reads out of the picture is the possibility that Western modernity might be powered by its own positive visions of the good. because we have lost from view certain perennial truths. and customs. withdrawing roar. What it cannot be seen as is a novel form of moral self-understanding. and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. In one way. it has lost touch with crucial spiritual realities. though this may be seen as a glorious liberation. and in this spirit we quite naturally reach for explanations that are immediately evaluative. or the sacred order of society. too. rather than by the only viable set left after the old myths and legends have been exploded. The tone here is one of regret and nostalgia. not one generated simply and inescapably out of the transition. It screens out whatever there might be of a specific moral direction to Western modernity. once old error is shown up (or old truth forgotten). it is quite understandable when we reflect that we Westerners have been living the transition to modernity for some centuries out of the civilizationwe used to call Christendom. over against that of the Christendom that preceded it.on one side or the other. But in either case. Old horizons are washed away. negative freedom. The upbeat story cherishes the dominance of an empirical-scientific approach to knowledge claims. these are the only games in town. the Chain of Being. what gets screened out is the possibility that Western modernity might be sustained by its own original spiritualvision. once we are no longer impeded or blinded by false or superstitious beliefs and the stultifying modes of life that accompany them. But even when this standpoint becomes more easily available. by one constellation of such visions among available others. to a clear unambiguous conclusion-hardly an easy task. But all these theories concur in describing the process: old views and loyalties are eroded. The empirical approach is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge. following Arnold.we are drawn by our partisan attach- 26 . What emerges comes about through this loss. and this becomes evident as soon as we free ourselves from the thraldom of a false metaphysics. For example. In other words. beyond what is dictated by the general form of human life itself. long. say. to have seen the cultural shift within this political upheaval. Herder. Individualism is the normal fruit of human self-regard absent the illusory claims of God. humanity has shed a lot of false and harmful myths. at the full. the change is seen as a loss of belief. To make such confident judgments on the basis of a cultural account would presuppose our having carried through a complex comparative assessment of modernity's original vision. on either side of the political divide. This stanza from his "Dover Beach" captures this perspective: The Sea of Faith Was once. I want to speculate about the motives for this predominance of the acultural. depending on our perspective.or infidels. March-April 1995 whom the traditional reference points were valuable and scientific reason too narrow. Indeed.

March-April 1995 ments to neglect it. This is partly because an immediately evaluative explanation (on the right side) is more satisfying-we tend to want to glorify modernity. for example. are far from reposing on incontestable truths that have finally been discovered-as one can claim for modern physics. But what is invoked here are often motivations that are nonmoral. which ultimately reflect the culture peculiar to the modern West. that don't strike us as being part of the transformation to modernity. But another thing acultural theories have going for them has been the vogue for "materialistic" exin social science and history. Of course.2 It is obvious that wherever this kind of explanation becomes culturally dominant. Free- dom allowsyou to do what you want. closely interwoven with our understandings of science and religion. That is. But it would be quite wrong to think that we can make do with an acultural theory alone. Uniform and Inevitable Modernities So what. unless we suppose that industrialization or the growth of cities occurred entirely in a fit of absence of mind. but they need not be. One gets a distorted understanding of Western modernity in one of two ways:on one side. as spinoffs from industrialization. the power of these ideas is often understood not in terms of their moral force. First.' Of course. the social changes that are supposed to spawn the new outlook must themselves be explained. whatever that is. as the product of unproblematic discovery or the ineluctable consequence of some social change.and the accompanying technology an efficacy. but the accounts that invoke them frequently skirt altogether the issue whether these changes in culture and outlook owe anything to their own inherent power as moral ideals. and the other striking features of the culture of modernity. explanations that shy away from invoking moral or spiritual factors in favor of (what are thought to be) harder and more down to earth causes. instrumental reason. It is also that science itself has grown in the West in close symbiosis with a certain culture in the sense I'm using that term here. have often been accounted for as byproducts of social change: for instance. So we very often find these social changes explained in terms of the desire for greater wealth. and this will involve some recourse to human motivations. this attraction is frequently understood in nonmoral terms. We don't identify them as among the spectacular changes that have produced contemporary civilization. we fail altogether to examine certain facets of the modern constellation. It is not just that other facets of what we identify as modern. toward the greater application of technology to production. or the means of survival or control over others. namely. and the greater application of instrumental reason gets you more of what you want. like the introduction of technology. or toward greater concentrations of population. or power. or the decline of religious practice. if anything. and the good. On the contrary: post-seventeenth-century natural science has a validity. or urbanization. This is not to say that our account of it in terms of our "coming to see" certain things is wholly wrong. I believe. And so explanation in terms of them is considered sufficiently "hard"and "scientific. By this I planations mean. This is the error of seeing everything modern as belonging to one Enlightenment package.Hastings Center Report. it plays a role here. or be dominated by others (and hence have it imposed on them anyway). indeed. as I defined this earlier. The implicit answer is often in the negative. individualism. I think Western modernity is in part based on an original moral outlook. society. the motivation to explore the original spiritualvision of modernity is very weak. the growth of science. We need some notion of what moved people to push steadily in one direction-for example. a mistake. such as the tendency to try to split fact from value. nature. is bad about this? Two things. all these things can be woven into moral ideals. To rely on an acultural theory is to miss all this.negative freedom. but just because of the advantages they seem to bestow on people regardless of their moral outlook. we misclassify certain changes. or vilify it. By that I mean motivations that can actuate people quite without connection to any moral ideal. And so the developments I adverted to above. And it is partly because we fear that a cultural theory might make value judgments impossible. that we have established. There are certainly important causal relations to be traced here. in this context. And all societies are sooner or later forced to acquire this efficacy. or greater mobility. Such is the usual fate of those (largely implicit) understandings of 27 . The decline in religious practice has frequently been seen in this light. a constellation of understandings of person." And even where individual freedom and the enlargement of instrumental reason are seen as ideas whose intrinsic attractions can help explain their rise. and we often fail to see even that there have been changes. reading these facets falsely as perennial. And this effectively takes cultural theories off the agenda. or even whether they have a moral outlook. the capacity even to recognize some such thing nears zero. The latter notion is. On the other side. but mistake or not.

but I treat the world lose their traditional illusions. But it also have always seen themselves as we do. It makes us read the rise of modernity in for example.Hastings Center Report. of dichotomies like inward/outrespect. March-April 1995 human agency that I have grouped under the portBackground and Habitus manteau term "the modern identity"3--such as the So the view from Dover Beach foreshortens our various forms of modern inwardness. in gives us a false and distorted perspective on the people transition. of course. It locks us into an social spaces. beliefs make the sense they do. These understandof cultural changes drawn from our experirange ence-such as "secularization" or the growth of ings take a variety of forms. means. that we expect they will end up In other dimensions. leave our own notions of identity unexamined. exclusive reliance on an acultural thestanding of myself as an agent with certain powers. I have this kind of underlike us. with a sense of how both I and these ethnocentric prison. in relation to which these age. looking In short. The march of modernity the background understanding that the world is will end up making all cultures look the same. or as inhave played in the rise of Western understandings evitable concomitant ("social"explanations). or the affirmaof ordinary life.the view that modernity arises through whole way I inquire into things treats the world as the dissipation of certain unsupported religious and beliefs seems to imply that the paths being there since time out of mind. technology. This stable and has been there a long time. both through mis. The belief that modernity comes Heidegger. and Michael Polanyi. a sense of how both I and they relate to the cosmos and to God or whatever I recforms onto everyone else and blissfully unaware of what we are doing.theory locks us into an ethnocentric beliefs as what I want to call the background underclassification (the Enlightenprison. And I want to add: an agent moving in certain kinds of full gamut of alternative modernities in the making in different parts of the world." the world didn't start only five minutes ago. the background As long as we atomistic forms of self-identification. 28 . on cerunfits us for what is perhaps the most important ory task of social sciences in our day:understanding the tain. and how this difference crucially conditions the way in which (and couldn't all function as such because of their unlimited extent).As of unformulated (and perhaps in part unformulong as we are bemused by the Enlightenment packwe will believe that they all have to undergo a lable) understandings. and industrialization. through too narrow a focus. from one single universally Wittgenstein.4The notion is that our explicit beliefs about our world and ourselves are held against a background cies of science. Here I am picking up on But its effects on our underblissfully unaware of what we are an idea that has been of other cultures is standing doing. but aren't functioning as such in our world long will we fail to see how theirs differ. We all too easily imagine that tion understanding of Western modernity. but the Moreover. they will come they that way as I emerge in the morning to go to work. of myself as an agent among other agents. And we thus utterly miss the role these new its major cause ("rational"explanations). I metaphysical don't usually have the belief that a huge pit hasn't of different civilizations are bound to converge. either as ward.5 Similarly. condemned to project our own spaces inhabit time. ognize as the source(s) of good. only partly explicit footings with them. so incorporates matters that could be formulated as beliefs. To take Wittgenstein's example they integrate the truly universal features of "moI from On Certainty. and been further applicable operation imelaborated recently byJohn Searle and Hubert Dreya falsely uniform pattern on the multiple enposes counters of non-Western cultures with the exigenfus. don't normally have a belief that dernity. treated in the work of even more devastating. terms of the dissipation of certain beliefs. Merleau-Ponty. And so a purely acultural ity that what mainly differentiates us from our forebears distorts and impovertheory Exclusive reliance on an acultural is not so much our explicit ishes our understanding of ourselves. What modernity. I want to make a claim of this kind below is beyond the horizon on in relation to the rise of the Dover Beach is the possibilmodern public sphere. As been dug in front of my door. condemned to project our standing against which our ment package error). In one dimension. and own forms onto everyone else and beliefs are formulated. together on the "rationallygrounded" outlook that In my ways of dealing with things is incorporated has resisted the challenge. and range over a number of matters.

" to see their age as one of a Faith which we have lost. March-April 1995 God in the Background In my addition here. which we revere through these old people. of God. in symbols (in the everyday sense). It is in similar ways that God or the Good can figure in our world. following "Dover Beach.Hastings Center Report." Why does it matter to see the changeover as more than doctrinal? Because otherwise we may have a very distorted picture of it. That is because we easily can believe that we have background understanding in the inescapable dimensions of our lives as agents. address their elders in low tones and with the proper language. but because we know how to treat different people and situations appropriately. and they must enter in the form of beliefs that have been handed down to us. We can imaginativelyextend the example of the previous paragraph. What exists on this level is more explicit than mere gesture or appropriate action. and a level of images as yet unformulated in doctrine. for which we might borrow a term frequently used by contemporary French writers: l'imaginaire sociallet's call it the "social imaginary. by what we pick up from the attitudes of pious and impious people. will be in our world in part through our knowing how to treat them. There may be some doctrines formulated about the nature of society and the hierarchical rankings that constitute it which are explicitly proffered for our adherence. and that which while nourished in embodied habitus is given expression on the symbolic level. it might be very misleading to think of this difference in terms simply of doctrines which they subscribe to and we do not. I have entered controversial territory. and even more. and it is arguably obvious that I have some sense of myself as agent. and hence does not figure in 29 . but our sense of him and our relation to him will also be formed by modes of ritual. surely these things only enter our world through our being inducted into our society's culture. a stance toward the elders that treats them as having a certain dignity. which become unreflecting. A similar point can be made about the different kinds of social space. When people undergo a change in belief. In this know-how there is. Then the divine too. But when we come to our supposed relations to God. permit of a metadiscourse in which they are examined in turn. Formerly. But this is in fact not how it works. and so on.6 We know our way around society somewhat the way we know our way around our physical environment. the divine. or the Cosmos. the notion that different modes of social belonging. because ritual or work can have a mimetic or an evocative dimension. they thought that God exists. But it is not explicit in the self-conscious way doctrinal formulations. perhaps revere it or resent it. there is the one incorporated in habitus. second nature to us. I mean by this whatever understanding is expressed in ritual. As well as the doctrinal understanding of society. Surrounding express doctrines will be a richer penumbra of embodied understanding. because this is a semantically overloaded term) the symbolic. Of course. functioning in a physical and social world. different understandings of time. Somewhat between the two is a level we might call (with some trepidation. the Good. not primarilyand principally because we have some map of either in our heads. by the kinds of prayer we have been taught. It is just not formulated in a description. which can be submitted to the demands of logic. to show deference to certain people or at certain times and places. Even if we want. A social understanding is built in to what Pierre Bourdieu calls our "habitus. But whatever it is that we will later want to articulate with this word is already in the world of the youngsters who bow in that particular way. or embodied understanding. for example. What it is about them that is felt to command this stance may not yet be spelled out: there may be no word for dignity in the vocabulary of the tribe. But in formulating this it. Suppose that one of the things that makes the elders worthy of respect is just that they are closer to the gods. following Bourdieu."the wayswe are taught to behave. and the like. in any theistic culture there will be somebeliefs about God. in works of art. should be part of the background may arouse resistance. Its being in their world is part of their background understanding. and hence point to something that it imitates or calls forth. the habitus. or the Cosmos. It will be in our world through the appropriate habitus. the cosmos. "Dignity" is in their world in the sense that they deal with it. There is the level of explicit doctrine. but we also come to understand whole volumes in the ways we are taught. the Good. they shift their views between already formulated possibilities. and there is the level of what I called. respond to an explicit belief. and the like. Because below the doctrinal level are at least two others: that of embodied background understanding. We can see why it might be a big mistake to think that what distinguishes us from our premodern forebears is mainly a lot of beliefs of theirs that we have shed. While perhaps everyone can be got easily to agree on the kinds of background understandings I cited from Wittgenstein. about society. We might in fact distinguish three levels of understanding that have been invoked in the above discussion. for example.

and to underestimate the nature of or social) changes. just how our undertrinal repertory as ours.I want Or the extent that we see ourselves asjust differing from to claim that closer study would demonstrate. that there are made in detail. can only be seen if we bring into focus the major changes in embodied understandgrowth of rationality and science. either because they are on their beliefs. I gimes tend to try to fake it. I believe. purport to be the communipublic sphere. these changes out. specificallyWestern. and exchange through media. one that is in many respects rather different from The consequence of seeing these changes as alterations of (factual or normative) belief is that we premodern modes of imaginary. as they go through. as the development of certain instiing tutions and practices: a market economy. To unwittingly secular time and simultaneity. anyway. Modernity inwhich cannot be accounted for in cation of someone's opinvolves the coming to be of new kinds of public space. which we no longer share. etc. Now when they arguments here. but rather as what emerges when any "traditional" culture is put through certain (rational ern modernity. In ously underestimate the nature and scope of the my sense of this term. These two drawbacks appear to be linked. the good. have to be have already taken the atheist option. substantiallythe same changes. Rather the transition involves to some extent space of discussion linking the definition of new possieveryone in principle or poeven though its many participants never ble spaces hitherto outside the repertory of our tentially. as the Western modernity. Now if this is true. Such them in beliefwe see them as having the same doca study would reveal. these are explanations of change that brought our world about. Western modernity that see it not as one culture So an acultural theory tends to make us both miss the original vision of the good implicit in Westamong others.the the like. they move within positions alinvoke the modern understanding and reality (the in their repertory. terms of changes in explicit views. but just opting differently within it. between points already ready two are linked) of a "public sphere" of open debate within their horizons. usually they are aware that others These connections will.time. This is thought to be But some of the major changes in embodied an essential feature of any mature and legitimate and social imaginary alter the very understanding and introduce repertory. meet all together in one place. of course. then we can see how inadethem in this sense our contemporaries. Now modern public for in terms of changes in is a strange kind of views. will sketch in a minute what offering supposedly objective news broadcasts. "spontaneous" demonand which cannot be accounted either of factual belief or normative strations. It is rather that form of life towardwhich Some of the important shifts in culture. and just concentrate imaginary loss of traditional beliefs. Just to give a taste of what is involved. imaginary. or primarily in and social imaginary that the last centuries have "social"terms. and God have been transformed with the tory we have to align their embodied understanding and social imaginary with ours. and I haven't got space to do that for and against it. ion. March-April 1995 belief they were quite aware that there was another Cultural Convergence option.principle. But in order to give them the same reperstanding of our relations to society. editorithis might involve in conModernity involves the coming to als in party newspapers that nection with the rise of the be of new kinds of public space.7' so. On this view. read our own background and the changes are partly understood in terms of the into our forebears. This space has to be forebears. It is supposed to be a principle. the cosmos. and that has a lot to do with specifically modern understandings of make our ancestors too much like us. one after of personhood. indeed. They tend to disappear if we flatten brought alized forms of administration. either of fac. I could switch to atheism. 30 .Hastings Center Report. society-so much so that dictatorial and totalitarian renew possibilities that were not before on the horizon. the good and the like. and grievquate and misleading acultural accounts can be. in our unall cultures converge. even though it may have started in the West. or rationabout. sphere explicit tual belief or normative reality in an important respect. But in either case. These may be seen primarily in "intellectual" terms. and beyond the limits of their social sustained by a particular kind of social imaginary. modernity is not the transformation that brought this modernity about. derstandings which have brought about the original vision of another. We falsely make coming of our era.

" on a par. and it distorts the process of transition from them to us.8Instrumental rationality commands a scientific attitude to nature and human life. First. I have been arguing that this is a crucial mistake. impelled to operate by instrumental reason. cosmos. and whom it behooves therefore to be maximally instrumentally rational. but which themselves are devoid of moral significance.failure to notice the difference amounts to the unwitting attribution to them of our own. facts is that Belonging to the range of such "natural" we are individuals. living in profane time. as instrumental individuals. leaving an implicit self-understanding that had alwaysbeen there. More. This projection gives support to the implicit Whiggism of the acultural theory. those I have just adverted to. Or a largely immobile society leads individuals to see their fate as bound up closely with that of their neighbors. the cosmos. the way in which our implicit under- 31 . leaving us with an outlook many of whose elements can be seen more as hard. Since human beings always do hold their explicit beliefs against a background and in the con- text of an imaginary. and the Good Now this hides from view two important connections. March-April 1995 undermined by the growth of reason. In particular. its protagonists are frequently tempted to cast our "coming to see" the kernel truths as a sort of "discovery"in science. It also allows us to understand ourselves better. was replaced by another in a multifaceted mutation. No doubt we would look strange-as well as blasphemous and licentious-to our medieval ancestors. There is some justification for talking of our "coming to see" the truth when we consider the revolution of natural science that begins in the seventeenth century. maximizing our advantage when we are not deterred from doing so by unfounded belief. and you code their understandings of God.'0 Selves. It is not that we sloughed off a whole lot of unjustified beliefs. But an examination of the rise of the public sphere would show. Rather one constellation of implicit understandings of our relation to God. This is alwaysa price of ethnocentrism. seeing the change as the decline of certain beliefs covers up the great differences in background understanding and in the social imaginary of different ages. then these beliefs do indeed appear as arbitrary and lacking in justification. The acultural theory tends to see the process of modernity as involving among other things the shucking off of beliefs and ways that don't have much rational justification. or because they are marginalized by institutional change. For instance. so long we will have an incomplete and distorted understanding of it. as though they were all endorsed equally by "science. and it is not surprising that the social changes dislodged them. This is the classic ethnocentric projection. largely at the mercy of the vagaries of climate. and a belief in the omnicompetence of natural science. since the solvent effect of social change is held to lie in the fact that it disturbs old patterns that made it possible to hold on to these earlier beliefs in spite of their lack of rational grounding. whereby moderns have "come to see" the kernel truths. beings whose behavior is ultimately to be explained as individuals). residual facts: that we are individuals (that is. which lose their hold once humans see what it is to take their fate in their own hands through industrial development. that this is not what happened. agricultural way of life. From a standpoint immured within any culture. As long as we think that our implicit selfunderstanding is the universal human one.with particle physics?. that is. who have to extract what we need to live from nature. Society. without allowing ourselves to be diverted from this goal by the metaphysical and religious beliefs that held our forefathers back. and inhibits the growth of an individualism that naturally flourishes once these constricting limits are lifted. namely. The kernel truths of the acultural theory incorporate an often unreflective methodological individualism. I believe. other cultures look weird. and time. truths that are "value-free. the continuance of a static. other humans. it involves a sort of ethnocentrism of the present. But there is a particularly high cost in self-misunderstanding that attaches to the ethnocentrism of the modern. But the mistake of the acultural approach is to lump all the supposed kernel truths about human life into the same package. Even the social explanations assume that these beliefs suffer from a lack of rational justification. as long as we fail to note its contrast with others. Seeing things this way not only gives us a better handle on what happened.Hastings Center Report. But the discoveries of natural science are of "neutral"facts. say. The Homogeneity of Kernel Truths At the heart of the acultural approach is the view that modernity involves our "coming to see" certain kernel truths about the human condition. It misrepresents our forebears. Impelled by the latter. to operate at last untrammelled. and multidimensional time as "beliefs" held against this background. If you think of premoderns as operating with the same background understanding of human beings as moderns."on which value may be subsequently placed by human beings. supposedly makes certain religious beliefs look plausible.

In addition. This and other similar modes of social imagogy has suppressed all recognition of the background. because fantasy. but we mustn't Cartesian. or at least independently. Individualism is one portance others have for him and ible by repressing all awareside of a coin.We cannot be without somesense of our moral drawal from society.also render this error invisindependently. at least extricably linked to the new background backward. which receives influential formulation can. This relaprofane time. Once we recogmake the mistake of understanding the people who nize that our explicit thoughts only can be entertained against a background sense of who and where imagined it in its light. error has been heavily intricated with the repreWe can see a good example of what this involves in the speculative sketch I offered a few pages back sentational. others. The placements differ greatly. those who unimaginable limit of total breakdown. and those whose society we come to see bring evolution of instrumental individualism as the disas constitutive of our identity-our self-undercovery of a "natural"fact not only involves projectstanding alwaysplaces us among others. a wideBy alternative view sees the very terms in which it spread individualism as involving a might appear have been self-referential abolished. contrast. time. both of 32 ." The account would like to offer would The very idea of an individual who particulate. of which the whathe willacceptas good. man society can be. scientistic outlook that generates this ences and their change is the stuff of history. belongs to post"stateof nature"was. foundationalist epistemology that descends from Descartes and Locke. I want to describe the change as moving But it may also be understood as residing in us. but a reconception of what husituation.'2The ethnocentric colcial imaginary. is defined by a new unwe are in the world and among others and in moral derstanding of our placement among others. with the anomie of breakdown. Individualism is not just a withaway. This means that have us see the rise of this of mightbecomeaware. and hence to the idea of consensually founded unions. but determinewhat im. Here too. implicit in the acultural theory. one space. foundationalist fantasy. The human of the determine what importance others have for him and what he will accept as good. It ining are closely tied up with "indiconceives our knowledge of the rise of modern I the world as consisting of vidualism. the good. in us from one dense constellation of background unthe inherent dignity of the human person as a readerstanding and imaginary to another. Because of the very nature of the human condition-that we can only deidentity without such a sense brings us close to the fine ourselves in exchange with others. there are radical differand we need to draw from elsewhere our values and ences. some understanding of the good and neutral fact that we are instrumental individuals. indeed doubly. Modern "individualism"is coterminous with. contrast. are first of all aware of and focused on themselves. onization of the past cannot be brought to light. March-April 1995 soning being. In in the cosmos (as with Plato's Idea of the Good). himself. the notion of a human certain relations to others. and dethen only subsequently. To think of it as pure withdrawal The naturalistic account of the discovery of the is to confuse individualism. indeed. and and only subsequently discover a need for. The good may be conceived theistically or as acceptable grounds for association with others.and we not only new individual identity as inproject our own or then only subsequently. misses all these connections. be transformed as we move from tion in the myth of an original state of nature and one culture or age to another. as we find with Immanuel standing of ourselves as agents always places us in Kant. we find as a matter of Similarly. for instance. This epistemolof the rise of the public sphere. Seeing the us up. indeed. our understanding of ourselves always and religious beliefs crumble. However understood.belongs ness of backgrounds as side is new modes of soflip to post-Cartesian.Hastings Center Report." All this is occluded. explicit representations. we can see that we can never be without some that gives an important place to common action in relation to the crucial reference points I enumerated above: world. others. the naturalist. understandings of time and society. vidual who might become aware of himself. termine their relations to.and understanding these differing our background onto our ancestors. incorporates our relation to it. an important constituent of the early modern imaginary. somesense of our connectedness to others. but it cannot just fall a social contract. completely one in which agents The very idea of an indiidentity. indeed. which is alwaysa moral kernel truths.foundationalist such. When the old metaphysical ideal.

the selection of a given action from among those possible courses. March-April 1995 which place us in relation to others and the good. Martin Heidegger. John Searle.(Paris:Minuit. See Pierre Bourdieu. 1-4. crime-ridden slums formed by newly urbanized peasants in the Third World (or in nineteenth-century Manchester). 1958). 2. Ludwig Wittgenstein. Ludwig Wittgenstein. 58)."in AfterPhilosophy: or Transformation? ed. 122. ainsi places hors des prises de la conscience et de l'explicitation" (Le Senspratique. p. WhatComputers 5.du maintienou des manieres corporelles et verbales les principes fondamentaux de l'arbitraire culturel. Sourcesof the Self The Making of the Modern Identity(Cambridge: Harvard UniversityPress. The secularization of culture is the process whereby traditional orientations and attitudes give way to more dynamic decision-making processes involving the gathering of information. 6.Hastings Center Report. fus. p. paragraphs 260 ff. 9. Outlineof a Theoryof Practice(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. "On pourrait. growth and provisionalityof knowledge are all linked with each other. and Thomas McCarthy(Cambridge:MITPress. 1979). On Certainty(Oxford: Blackwell. James Bohman. Phenominologie la perception In(Paris: Gallimard. ed. and everybody fends for himself-as in some demoralized. Ideas are the product of economic changes. of 12. une metaphysique. Et l'on n'en finirait pas d'6numerer les valeurs faites corps. Notes 1. the negative answeris quite explicit. something like what we mean by egoism. and in "Lichtungoder Ldwespricht. where the loss of a traditional horizon leaves mere anomie in its wake. Sein und Zeit (Tiibingen: Niemeyer. 1945). 1953). This development of instrumental rationality is what is frequently described as "secularization. and that in his view seems to confer the same epistemic statuson the whole package. Philosophical (Oxford: Blackwell. 1987). 7. capable d'inculquer toute une cosmologie..Swordand Book(Chicago: University of Chicago Press. dire que les jambes. deformant le mot de Proust. une politique. In one it is a moral ideal. 1989). There is an interesting discussion of this in Benedict Anderson's Imagined 2d Communities." See. for all his interesting insights into modernity as a new constellation. Bingham Powell. 1966).. 1991). 8.who recognized the crucial role of moral and religious ideas in history. In another. for a certain vulgar Marxism. 10. catastrophic to confuse these two kinds of individualism. les bras sont pleins d'imperatifs engourdis. 1983). like Weber. A Politics: Gabriel Almond and G. it is an amoral phenomenon. (London: Verso. ville carefully distinguishes individualism 3. 24-25: (Boston: Developmental Approach "Avillage chief in a tribal society operates largelywith a given set of goals and a given set of means of attaining these goals which have grown up and been hallowed by custom. pp. The rise of individualism in this sense is usually a phenomenon of breakdown. I have discussed the nature of this modern epistemology and its suppression of the background at greater length in End "Overcoming Epistemology. Individualism has in fact been used in two quite different senses. and his Le Senspratique. Even Ernest Gellner. This is of the essence of a cultural theory of modernity. 117). See Charles Taylor. there is only a constellation (ours) which tends to throw up the myth of this self-understanding as part of its imaginary. une ethique. I have tried to argue this point at greater length in Sources theSelf.which have utterly different causes and consequences." See Plough. along with "growth and provisionalityof knowledge. the evaluation of information." in "Der verstehen" (Frankfurt:Suhrkamp. one facet of which I have been discussing. puts himself in the aculturalcamp. the laying out of alternative courses of action. who is light years of sophistication away from the crudities of Almond and Powell. 28-31. Comparative Little Brown. 4. 33 . pp. Of course. 1980). par la transsubstantiationqu'opere la persuasion clandestine d'une pedagogie implicite. 1988). 1977). empirical orientation is one component of the secularization process" (p. Kenneth Baynes. und wir k6nnenihn nicht Lebensform. independence of fact and value. The modern constellation unchained science. of course. There is never atomistic and neutral self-understanding." And later: "The emergence of a pragmatic. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 1977). Thus Gellner includes "independence of fact and value" in his package. Personal vestigations (New York:Harper.chaps. "Specialization.atomization. 'a travers des injonctions aussi insignifiantes que 'tiens-toi droit' ou 'ne tiens pas ton couteau de la main gauche' et d'inscire dans les details en apparence les plus insignifiants de la tenue." 11. He does this by linking what I am calling the supposed "kernel truths"with what he calls "cognitive advance. But much non-Marxist social science operates implicitly on similar premises. It is." in a single package. de 1927). Intentionality Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1991). Michael Polanyi. And this in spite of the orientation of some of the great founders of social science. Hubert DreyCan'tDo (New York:Harper. and the means whereby one tests whether or not a given course of action is producing the consequences which were intended. instrumental rationality. Which is why Tocquefrom egoism. for instance.

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