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Charles Taylor, Augustine And The Ethics Of Authenticity

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The notion of authenticity is one of self-fulfillment and Charles Taylor recognizes that there are dangers in accepting modernity's drive toward self-realization. However, he is not willing to give up on this idea of "authenticity." In The Ethics of Authenticity, Taylor lays out a system of thought and morals that connect our search for self-realization with our desire towards self-creation. He is attempting to keep a form of individualism while still operating under objectivism. He will point out the good and damaging aspects of the modern development of an authentic self and mention the importance of some moral measurement system.

Taylor claims that St. Augustine initiated a concept of inwardness, a turning towards the inner self to find truth and the idea of authenticity is simply a further development of Augustine's inwardness. In this paper I will discuss in detail Taylor's idea of authenticity: the pros and cons. I will lay out some of his arguments as to why he thinks this idea originated with Augustine. I will talk about Augustine's view on the inner man and how this is connected with knowledge and memory. I will then talk about some of Augustine's views. Freedom is also an important aspect to moral conduct so I will explore both Taylor's and Augustine's view of freedom. Finally, I will argue that the ideal of authenticity (although it contains some truth) is not an ideal that Augustine would promote.

Three Modern Worries

Taylor begins the book by discussing three worries of modern society. The first is individualism which is selfish and self-centered. The modern concept is bothersome because people see freedom as loosening the chains of traditional notions of hierarchy. We have become a society where we are breaking away from "older moral horizons." Everything in creation is connected in some way and when there is a loose hierarchy there follows a loose meaning of life. The "dark side of individualism" the focuses on the self in such a way that it flattens and narrows the framework which give significance and meaning to human life.

The second trouble is the dominant attention given to instrumental reason. Instrumental reason values efficiency above all other goods. Nothing else is considered sacred or has intrinsic value, only extrinsic value. The question is how useful a thing is. "Maximum efficiency is the measure of success." Once the hierarchical order of creation has lost its meaning, creatures loose their significance and are vulnerable to solely instrumental use. The fear here is that everything will be decided on a cost-benefit mentality. This leads to absurd practices of "putting dollar assessments on human lives."

The last worry is a lack of participation in the political realm. Individuals are enclosed in their own comfort zones and have little motivation to leave their homes and the satisfactions of their private lives to get involved. Once participation declines the more the bureaucratic state takes control and leaves the citizens powerless. This can lead to soft-despotism which Alexis de Tocqueville describes as a society where most of its members have given up being actively involved in the ordering of that society only to find out that it is run by a vast guardian-like power that discourages participation and jeopardizes political liberty.

Taylor does not want to slip into the acceptance of these three malaises. He claims that all of these issues are controversial. He seems to claim neutrality between modernity knockers and modernity boosters. The knockers are those who believe that instrumental reason and modern individualism inevitably lead to a culture that is preoccupied with the self and self-indulgence and puts moral horizons and political liberty at risk. The boosters are those who accept the consequences of modernity and believe that a rejection of these will result in a culture that hinders the spread of new ideas and new social or political developments and ultimately lead to societal regress. Taylor will grant that there is some truth in both of these positions and tries to expose it through out the rest of the book.


In his discussion of relativity, Taylor points out areas of disagreement as well as agreement. He defines relativism as a system of thought derived from a form of individualism "whose principle is something like this: everyone has a right to develop their own form of life, grounded on their own sense of what is really important or of value." Basically there is no hierarchical ordering of truths. Everyone has their own set of truths and no one should try to convince them otherwise. This is what Taylor calls the "individualism of self-fulfillment." His concern about this view is that it narrows the meaning of life because it is too self-centered and it rejects issues that go beyond the self. However he thinks there is "a powerful moral ideal at work here" which is the view of being true to oneself and will refer to this view as authenticity. "The point is that today many people feel called to do this, feel they ought to do this, feel their lives would be somehow wasted or unfulfilled if they didn't do it." ; Taylor thinks this point is being overlooked that there must be some moral reason pushing people in a certain direction. Deviant forms of authenticity simply consider the advantages given to the individual apart from any moral stance. He admits that there are deviant forms of authenticity but they take away from the true meaning of it and that when most contemporary critics think they are critiquing authenticity they are really just critiquing its deviant forms.

Conflicting Theories

In viewing the development of authenticity it is important to see the other ideas it was trying to combat. Authenticity is in conflict with consequentialism since it is not a matter of calculations to determine what is right or wrong. For consequentialism external factors determine the justification of an action. Whichever act will bring about the best consequences is the one to choose. This means that at times the individual might have to push himself aside and forfeit his own personal feelings if it will bring about the best consequences. On the other end of the spectrum is the notion of emotivism. This view was not a matter of dry calculation, "but was anchored in our feelings." It is more focused on being in touch with one's inner voice. This inner voice tells you what is wrong or right. It is basically just a matter of preference. The individual looks inside himself, turning inward, and whatever



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