Although Charles Taylor is arguing about the moral state of modernity, he is, in fact, borrowing a page from the ancients when he argues that we have lost all sense of an authentic self, a self that endures from one moment to the next. Taylor asks us what it means to be a moral person. But he also reminds us that the attempt to define the limits of human morality is a complex and ambiguous task. In arguing for the importance of the authentic self, he is also arguing against moral nihilism and for a position of moral realism that lies very much in the tradition of Plato.
Taylor is arguing against a number of aspects of modernism, of the West as fashioned by the Enlightenment. Like the sociologist Emile Durkheim, Taylor is arguing that society is not simply the sum of its parts and nothing more – or that no moral society can be so constructed. Taylor is essentially arguing (to borrow Durkheim’s terminology) that the relationships between and among people in a society produce what he called “social facts”, and that these “social facts” must be considered to be valid – to be “real” – when trying to understand the nature of society. These social facts create the integrated whole of a society that also must be seen to have a life of its own. We each interact not only with each other but with society as a whole; we each have a part to play in the greater drama (and structure) of society. Taylor argues that we cannot have a truly moral society in a world of anomie and that we cannot have been moral individuals in an amoral society.
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