These notes are for students in Dr. Scott Moore's PHI 1305.

Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity

Important Terms and Concepts--Chapter 1: Three Malaises



Modernity--the modern age

The malaises of modernity--a) individualism [the loss of meaning], b) instrumental reason [the eclipse of ends], c) soft despotism [a loss of freedom]

individualism--a belief in the sovereignty and priority of the individual in society.

"et manace de le renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur" --"the threat of ultimately confining all entirely in the solitude of own's heart" (from Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America)

the "dark side of individualism"--the notion that individualism often focuses on the self in such a way that flattens and narrows the contexts which give human life meaning and significance.

instrumental reason--a notion of reason or rationality that values efficiency above all other goods. Instrumental reason is deceptive because while 'reason' was supposed to lead to beyond prejudice it has in reality sanctioned a new prejudice.

soft despotism--Alexis de Tocqueville's term for a society in which most of its members have given up an active role in the ordering of that society only to discover that society and government is run by an 'immense tutelary power' which endangers political liberty and discourages participation.

the iron cage--Max Weber's metaphor for modern society's self-imposed captivity to technology and instrumental forms of reason.

technological messianism--the belief that technology will save us--that we are waiting and longing for just those new technologies which will solve all our problems.

atomism--the doctrine or belief that reality is composed of simple and unchangeable minute particles. Used in political philosophy, this concept assumes that any community that exists is the consensual product of individuals understood as 'political atoms.' Atomism is inconsistent with a notion of citizen virtue.

citizen virtue--Montesquieu's understanding of devotion to a political [polis-oriented] 'way of life which establishes identity for individuals, provides a matrix within which one can become the kind of human being one is, and within which the noble ends of a life devoted to the public good are first conceivable.'

political liberty--political control over our own destiny

culture of narcissism---a culture obsessed with self and self-gratification

Modernity's 'boosters' vs. Modernity's 'knockers'--those who affirm the consequences bought by Modernity and believe that a rejection of such will only lead to obscurantism and societal regress versus those critics of Modernity who believe that modern individualism and instrumental reason inevitably lead to a culture of narcissism which endangers moral horizons and political liberty.


Return to Taylor Resources Page