2022-10-06 Charles Taylor: Sources of the Self: The making of modern identity

SOURCES OF THE SELF The Making of the Modern Identity


HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge, Massachusetts Copyright © 1989 by Charles Taylor All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Tenth printing, 2001

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Taylor, Charles, 1931 Sources of the self the making of the modern identity / Charles Taylor. ISBN 0-674-82425-3 (alk. paper) (cloth) 158N 0-674-82426-1 (paper) I. Self (Philosophy). 2. Civilization, Modern. 3. Philosophy, Modern. Ethics. I. Title. BD450.T266 1989

PART I Identity and the Good

Chapter 1 Inescapable Frameworks


I want to explore various facets of what I will call the 'modern identity'. To give a good first approximation of what this means would be to say that it involves tracing various strands of our modern notion of what it is to be a human agent, a person, or a self. But pursuing this investigation soon shows that you can't get very clear about this without some further understanding of how our pictures of the good have evolved. Selfhood and the good, or in another way selfhood and morality, turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes.

In this first part, want to say something about this connection, before in Parts II-V plunging into the history and analysis of the modern identity. But another obstacle rises in the way even of this preliminary task. Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, 'as the privileged focus of attention or will.' This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense, as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life, and this not only among professional philoso phers, but with a wider public.

So much of my effort in Part I will be directed towards enlarging our range of legitimate moral descriptions, and in some cases retrieving modes of thought and description which have misguidedly been made to seem problematic. In particular, what want to bring out and examine is the richer background languages in which we set the basis and point of the moral obligations we acknowledge. More broadly, I want to explore the background picture of our spiritual nature and predicament which lies behind some of the moral and spiritual intuitions of our contemporaries. In the course of doing I so, I shall also be trying to make clearer just what a background picture is, and what role it plays in our lives. Here is where an important element of retrieval comes in, because much contemporary philosophy has ignored this dimension of our moral consciousness and beliefs altogether and has even seemed to dismiss it as confused and irrelevant. I hope to show, contrary to this attitude, how crucial it is.

I spoke in the previous paragraph about our 'moral and spiritual' intuitions. In fact, want to consider a gamut of views a bit broader than what is normally described as the 'moral'. In addition to our notions and reactions on such issues as justice and the respect of other people's life, well-being, and dignity, I want also to look at our sense of what underlies our own dignity, or questions about what makes our lives meaningful or fulfilling. These might be classed as moral questions on some broad definition, but some are too concerned with the self-regarding, or too much a matter of a our ideals, to be classed as moral issues in most people's lexicon. They concern, rather, what makes life worth living.

What they have in common with moral issues, and what deserves the vague term 'spiritual', is that they all involve what I have called elsewhere 'strong evaluation', that is, they involve discriminations of right or wrong, better or worse, higher or lower, which are not rendered valid by our own desires, inclinations, or choices, but rather stand independent of these and offer standards by which they can be judged. So while it may not be judged a moral lapse that I am living a life that is not really worthwhile or fulfilling, to describe me in these terms is nevertheless to condemn me in the name of a standard, independent of my own tastes and desires, which I ought to acknowledge.

Perhaps the most urgent and powerful cluster of demands that we recognize as moral concern the respect for the life, integrity, and well-being, even flourishing, of others. These are the ones we infringe when we kill or maim others, steal their property, strike fear into them and rob them of peace, or even refrain from helping them when they are in distress. Virtually everyone feels these demands, and they have been and are acknowledged in all human societies. Of course the scope of the demand notoriously varies: earlier societies, and some present ones, restrict the class of beneficiaries to members of the tribe or race and exclude outsiders, who are fair game, or even condemn the evil to definitive loss of this status. But they all feel these demands laid on them by some class of persons, and for most contemporaries this class is coterminous with the human race (and for believers in animal rights it may go wider).

We are dealing here with moral intuitions which are uncommonly deep, powerful, and universal. They are so deep that we are tempted to think of them as rooted in instinct, in contrast to other moral reactions which seem very much the consequence of upbringing and education. There seems to be natural, inborn compunction to inflict death or injury on another, an inclination to come to the help of the injured or endangered. Culture and upbringing may help to define the boundaries of the relevant 'others', but they don't seem to create the basic reaction itself. That is why eighteenth century thinkers, notably Rousseau, could believe in a natural susceptibility to feel sympathy for others.

The roots of respect for life and integrity do seem to go as deep as this, and to be connected perhaps with the almost universal tendency among other animals to stop short of the killing of conspecifics. But like so much else in human life, this 'instinct' receives variable shape in culture, as we have seen. And this shape is inseparable from an account of what it is that commands our respect. The account seems to articulate the intuition. It tells us, for instance, that human beings are creatures of God and made in his image, or that they are immortal souls, or that they are all emanations of divine fire, or that they are all rational agents and thus have a dignity which transcends any other being, or some other such characterization; and that therefore we owe them respect. The various cultures which restrict this respect do so by denying the crucial description to those left outside: they are thought to lack souls, or to be not fully rational, or perhaps to be destined by God for some lower station, or something of the sort.

So our moral reactions in this domain have two facets, as it were. On one side, they are almost like instincts, comparable to our love of sweet things, or our aversion to nauseous substances, or our fear of falling; on the other, they seem to involve claims, implicit or explicit, about the nature and status of human beings. From this second side, a moral reaction is an assent to, an a affirmation of, a given ontology of the human.

An important strand of modern naturalist consciousness has tried to hive this second side off and declare it dispensable or irrelevant to morality. The motives are multiple: partly distrust of all such ontological accounts because of the use to which some of them have been put, e.g., justifying restrictions or exclusions of heretics or allegedly lower beings. And this distrust is strengthened where a primitivist sense that unspoiled human nature respects life by instinct reigns. But it is partly also the great epistemological cloud under which all such accounts lie for those who have followed empiricist or rationalist theories of knowledge, inspired by the success of modern natural science.

The temptation is great to rest content with the fact that we have such reactions, and to consider the ontology which gives rational articulation to them to be so much froth, nonsense from a bygone age. This stance may go along with a sociobiological explanation for our having such reactions, which can be thought to have obvious evolutionary utility and indeed have analogues among other species, as already mentioned.

But this neat division cannot be carried through. Ontological accounts offer themselves as correct articulations of our 'gut' reactions of respect. In this they treat these reactions as different from other 'gut' responses, such as our taste for sweets or our nausea at certain smells or objects. We don't acknowledge that there is something there to articulate, as we do in the moral case. Is this distinction illegitimate? A metaphysical invention? It seems to turn on this: in either case our response is to an object with a certain property. But in one case the property marks the object as one meriting this reaction; in the other the connection between the two is just a brute fact. Thus we argue and reason over what and who is fit object of moral respect, while this doesn't seem to be even possible for a reaction like nausea. Of course we can reason that it might be useful or convenient to alter the boundaries of what we feel nausea at; and we might succeed, with training, in doing so. But what seems to make no sense here is the supposition that we might articulate a description of the nauseating in terms of its intrinsic properties, and then argue from this that certain things which we in fact react to that way are not really fit objects for it. There seems to be no other criterion for a concept of the nauseating than our in fact reacting with nausea to the things which bear the concept. As against the first kind of response, which relates to a proper object, this one could be called a brute reaction. Assimilating our moral reactions to these visceral ones would mean considering all our talk about fit objects of moral response to be utterly illusory. The belief that we are discriminating real properties, with criteria independent of our de facto reactions, would be declared unfounded. This is the burden of the so-called *error theory' of moral values which John Mackie espoused. It can combine easily with a sociobiological standpoint, in which one acknowledges that certain moral reactions had (and have) obvious survival value, and one may even propose to fine-tune and alter our reactions so as to increase that value, as above we imagined changing what we feel nausea at. But this would have nothing to do with a view that certain things and not others, just in virtue of their nature, were fit objects of respect. Now this sociobiological or external standpoint is utterly different from the way we in fact argue and reason and deliberate in our moral lives. We are all universalists now about respect for life and integrity. But this means not just that we happen to have such reactions or that we have decided in the light of the present predicament of the human race that it is useful to have such reactions (though some people argue in this way, urging that, for instance, it is in our own interest in a shrinking world to take account of Third World poverty). It means rather that we believe it would be utterly wrong and unfounded to draw the boundaries any narrower than around the whole human race.

Should anybody propose to do so, we should immediately ask what distinguished those within from those left out. And we should seize on this distinguishing characteristic in order to show that it had nothing to do with commanding respect. This is what we do with racists. Skin colour or physical traits have nothing to do with that in virtue of which humans command our respect. In fact, no ontological account accords it this. Racists have to claim that certain of the crucial moral properties of human beings are genetically determined: that some races are less intelligent, less capable of high moral consciousness, and the like. The logic of the argument forces them to stake their claim on ground where they are empirically at their weakest. Differences in skin colour are undeniable. But all claims about innate cultural differences are unsustainable in the light of human history. The logic of this whole debate takes intrinsic description seriously, that is, descriptions of the objects of our moral responses whose criteria are independent of our de facto reactions. Can it be otherwise? We feel the demand to be consistent in our moral reactions. And even those philosophers who propose to ignore ontological accounts nevertheless scrutinize and criticize our moral intuitions for their consistency or lack of it. But the issue of consistency presupposes intrinsic description. How could anyone be accused of being inconsistently nauseated? Some description could always be found covering all the objects he reacts to that way, if only the relative one that they all awake his disgust. The issue of consistency can only arise when the reaction is related to some independent property as its fit object.

The whole way in which we think, reason, argue, and question ourselves about morality supposes that our moral reactions have these two sides: that they are not only 'gut' feelings but also implicit acknowledgements of claims concerning their objects. The various ontological accounts try to articulate these claims. The temptations to deny this, which arise from modern epistemology, are strengthened by the widespread acceptance of a deeply wrong model of practical reasoning, one based on an illegitimate extrapolation from reasoning in natural science.

The various ontological accounts attribute predicates to human beings like being creatures of God, or emanations of divine fire, or agents of rational choice -- which seem rather analogous to theoretical predicates in natural science, in that they (a) are rather remote from our everyday descriptions by which we deal with people around us and ourselves, and (b) make reference to our conception of the universe and the place we occupy in it. In fact, if we go back before the modern period and take the thought of Plato, for example, it is clear that the ontological account underlying the morality of just treatment was identical with his 'scientific' theory of the universe. The theory of Ideas underlay one and the other.

It seems natural to assume that we would have to establish these ontological predicates in ways analogous to our supporting physical explanations: starting from the facts identified independently of our reactions to them, we would try to show that one underlying explanation was better than others. But once we do this, we have lost from view what we're arguing about. Ontological accounts have the status of articulations of our moral instincts. They articulate the claims implicit in our reactions. We can no longer argue about them at all once we assume a neutral stance and try to describe the facts as they are independent of these reactions, as we have done in natural science since the seventeenth century. There is such a thing as moral objectivity, of course. Growth in moral insight often requires that we neutralize some of our reactions. But this is in order that the others may be identified, unmixed and unscreened by petty jealousy, egoism, or other unworthy feelings. It is never a question of prescinding from our reactions altogether.

Moral argument and exploration go on only within a world shaped by our deepest moral responses, like the ones I have been talking about here; just as natural science supposes that we focus on a world where all our responses have been neutralized. If you want to discriminate more finely what it is about human beings that makes them worthy of respect, you have to call to mind what it is to feel the claim of human suffering, or what is repugnant about injustice, or the awe you feel at the fact of human life. No argument can take someone from a neutral stance towards the world, either adopted from the demands of 'science' or fallen into as a consequence of pathology, to insight into moral ontology. But it doesn't follow from this that moral ontology is a pure fiction, as naturalists often assume. Rather we should treat our deepest moral instincts, our ineradicable sense that human life is to be respected, as our mode of access to the world in which ontological claims are discernible and can be rationally argued about and sifted.


I spoke at the outset about exploring the 'background picture' lying behind our moral and spiritual intuitions. I could now rephrase this and say that my target is the moral ontology which articulates these intuitions. What is the picture of our spiritual nature and predicament which makes sense of our responses? *Making sense' here means articulating what makes these re sponses appropriate: identifying what makes something a fit object for them and correlatively formulating more fully the nature of the response as well as spelling out what all this presupposes about ourselves and our situation in the world. What is articulated here is the background we assume and draw on in any claim to rightness, part of which we are forced to spell out when we have to defend our responses as the right ones.

This articulation can be very difficult and controversial. I don't just mean this in the obvious sense that our contemporaries don't always agree in moral ontology. This is clear enough: many people, if asked to give their grounds for the reactions of respect for life discussed above, would appeal to the theistic account I referred to and invoke our common status as God's creatures; others would reject this for purely secular account and perhaps invoke the dignity of rational life. But beyond this, articulating any particular person's background can be subject to controversy. The agent himself or herself is not necessarily the best authority, at least not at the outset. This is the case first of all because the moral ontology behind any person's views can remain largely implicit. Indeed, it usually does, unless there is some challenge which forces it to the fore. The average person needs to do very little thinking about the bases of universal respect, for instance, because just about everyone accepts this as an axiom today. The greatest violators hide behind a smoke screen of lies and special pleading. Even racist regimes, like the one in South Africa, present their programmes in the language of separate but equal development; while Soviet dissidents are jailed on various trumped up charges or hospitalized as 'mentally ill', and the fiction is maintained that the masses elect the regime. Whether one has a theistic or secular foundation rarely comes up, except in certain very special controversies, like that about abortion.

So over wide areas, the background tends to remain unexplored. But beyond this, exploration may even be resisted. That is because there may be and I want to argue, frequently is -a lack of fit between what people as it were officially and consciously believe, even pride themselves on believing, on one hand, and what they need to make sense of some of their moral reactions, on the other. A gap like this surfaced in the discussion above, where some naturalists propose to treat all moral ontologies as irrelevant stories, without validity, while they themselves go on arguing like the rest of us about what objects are fit and what reactions appropriate. What generally happens here is that the reductive explanation itself, often a sociobiological one, which supposedly justifies this exclusion, itself takes on the role of moral ontology. That is, it starts to provide the basis for discriminations about appropriate objects or valid responses. What starts off in chapter I as a hard-nosed scientific theory justifying an error theory of morality becomes in the conclusion the basis for a new 'scientific' or 'evolutionary' ethic." Here, one is forced to conclude, there reigns an ideologically induced illusion about the nature of the moral ontology that the thinkers concerned actually rely on. There is a very controversial but very important job of articulation to be done here, in the teeth of the people concerned, which can show to what extent the real spiritual basis of their own moral judgements deviates from what is officially admitted.

It will be my claim that there is a great deal of motivated suppression of moral ontology among our contemporaries, in part because the pluralist nature of modern society makes it easier to live that way, but also because of the great weight of modern epistemology (as with the naturalists evoked above) and, behind this, of the spiritual outlook associated with this epistemology. So the work I am embarked upon here could be called in large degree an essay in retrieval. Much of the ground will have to be fought for, and will certainly not convince everybody.

But besides our disagreements and our temptations to suppress, this articulation of moral ontology will be very difficult for a third reason: the tentative, searching, uncertain nature of many of our moral beliefs. Many of our contemporaries, while they remain quite unattracted by the naturalist attempt to deny ontology altogether, and while on the contrary they recognize that their moral reactions show them to be committed to some adequate basis, are perplexed and uncertain when it comes to saying what this basis is. In our example above, many people, when faced with both the theistic and the secular ontologies as the grounds for their reactions of respect, would not feel ready to make final choice. They concur that through their moral beliefs they acknowledge some ground in human nature or the human predicament which makes human beings fit objects of respect, but they confess that they cannot subscribe with complete conviction to any particular definition, at least not to any of the ones on offer. Something similar arises for many of them on the question of what makes human life worth living or what confers meaning on their individual lives. Most of us are still in the process of groping for answers here. This is an essentially modern predicament, as I shall try to argue below.

Where this is so, the issue of articulation can take another form. It is not merely formulating what people already implicitly but unproblematically acknowledge; nor is it showing what people really rely on in the teeth of their ideological denials. Rather it could only be carried forward by showing that one or another ontology is in fact the only adequate basis for our moral responses, whether we recognize this or not. A thesis of this kind was invoked by Dostoyevsky and discussed by Leszek Kotakowski in a recent work:6 "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted". But this level of argument, concerning what our commitments really amount to, is even more difficult than the previous one, which tries to show, in the face of naturalist suppression, what they already are. I will probably not be able to venture very far out on this terrain in the following. It would be sufficient, and very valuable, to be able to show something about the tentative, hesitating, and fuzzy commitments that we moderns actually rely on. The map of our moral world, however full of gaps, erasures, and blurrings, is interesting enough.


The moral world of moderns is significantly different from that of previous civilizations. This becomes clear, among other places, when we look at the sense that human beings command our respect. In one form or another, this seems to be human universal; that is, in every society, there seems to be some such sense. The boundary around those beings worthy of respect may be drawn parochially in earlier cultures, but there always is such a class. And among what we recognize as higher civilizations, this always includes the whole human species.

What is peculiar to the modern West among such higher civilizations is that its favoured formulation for this principle of respect has come to be in terms of rights. This has become central to our legal systems and in this form has spread around the world. But in addition, something analogous has become central to our moral thinking.

The notion of a right, also called a 'subjective right', as this developed in the Western legal tradition, is that of legal privilege which is seen as quasi-possession of the agent to whom it is attributed. At first such rights were differential possessions: some people had the right to participate in certain assemblies, or to give counsel, or to collect tolls on this river, and sO on. The revolution in natural law theory in the seventeenth century partly consisted in using this language of rights to express the universal moral norms. We began to speak of "natural" rights, and now to such things as life and liberty which supposedly everyone has.

In one way, to speak of a universal, natural right to life doesn't seem much of an innovation. The change seems to be one of form. The earlier way of putting it was that there was a natural law against taking innocent life. Both formulations seem to prohibit the same things. But the difference lies not in what is forbidden but in the place of the subject. Law is what I must obey. It may confer on me certain benefits, here the immunity that my life, too, is to be respected; but fundamentally am under law. By contrast, a subjective is right is something which the possessor can and ought to act on to put it into effect. To accord you an immunity, formerly given you by natural law, in the form of a natural right is to give you a role in establishing and enforcing this immunity. Your concurrence is now necessary, and your degrees of freedom are correspondingly greater. At the extreme limit of these, you can even waive a right, thus defeating the immunity. This is why Locke, in order to close off this possibility in the case of his three basic rights, had to introduce the notion of 'inalienability'. Nothing like this was necessary on the earlier natural law formulation, because that language by its very nature excludes the power of waiver.

To talk of universal, natural, or human rights is to connect respect for human life and integrity with the notion of autonomy. It is to conceive people as active cooperators in establishing and ensuring the respect which is due them. And this expresses a central feature of the modern Western moral outlook. This change of form naturally goes along with one in content, with the conception of what it is to respect someone. Autonomy is now central to this. So the Lockean trinity of natural rights includes that to liberty. And for us respecting personality involves as a crucial feature respecting the person's moral autonomy. With the development of the post-Romantic notion of individual difference, this expands to the demand that we give people the freedom to develop their personality in their own way, however repugnant to ourselves and even to our moral sense the thesis developed so persuasively by J. S. Mill.

Of course not everyone agrees with Mill's principle, and its full impact on Western legislation has been very recent. But everyone in our civilization feels the force of this appeal to accord people the freedom to develop in their own way. The disagreement is over the relation of such things as pornography, or various kinds of permissive sexual behaviour, or portrayals of violence, to legitimate development. Does the prohibition of the former endanger the latter? No one doubts that if it does, this constitutes a reason, though perhaps not an ultimately decisive one, to relax social controls. So autonomy has a central place in our understanding of respect. So much is generally agreed. Beyond this lie various richer pictures of human nature and our predicament, which offer reasons for this demand. These include, for instance, the notion of ourselves as disengaged subjects, breaking free from a comfortable but illusory sense of immersion in nature, and objectifying the world around us; or the Kantian picture of ourselves as pure rational agents; or the Romantic picture just mentioned, where we understand ourselves in terms of organic metaphors and a concept of self-expression. As is well known, the partisans of these different views are in sharp conflict with each other. Here again, a generalized moral consensus breaks into controversy at the level of philosophical explication.

I am not at all neutral on this controversy, but don't feel at this stage in position to contribute in helpful way to it. I would rather try now to round out this picture of our modern understanding of respect by mentioning two other, connected features.

The first is the importance we put on avoiding suffering. This again seems to be unique among higher civilizations. Certainly we are much more sensitive on this score than our ancestors of a few centuries ago- as we can readily see if we consider the (to us) barbarous punishments they inflicted. Once again, the legal code and its practices provide a window into broader movements of culture. Think of the horrifying description of the torture and execution of a man who had attempted regicide in mid-eighteenth-century France, which opens Michel Foucault' Surveiller et punir.' It's not that comparable horrors don't occur in the twentieth-century West. But they are now seen as shocking aberrations, which have to be hidden. Even the "clean" legal executions, where the death penalty is still in force, are no longer carried out in public, but deep within prison walls. It's with a shudder that we learn that parents used to bring small children to witness such events when they were offered as public spectacles in earlier times. We are much more sensitive to suffering, which we may of course just translate into not wanting to hear about it rather than into any concrete remedial action. But the notion that we ought to reduce it to a minimum is an integral part of what respect means to us today--however distasteful this has been to an eloquent minority, most notably to Nietzsche.

Part of the reason for this change is negative. Compared for instance to the executioners of Damiens in the eighteenth century, we don't see any point in ritually undoing the terrible crime in an equally terrible punishment. The whole notion of a cosmic moral order, which gave this restoral its sense, has faded for us. The stress on relieving suffering has grown with the decline of this kind of belief. It is what is left over, what takes on moral importance, after we no longer see human beings as playing a role in a larger cosmic order or divine history. This was part of the negative thrust of the utilitarian Enlightenment, protesting against the needless, senseless suffering inflicted on humans in the name of such larger orders or dramas.

But of course this stress on human welfare of the most immediate kind also has religious sources. It springs from the New Testament and is one of the central themes of Christian spirituality. Modern utilitarianism is one of its secularized variants. And as such it connects with a more fundamental feature to Christian spirituality, which comes to receive new and unprecedented importance at the beginning of the modern era, and which has also become central to modern culture. I want to describe this as the affirmation of ordinary life. This last is a term of art, meant roughly to designate the life of production and the family.

According to traditional, Aristotelian ethics, this has merely infrastruc tural importance. 'Life' was important as the necessary background and support to 'the good life' of contemplation and one's action as a citizen. With the Reformation, we find a modern, Christian-inspired sense that ordinary life was on the contrary the very centre of the good life. The crucial issue was how it was led, whether worshipfully and in the fear of God or not. But the life of the God-fearing was lived out in marriage and their calling. The previous *higher' forms of life were dethroned, as it were. And along with this went frequently an attack, covert or overt, on the elites which had made these forms their province.

I believe that this affirmation of ordinary life, although not uncontested and frequently appearing in secularized form, has become one of the most powerful ideas in modern civilization. It underlies our contemporary "bour geois" politics, so much concerned with issues of welfare, and at the same time powers the most influential revolutionary ideology of our century, Marxism, with its apotheosis of man the producer. This sense of the importance of the everyday in human life, along with its corollary about the importance of suffering, colours our whole understanding of what it is truly to respect human life and integrity. Along with the central place given to autonomy, it defines a version of this demand which is peculiar to our civilization, the modern West.


Thus far I have been exploring only one strand of our moral intuitions, albeit an extremely important one. These are the moral beliefs which cluster around the sense that human life is to be respected and that the prohibitions and obligations which this imposes on us are among the most weighty and serious in our lives. I have been arguing that there is a peculiarly modern sense of what respect involves, which gives salient place to freedom and self-control, places a high priority on avoiding suffering, and sees productive activity and family life as central to our well-being. But this cluster of moral intuitions lies along only one of the axes of our moral life. There are others to which the moral notions that I have been discussing are also relevant.

'Morality', of course, can be and often is defined purely in terms of respect for others. The category of the moral is thought to encompass just our obligations to other people. But if we adopt this definition, then we have to allow that there are other questions beyond the moral which are of central concern to us, and which bring strong evaluation into play. There are questions about how I am going to live my life which touch on the issue of what kind of life is worth living, or what kind of life would fulfill the promise implicit in my particular talents, or the demands incumbent on someone with my endowment, or of what constitutes a rich, meaningful life-as against one concerned with secondary matters or trivia. These are issues of strong evaluation, because the people who ask these questions have no doubt that one can, following one's immediate wishes and desires, take a wrong turn and a hence fail to lead a full life. To understand our moral world we have to see not only what ideas and pictures underlie our sense of respect for others but also those which underpin our notions of a full life. And as we shall see, these are not two quite separate orders of ideas. There is a substantial overlap or, rather, a complex relation in which some of the same basic notions reappear in a new way. This is particularly the case for what I called above the affirmation of ordinary life.

In general, one might try to single out three axes of what can be called, in the most general sense, moral thinking. As well as the two just mentioned our sense of respect for and obligations to others, and our understandings of what makes a full life-there is also the range of notions concerned with dignity. By this I mean the characteristics by which we think of ourselves as commanding (or failing to command) the respect of those around us. Here a the term 'respect' has a slightly different meaning than in the above. I'm not talking now about respect for rights, in the sense of non-infringement, which we might call 'active' respect, but rather of thinking well of someone, even looking up to him, which is what we imply when we say in ordinary speech that he has our respect. (Let's call this kind 'attitudinal'.)

Our 'dignity', in the particular sense am using it here, is our sense of ourselves as commanding (attitudinal) respect. The issue of what one's dignity consists in is no more avoidable than those of why we ought to respect others' rights or what makes a full life, however much a naturalist philosophy might mislead us into thinking of this as another domain of mere 'gut' reactions, similar to those of baboons establishing their hierarchy. And in this case, its unavoidability ought to be the more obvious in that our dignity is so much woven into our very comportment. The very way we walk, move, gesture, speak is shaped from the earliest moments by our awareness that we appear before others, that we stand in public space, and that this space is potentially one of respect or contempt, of pride or shame. Our style of movement expresses how we see ourselves as enjoying respect or lacking it, as commanding it or failing to do so. Some people flit through public space as though avoiding it, others rush through as though hoping to sidestep the issue of how they appear in it by the very serious purpose with which they transit through it; others again saunter through with assurance, savouring their moments within it; still others swagger, confident of how their presence marks it: think of the carefully leisurely way the policeman gets out of his car, having stopped you for speeding, and the slow, swaying walk over as he comes to demand your licence.'

Just what do we see our dignity consisting in? It can be our power, our sense of dominating public space; or our invulnerability to power; or our self-sufficiency, our life having its own centre; or our being liked and looked to by others, a centre of attention. But very often the sense of dignity can ground in some of the same moral views I mentioned above. For instance, my sense of myself as a householder, father of a family, holding down a job, providing for my dependants; all this can be the basis of my sense of dignity. Just as its absence can be catastrophic, can shatter it by totally undermining my feeling of self-worth. Here the sense of dignity is woven into this modern notion of the importance of ordinary life, which reappears again on this axis. Probably something like these three axes exists in every culture. But there are great differences in how they are conceived, how they relate, and in their relative importance. For the warrior and honour ethic that seems to have been dominant among the ruling strata of archaic Greece, whose deeds were celebrated by Homer, this third axis seems to have been paramount, and seems even to have incorporated the second axis without remainder. The 'agathos' is the man of dignity and power.' And enough of this survives into the classical period for Plato to have depicted an ethic of power and self-aggrandizement as one of his major targets, in figures like Callicles and Thrasymachus. For us, this is close to inconceivable. It seems obvious that the first axis has paramountcy, followed by the second. Connected with this, it would probably have been incomprehensible to the people of that archaic period that the first axis should be conceived in terms of an ethic of general principles, let alone one founded on reason, as against one grounded in religious prohibitions which brooked no discussion.

One of the most important ways in which our age stands out from earlier ones concerns the second axis. A set of questions make sense to us which turn around the meaning of life and which would not have been fully understand able in earlier epochs. Moderns can anxiously doubt whether life has meaning, or wonder what its meaning is. However philosophers may be inclined to attack these formulations as vague or confused, the fact remains that we all have an immediate sense of what kind of worry is being articulated in these words.

We can perhaps get at the point of these questions in the following way. Questions along the second axis can arise for people in any culture. Someone in a warrior society might ask whether his tale of courageous deeds lives up to the promise of his lineage or the demands of his station. People in a religious culture often ask whether the demand of conventional piety are sufficient for them or whether they don't feel called to some purer, more dedicated vocation. Figures of this kind have founded most of the great religious orders in Christendom, for instance. But in each of these cases, some framework stands unquestioned which helps define the demands by which they judge their lives and measure, as it were, their fulness or emptiness: the space of fame in the memory and song of the tribe, or the call of God as made clear in revelation, or, to take another example, the hierarchical order of being in the universe.

It is now a commonplace about the modern world that it has made these frameworks problematic. On the level of explicit philosophical or theological doctrine, this is dramatically evident. Some traditional frameworks are discredited or downgraded to the status of personal predilection, like the space of fame. Others have ceased to be credible altogether in anything like their original form, like the Platonic notion of the order of being. The forms of revealed religion continue very much alive, but also highly contested. None forms the horizon of the whole society in the modern West.

This term 'horizon' is the one that is frequently used to make this point. What Weber called 'disenchantment', the dissipation of our sense of the cosmos as a meaningful order, has allegedly destroyed the horizons in which people previously lived their spiritual lives. Nietzsche used the term in his celebrated "God is dead" passage: "How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon?"1° Perhaps this way of putting it appeals above all to the intellectuals, who put a lot of stock in the explicit doctrines that people subscribe to, and anyway tend to be unbelievers. But the loss of horizon described by Nietzsche's fool undoubtedly corresponds to something very widely felt in our culture.

This is what I tried to describe with the phrase above, that frameworks today are problematic. This vague term points towards a relatively open disjunction of attitudes. What is common to them all is the sense that no framework is shared by everyone, can be taken for granted as the framework tout court, can sink to the phenomenological status of unquestioned fact. This basic understanding refracts differently in the stances people take. For some it may mean holding a definite traditionally defined view with the self-conscious sense of standing against a major part of one's compatriots. Others may hold the view but with pluralist sense that it is one among others, right for us but not necessarily binding on them. Still others identify with a view but in the somewhat tentative, semi-provisional way I described above in section 1.2. This seems to them to come close to formulating what they believe, or to saying what for them seems to be the spiritual source they can connect their lives with; but they are aware of their own uncertainties, of how far they are from being able to recognize a definitive formulation with ultimate confidence. There is alway something tentative in their adhesion, and they may see themselves, as, in a sense, seeking. They are on a 'quest', in Alasdair Macintyre's apt phrase.11

With these seekers, of course, we are taken beyond the gamut of traditionally available frameworks. Not only do they embrace these traditions tentatively, but they also often develop their own versions of them, or idiosyncratic combinations of or borrowings from or semi-inventions within them. And this provides the context within which the question of meaning has its place.

To the extent that one sees the finding of a believable framework as the object of a quest, to that extent it becomes intelligible that the search might fail. This might happen through personal inadequacy, but failure might also come from there being no ultimately believable framework. Why speak of this in terms of a loss of meaning? Partly because framework is that in virtue of which we make sense of our lives spiritually. Not to have a framework is to fall into a life which is spiritually senseless. The quest is thus always a quest for sense.

But the invocation of meaning also comes from our awareness of how much the search involves articulation. We find the sense of life through articulating it. And moderns have become acutely aware of how much sense being there for us depends on our own powers of expression. Discovering here depends on, is interwoven with, inventing. Finding a sense to life depends on framing meaningful expressions which are adequate. There is thus something particularly appropriate to our condition in the polysemy of the word 'meaning': lives can have or lack it when they have or lack a point; while it also applies to language and other forms of expression. More and more, we moderns attain meaning in the first sense, when we do, through creating it in the second sense.

The problem of the meaning of life is therefore on our agenda, however much we may jibe at this phrase, either in the form of a threatened loss of meaning or because making sense of our life is the object of a quest. And those whose spiritual agenda is mainly defined in this way are in a fundamentally different existential predicament from that which dominated most previous cultures and still defines the lives of other people today. That alternative is predicament in which an unchallengeable framework makes imperious demands which we fear being unable to meet. We face the prospect of irretrievable condemnation or exile, of being marked down in obloquy forever, or being sent to damnation irrevocably, or being relegated to a lower order through countless future lives. The pressure is potentially immense and inescapable, and we may crack under it. The form of the danger here is utterly different from that which threatens the modern seeker, which is something close to the opposite: the world loses altogether its spiritual contour, nothing is worth doing, the fear is of a terrifying emptiness, a kind of vertigo, or even a fracturing of our world and body-space.

To see the contrast, think of Luther, in his intense anguish and distress before his liberating moment of insight about salvation through faith, his sense of inescapable condemnation, irretrievably damning himself through the very instruments of salvation, the sacraments. However one might want to describe this, it was not a crisis of meaning. This term would have made no sense to Luther in its modern use that I have been describing here. The 'meaning' of life was all too unquestionable for this Augustinian monk, as it was for his whole age.(12)

The existential predicament in which one fears condemnation is quite different from the one where one fears, above all, meaninglessness. The dominance of the latter perhaps defines our age. 13 But even so, the former still exists for many, and the contrast may help us understand different moral stances in our society: the contrast between the moral majority of born-again evangelicals in the contemporary American West and South, on one hand, and their middle-class urban compatriots on the East Coast, on the other. In a way which we cannot yet properly understand, the shift between these two existential predicaments seems to be matched by a recent change in the dominant patterns of psychopathology. It has frequently been remarked by psychoanalysts that the period in which hysterics and patients with phobias and fixations formed the bulk of their clientele, starting in their classical period with Freud, has recently given way to a time when the main complaints centre around "ego loss", or a sense of emptiness, flatness, futility, lack of purpose, or loss of self-esteem.14 Just what the relation is between these styles of pathology and the non-pathological predicaments which parallel them is very unclear. In order even to have a serious try at understanding this, we would have to gain a better grasp of the structures of the self, something want to attempt below. But it seems overwhelmingly plausible a priori that there is some relation; and that the comparatively recent shift in style of pathology reflects the generalization and popularization in our culture of that "loss of horizon", which a few alert spirits were foretelling for a century or more.


Of course, the same naturalist temper that I mentioned above, which would like to do without ontological claims altogether and just make do with moral reactions, is very suspicious of this talk of meaning and frameworks. People of this bent would like to declare this issue of meaning a pseudo-question and brand the various frameworks within which it finds an answer as gratuitous inventions. Some find this tempting for epistemological reasons: the stripped down ontology which excludes these frameworks seems to them more in keeping with a scientific outlook. But there are also reasons deep in a certain moral outlook common in our time which push people in this direction. I hope to explain this more clearly below.

But just as with the ontological claims above underlying our respect for life, this radical reduction cannot be carried through. To see why is to understand something important about the place of these frameworks in our lives.

What I have been calling a framework incorporates a crucial set of qualitative distinctions. To think, feel, judge within such a framework a is to function with the sense that some action, or mode of life, or mode of feeling is incomparably higher than the others which are more readily available to us. I am using 'higher' here in a generic sense. The sense of what the difference consists in may take different forms. One form of life may be seen as fuller, another way of feeling and acting as purer, a mode of feeling or living as deeper, a style of life as more admirable, a given demand as making an absolute claim against other merely relative ones, and so on.

I have tried to express what all these distinctions have in common by the term 'incomparable'. In each of these cases, the sense is that there are ends or goods which are worthy or desirable in a way that cannot be measured on the same scale as our ordinary ends, goods, desirabilia. They are not just more desirable, in the same sense though to a greater degree, than some of these ordinary goods are. Because of their special status they command our awe, respect, or admiration.

And this is where incomparability connects up with what I have been calling 'strong evaluation': the fact that these ends or goods stand indepen dent of our own desires, inclinations, or choices, that they represent standards by which these desires and choices are judged. These are obviously two linked facets of the same sense of higher worth. The goods which command our awe must also function in some sense as standards for us. Looking at some common examples of such frameworks will help to focus the discussion. One of the earliest in our civilization, and which is still alive for some people today, is that associated with the honour ethic. The life of the warrior, or citizen, or citizen-soldier is deemed higher than the merely private existence, devoted to the arts of peace and economic well-being. The higher life is marked out by the aura of fame and glory which attaches to it, or at least to signal cases, those who succeed in it brilliantly. To be in public life or to a be a warrior is to be at least a candidate for fame. To be ready to hazard one's tranquility, wealth, even life for glory is the mark of a real man; and those who cannot bring themselves to this are judged with contempt as "womanish" (this outlook seems to be inherently sexist).

Against this, we have the celebrated and influential counter-position put forward by Plato. Virtue is no longer to be found in public life or in excelling in the warrior agon. The higher life is that ruled by reason, and reason itself IS defined in terms of vision of order, in the cosmos and in the soul. The higher life is one in which reason-purity, order, limit, the unchanging governs the desires, with their bent to excess, insatiability, fickleness, conflict. Already in this transvaluation of values, something else has altered in addition to the content of the good life, far-reaching as this change is. Plato's ethic requires what we might call today theory, a reasoned account of what human life is about, and why one way is higher than the others. This flows inescapably from the new moral status of reason. But the framework within which we act and judge doesn't need to be articulated theoretically. It isn't, usually, by those who live by the warrior ethic. They share certain discrim inations: what is honourable and dishonouring, what is admirable, what is done and not done. It has often been remarked that to be a gentleman is to know how to behave without ever being told the rules. (And the "gentlemen" here are the heirs of the former warrior nobility.)

That is why I spoke above of acting within a framework as functioning with a 'sense' of a qualitative distinction. It can be only this; or it can be spelled out in a highly explicit way, in a philosophically formulated ontology or anthropology. In the case of some frameworks it may be optional whether one formulates them or not. But in other cases, the nature of the framework demands it, as with Plato, or seems to forbid it, as with the warrior-citizen ethic he attacked: this does seem to be refractory to theoretical formulation. Those who place a lot of importance on this latter tend to downplay or denigrate the role and powers of theory in human life.

But I want to mention this distinction here partly in order to avoid an error we easily fall victim to. We could conclude from the fact that some people operate without a philosophically defined framework that they are quite without a framework at all. And that might be totally untrue (indeed, I want to claim, always is untrue). For like our inarticulate warriors, their lives may be entirely structured by supremely important qualitative distinc tions, in relation to which they literally live and die. This will be evident enough in the judgement calls they make on their own and others' action. But it may be left entirely to us, observers, historians, philosophers, anthropol ogists, to try to formulate explicitly what goods, qualities, or ends are here discriminated. It is this level of inarticulacy, at which we often function, that I try to describe when I speak of the 'sense' of a qualitative distinction. Plato's distinction stands at the head of large family of views which see the good life as a mastery of self which consists in the dominance of reason over desire. One of the most celebrated variants in the ancient world was Stoicism. And with the development of the modern scientific world-view a specifically modern variant has developed. This is the ideal of the disengaged self, capable of objectifying not only the surrounding world but also his own emotions and inclinations, fears and compulsions, and achieving thereby a kind of distance and self-possession which allows him to act 'rationally'. This last term has been put in quotes, because obviously its meaning has changed relative to the Platonic sense. Reason is no longer defined in terms of a vision of order in the cosmos, but rather is defined procedurally, in terms of instru mental efficacy, or maximization of the value sought, or self-consistency. The framework of self-mastery through reason has also developed theistic variants, in Jewish and Christian thought. Indeed, it is one of them which first spawned the ideal of disengagement. But the marriage with Platonism, or with Greek philosophy in general, was always uneasy; and another, specifi cally Christian, theme has also been very influential in our civilization. This is the understanding of the higher life as coming from a transformation of the will. In the original theological conception, this change is the work of grace, but it has also gone through a number of secularizing transpositions. And variants of both forms, theological and secular, structure people's lives today. Perhaps the most important form of this ethic today is the ideal of altruism. With the decline of the specifically theological definition of the nature of a transformed will, a formulation of the crucial distinction of higher and lower in terms of altruism and selfishness comes to the fore. This now has a dominant place in modern thought and sensibility about what is incompara bly higher in life. Real dedication to others or to the universal good wins our admiration and even in signal cases our awe. The crucial quality which commands our respect here is certain direction of the will. This is very different from the spirit of Platonic self-mastery, where the issue turns on the hegemony of reason, however much that spirit may overlap in practice with altruism (and the overlap is far from complete). And for all its obvious roots in Christian spirituality, and perfect compatibility with it, the secular ethic of altruism has discarded something essential to the Christian outlook, once the love of God no longer plays a role.

Alongside ethics of fame, of rational mastery and control, of the transformation of the will, there has grown up in the last two centuries a distinction based on vision and expressive power. There is a set of ideas and intuitions, still inadequately understood, which makes us admire the artist and the creator more than any other civilization ever has; which convinces us that a life spent in artistic creation or performance is eminently worthwhile.

This complex of ideas itself has Platonic roots. We are taking up a semi-suppressed side of Plato's thought which emerges, for instance, in the Phaedrus, where he seems to think of the poet, inspired by mania, as capable of seeing what sober people are not. The widespread belief today that the artist sees farther than the rest of us, attested by our willingness to take seriously the opinions about politics expressed by painters or singers, even though they may have no more special expertise in public affairs than the next person, seems to spring from the same roots. But there is also something quintessentially modern in this outlook. It depends on that modern sense, invoked in the previous section, that what meaning there is for us depends in part on our powers of expression, that discovering a framework is interwoven with inventing.

But this rapid sketch of some of the most important distinctions which structure people's lives today will be even more radically incomplete if do not take account of the fact with which I started this section: that there is a widespread temper, which I called naturalist', which is tempted to deny these frameworks altogether. We see this not only in those enamoured of reductive explanations but in another way in classical utilitarianism. The aim of this philosophy was precisely to reject all qualitative distinctions and to construe all human goals as on the same footing, susceptible therefore of common quantification and calculation according to some common 'currency'. My thesis here is that this idea is deeply mistaken. But as I said above, it is motivated itself by moral reasons, and these reasons form an essential part of the picture of the frameworks people live by in our day.

This has to do with what I called in section 1.3 the 'affirmation of ordinary life'. The notion that the life of production and reproduction, of work and the family, is the main locus of the good life flies in the face of what were originally the dominant distinctions of our civilization. For both the warrior ethic and the Platonic, ordinary life in this sense is part of the lower range, part of what contrasts with the incomparably higher. The affirmation of ordinary life therefore involves a polemical stance towards these traditional views and their implied elitism. This was true of the Reformation theologies, which are the main source of the drive to this affirmation in modern times. It is this polemical stance, carried over and transposed in secular guise, which powers the reductive views like utilitarianism which want to denounce all qualitative distinctions. They are all accused, just as the honour ethic or the monastic ethic of supererogation was earlier, of wrongly and perversely downgrading ordinary life, of failing to see that our destiny lies here in production and reproduction and not in some alleged higher sphere, of being blind to the dignity and worth of ordinary human desire and fulfilment. In this, naturalism and utilitarianism touch a strong nerve of modern sensibility, and this explains some of their persuasive force. My claim is here that they are nevertheless deeply confused. For the affirmation of ordinary life, while necessarily denouncing certain distinctions, itself amounts to one; else it has no meaning at all. The notion that there is a certain dignity and worth in this life requires a contrast; no longer, indeed, between this life and some "higher" activity like contemplation, war, active citizenship, or heroic asceticism, but now lying between different ways of living the life of production and reproduction. The notion is never that whatever we do is acceptable. This would be unintelligible as the basis for a notion of dignity. Rather the key point is that the higher is to be found not outside of but as a manner of living ordinary life. For the Reformers this manner was defined theologically; for classical utilitarians, in terms of (instrumental) rationality. For Marxists, the expressivist element of free self-creation is added to Enlightenment rationality. But in all cases, some distinction is maintained between the higher, the admirable life and the lower life of sloth, irrationality, slavery, or alienation.

Once one sets aside the naturalist illusion, however, what remains is an extremely important fact about modern moral consciousness: a tension between the affirmation of ordinary life, to which we moderns are strongly drawn, and some of our most important moral distinctions. Indeed, it is too simple to speak of a tension. We are in conflict, even confusion, about what it means to affirm ordinary life. What for some is the highest affirmation is for others blanket denial. Think of the utilitarian attack on orthodox Christianity; then of Dostoyevsky's attack on utilitarian utopian engineering, For those who are not firmly aligned on one side or the other of an ideological battle, this is the source of a deep uncertainty. We are as ambivalent about heroism as we are about the value of the workaday goals that it sacrifices. We struggle to hold on to a vision of the incomparably higher, while being true to the central modern insights about the value of ordinary life. We sympathize with both the hero and the anti-hero; and we dream of a world in which one could be in the same act both. This is the confusion in which naturalism takes root.


  1. Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge, 1970).

  2. See my "What Is Human Agency?" in Charles Taylor, Human Agency and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 198 5). A good test for whether an evaluation is 'strong' in my sense is whether it can be the basis for attitudes of admiration and contempt.

  3. J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977).

  4. See the discussion below in section 3.2 and also my "Explanation and Practical Reason" (forthcoming).

  5. For a good example of this, see E. O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).

  6. See Leszek Kotakowski, Religion (London: Fontana, 1982).

  7. Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975).

  8. See Marcel Proust, A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), p. 438, on this inescapable sense of and concern for our appearance in public space.

  9. See A. W. H. Adkins, From the Many to the One (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), pp. 9-10.

  10. See The Gay Science, para. 125. All translations are by Gretta Taylor or by myself, unless otherwise specified.

  11. See Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue (Note Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), pp. 203-204.

  12. See the perceptive discussion of this crisis of Luther as what we moderns would call a crisis of "identity" in Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther (New York: Norton, 1958).

  13. Paul Tillich, in The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), has described the difference between the age of the Reformation and our own in something like these terms.

  14. See Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Norton, 1979), pp. 80-81; and also Janet Malcolm, Psycho-analysis: The Impossible Profession (New York: Knopf, 1981).

Chapter 25 Conclusion: the conflicts of modernity


It is time to tie the preceding discussion of modernism into the portrait of the modern identity that I have been assembling. I have examined modernism in the context of the conflict in our culture over the disengaged and instrumental modes of thought and action which have steadily increased their hold on modern life. Modernism succeeds Romantic expressivism both in protest against these and in the search for sources which can restore depth, richness, and meaning to life. But in the process, the place of this conflict relative to the other tensions in contemporary culture has been altered. In order to explain this, I want to return to the picture I was beginning to draw in Chapter 22, in describing how our present moral outlook develops from the Victorian age.

There I started with an attempt to encapsulate the moral imperatives which are felt with particular force in modern culture. These emerge out of the long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life, whose development I traced at some length from the early modern period through their Deist and Enlightenment forms. We as inheritors of this development feel particularly strongly the demand for universal justice and beneficence, are peculiarly sensitive to the claims of equality, feel the demands to freedom and self-rule as axiomatically justified, and put a very high priority on the avoidance of death and suffering. But under this general agreement, there are profound rifts when it comes to the constitutive goods, and hence moral sources, which underpin these standards. The lines of battle are multiple and bewildering, but in these pages I have been sketching a schematic map which may reduce some of the confusion. The map distributes the moral sources into three large domains: the original theistic grounding for these standards; a second one that centres on a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms; and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism or in one of the modernist successor visions. The original unity of the theistic horizon has been shattered, and the sources can now be found on diverse frontiers, including our own powers and nature.

The different families of modern views draw on these frontiers in different ways, and they combine what they take from our powers and from nature in characteristic fashion. The disengaged view obviously leans heavily on our powers of disengaged reason. This is the source which powers the austere ethic of self-responsible freedom, the courageous ethics of belief. But a conception of nature also enters into its ethic of benevolence-albeit this is hard to avow openly--if only in the rather minimal way, as we saw with E. O. Wilson, of enthusiasm at man's "evolutionary epic". Romantic or modernist views make more of our powers of creative imagination and generally draw on a much richer conception of nature, which has an inner dimension.

The fact that there is so much agreement about the standards, over deep divisions about the sources, is one of the motivations for the kind of moral theory, widespread today, which tries to reconstruct ethics without any reference to the good, as I discussed in section 3.3. It is in fact often possible to start from agreed intuitions about what is right, even across the gaps that separate the three families. But modern proceduralist ethics are also motivated by quite other considerations. In some cases, they spring from the disengaged family, and they share its reluctance or metaphysical embarrassment at open avowal of moral sources, or they may even believe that freedom requires their denial. Proceduralism can put a good face on this. And then again, as I tried to show in section 3-3, proceduralist ethics are sometimes motivated by strong commitment to the central modern life goods, universal benevolence and justice, which they wrongly believe can be given a special status by segregating them from any considerations about the good. In this they fit foursquare within the tradition of Enlightenment naturalism: the very austerity about the goods of the spirit enables us to dedicate ourselves so much more single-mindedly to universal beneficence. They continue in the line of Bentham's cri de cour about the love of humankind, of the agnostic's austere commitment to progress, of the struggle of Camus's Dr. Rieux to relieve suffering in a disenchanted world.

Of course, my map is overschematic. For one thing, the three domains don't stay the same; they are continually borrowing from and influenced by each other. For another, there have been attempts to straddle the boundaries and combine more than one. I mentioned Marxism as a marriage of Enlightenment naturalism and expressivism. But third, we need to see the map in a temporal dimension. Not everyone is living by views which have evolved recently. Many people live by pre-modernist forms of Romantic expressivism. In some respects, the actual goals which inspired the students' revolt of May 1968 in Paris, for all the borrowing of modernist forms from Situationism, Dada, Surrealism, avant-garde cinema, and the like,' were closer to Schiller than to any twentieth-century writer. The picture of a restored harmony within the person and between people, as a result of *décloisonnement", the breaking down of barriers between art and life, work and love, class and class, and the image of this harmony as a fuller freedom: all this fits well within the original Romantic aspirations. The basic notions could have been drawn from the sixth of Schiller's Aesthetic Letters. This picture comes close at times to a pre-Schopenhauerian perspective.

Then again, many of the ideas of "human potential" movements in the United States also go back to the original expressivism, partly through the indigenous American line of descent, including Emerson and Whitman. These movements often incorporate post-Freudian psychology, but frequently (as Europeans often remark) without the tragic sense of conflict which was central to Freud. Their notion of expressive fulfilment is very much "pre Schopenhauerian". Consider this personal credo:

BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. You are a child of the Universe no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Or again, there are strands of American evangelical Protestantism which in some respects are continuous with the spirituality of the Great Awakening. This is not to say that there have not been important changes: predestination has been forgotten, modern technology has been fully mobilized for revival in all sorts of ways this religion has been contaminated by the modern world. But there has been no willing and express acceptance of Romantic expres sivism or modernism. The emphasis is still on the saving power of grace and on the order which this alone can put in one's life.

My point here is not at all to depreciate these views, as though the later ones were bound to be better; only to show how understanding our society requires that we take a cut through time as one takes a cut through rock to find that some strata are older than others. Views coexist with those which have arisen later in reaction to them. This is to oversimplify, of course, because these rival outlooks g0 on influencing and shaping each other. Born-again Christians in the United States cannot help being somewhat influenced by expressive individualism. Indeed, some of them went through the latter, during the 1960's, for instance, and ended up joining a strict evangelical church. Something had to rub off.' But the outlooks are defined in polar opposition.

This is one reason why I have had to assemble the portrait of the modern identity through its history. An instantaneous snapshot would miss a great deal. Another reason is that only through adding a depth perspective of history can one bring out what is implicit but still at work in contemporary life: the Romantic themes still alive in modernism, masked sometimes by the anti-Romantic stance of modernists; or the crucial importance of the affirmation of ordinary life, which is in some ways too pervasive to be noticed; or the spiritual roots of naturalisi which modernism usually feels forced to suppress.

And only in this way was it possible to show the connections between the modern moral outlook and its multiple sources, on one hand, and the different evolving conceptions of the self and its characteristic powers, on the other; and to show also how these concepts of the self are connected with certain notions of inwardness, which are thus peculiarly modern and are themselves interwoven with the moral outlook. And I hope some light has been cast as well on the relation between these concepts and certain modes of narration of biography and history, as well as certain conceptions of how we hang together in society. It is this whole complex that I want to call the modern identity.

What can one hope to get out of drawing this portrait, beyond the satisfactions of greater self-understanding if one draws it right? Well, certainly this self-understanding has been one of my motives. But I also think that getting this straight can give one insight into issues that are hotly debated in our time. In particular, one can understand better the standing areas of tension or threatened breakdown in modern moral culture.

I believe there are three such. The first is the one I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: underneath the agreement on moral standards lies uncertainty and division concerning constitutive goods. The second great zone of tension contains the conflict between disengaged instrumentalism and the Romantic or modernist protest against it. The rise of modernism has made a difference in this conflict. The short way of explaining this is to say that it has transformed one of the forces in contest. Our conception of the creative imagination, of epiphany, and of the realities they give us access to has been transformed in the last century, and this has altered our view of the alternatives to disengaged reason. But in addition to the changes they have wrought in this second zone of tension, the developments over the last century which issued in modernism have also opened a breach between the first zone and the second.

The original Romantic expressivism, for all its tendency to exalt art, saw expressive fulfilment as compatible with morality, defined in terms of the modern standards. For Schiller, the full development of the play drive would make it possible to be spontaneously moral; we would no longer have to impose rules on our unwilling desires. But subsequent developments, through Schopenhauer, through the Baudelaire repudiation of nature, call this pre-established harmony into question and, through this, raise the issue whether an aesthetically realized life would also, could also, be moral. Nietzsche offers the most direct challenge: the way to the harmony of yea-saying passes through the repudiation of the ethic of benevolence. But in less dire ways, anyone in the post-Schopenhauerian stream has at least to raise the question whether artistic epiphany draws us to the same things that morality demands. Writers like Pound and Lawrence answer this question positively, but it obviously now remains a question; and when we consider some of the things they say, and Pound's politics in particular, one can wonder whether they themselves didn't fail to see the conflict implicit in their own views.

And so a third zone of potential conflict opens up: beyond the question about the sources of our moral standards, and the one which opposes disengaged instrumentalism to richer fulfilment, there is the question whether these moral standards are not incompatible with that fulfilment; whether morality doesn't exact a high price from us in terms of wholeness. This is a question which has come to the fore with certain contemporary 'post-modern' writers, influenced by Nietzsche, like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. We can call these conflicts, respectively, (1) the issue about sources, (2) the issue about instrumentalism, and (3) the issue about morality.


I want to look briefly at these from the standpoint of the picture of the modern identity I have drawn. Of course, this discussion really demands another book (at least) to do justice to it. But my goal here is less to contribute to the debate than it is to clarify further my portrait of the modern identity by indicating what this view inclines one to say, and I will take the licence of a prospectus to be terse and dogmatic, to offer a number of beliefs without fully adequate proof. I hope to trace a path through the controversies about modernity which is distinct from some of the most travelled ones of our time. Perhaps one day I'll be able to return to this question to show why one has to tread this path.

Let us begin with the second issue, the controversy about the disengaged instrumental mode of life, because that has been the centre of the most influential theories of modernity over the last two centuries.

From the Romantic period, the drift towards this mode of life in modern society has been attacked. The attack has been on two levels, as I mentioned in Chapter 21: that the disengaged, instrumental mode empties life of meaning, and that it threatens public freedom, that is, the institutions and practices of self-government. In other words, the negative consequences of instrumentalism are allegedly twofold, experiential and public.

Again and again, in a host of different ways, the claim has been made that an instrumental society, one in which, say, a utilitarian value outlook is entrenched in the institutions of a commercial, capitalist, and finally a bureaucratic mode of existence, tends to empty life of its richness, depth, or meaning. The experiential charge takes various forms: that there is no more room for heroism, or aristocratic virtues, or high purposes in life, or things worth dying for-Tocqueville sometimes talked like this, and he somewhat influenced Mill to have the same fears. Another claim is that nothing is left which can give life a deep and powerful sense of purpose; there is a loss of passion. Kierkegaard saw "the present age" in these terms;* and Nietzsche's "last men" are an extreme case of this decline, having no aspiration left in life but to a "pitiable comfort"S

The instrumental society may bring this about through the images of life it offers and celebrates, just by occluding deeper meanings and making them hard to discern. This is a criticism frequently made today of the mass media. Or it may do so by inducing and facilitating a merely instrumental stance, or even an overriding concern with a "pitiable comfort", This is a criticism frequently levelled at consumer society.

But the society's action can also be seen as more direct and forceful. The charge may be that the instrumental mode of life, by dissolving traditional communities or driving out carlier, less instrumental ways of living with nature, has destroyed the matrices in which meaning could formerly flourish. Or the action may be quasi coercive, as we see, for instance, in Max Weber's notion of modern society as an "iron cage"6 or Marx's theory of capitalism (from which Weber borrowed). Here the exigencies of survival in capitalist (or technological) society are thought to dictate: purely instrumental pattern of action, which has the inevitable effect of destroying or marginalizing purposes of intrinsic value.

The loss of meaning can be formulated in other ways. Weber, picking up a theme from Schiller, talks of the 'disenchantment' (Entzauberung) of the world. The world, from being a locus of 'magic', or the sacred, or the Ideas, comes simply to be seen as a neutral domain of potential means to our purposes.

Or else it can be formulated in terms of division or fragmentation. To take an instrumental stance to nature is to cut us off from the sources of meaning in it. An instrumental stance to our own feelings divides us within, splits reason from sense. And the atomistic focus on our individual goals dissolves community and divides us from each other. This is a theme we've seen before, articulated by Schiller. But it was also taken up by Marx (at least in his early work), and later by Lukács, Adorno, and Horkheimer, and Marcuse, as well as in the student movement of May 1968.

Or people speak of a loss of resonance, depth, or richness in our human surroundings; both in the things we use and in the ties which bind us to others. "All that is solid melts in air", Marx said; Marshall Berman has echoed this line from the Communist Manifesto in the title of his influential book.(7)

On the one hand, the solid, lasting, often expressive objects which served us in the past are being set aside for the quick, shoddy, replaceable commod ities with which we now surround ourselves. Albert Borgman speaks of the 'device paradigm', whereby we withdraw more and more from "manifold engagement" with the things surrounding us, and instead request and get products designed simply to deliver some circumscribed benefit. He contrasts what is involved in heating our houses with the contemporary central heating furnace, and what this same function entailed in pioneer times, when the whole family had to be involved in cutting and stacking the wood, feeding the stoves or fireplace, and the like.' Hannah Arendt focussed on the more and more ephemeral quality of modern objects of use. She argued that "the reality and reliability of the human world rest primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they are produced." This comes under threat in a world of modern commodities.' And Rilke in the seventh of the Duino Elegies links the need to transmute the world into interiority to the loss of substance of our contemporary man-made world.

	Nirgends, Geliebte, wird Welt sein, als innen. Unser
	Leben geht hin mit Verwandlung. Und immer geringer
	schwindet das Aussen. Wo einmal ein dauerndes Haus war,
	schlägt sich erdachtes Gebild vor, quer, zu Erdenklichem
	völlig gehörig, als ständ es noch ganz im Gehirne.
	... Ja, wo noch eins übersteht,
	ein einst gebetetes Ding, ein gedientes, geknietes--,
	hält es sich, so wei es ist, schon ins Unsichtbare hin.

	Nowhere, beloved will world be but within us. Our life
	passes in transformation. And the external
	shrinks into less and less. Where once an enduring house was,
	now a cerebral structure crosses our path, completely
	belonging to the realm of concepts, as though it still stood in	the brain
	... Where one of them still survives,
	a Thing that was formerly prayed to, worshipped, knelt before--
	just as it is, it passes into the invisible world.(10)

On the other hand, the individual has been taken out of a rich community life and now enters instead into series of mobile, changing, revocable associations, often designed merely for highly specific ends. We end up relating to each other through a series of partial roles.

So much for the experiential consequences. But public consequences are also frequently charged against instrumentalist society. One long-standing one, which have already discussed, is that it tends to destroy public freedom. Tocqueville has offered one variant of this, in his notion that atomic, instru mental society both saps the will to maintain this freedom and at the same time undermines the local foci of self-rule on which freedom crucially depends. There is another variant which Marx puts forward, this time directed specif ically at capitalist society, in his charge that it generates unequal relations of power which make a mockery of the political equality which genuine self-rule presupposes. More recently another realm of public consequences has entered the debate. Instrumental society is accused of ecological irresponsibility, which places the long-term existence and well-being of the human race in jeopardy. This is the range of political issues on which the moral and spiritual struggle around instrumentalism now primarily focusses.


My aim in setting out this sketch of the charges is to help illustrate my conception of the modern identity by describing the perspective it offers on them. There is a temptation, to which I will yield, to do this polemically, by showing what I think is wrong with the familiar and widely held perspectives. But one general point can be made at the outset. What emerges from the picture of the modern identity as develops over time is not only the central place of constitutive goods in moral life, hence illustrating my argument in Part I, but also the diversity of goods for which a valid claim can be made. The goods may be in conflict, but for all that they don't refute each other. The dignity which attaches to disengaged reason is not invalidated when we see how expressive fulfilment or ecological responsibility has been savaged in its name. Close and patient articulation of the goods which underpin different spiritual families in our time tends, believe, to make their claims more palpable. The trouble with most of the views that I consider inadequate, and that I want to define mine in contrast to here, is that their sympathies are too narrow. They find their way through the dilemmas of modernity by invali dating some of the crucial goods in contest.

This is aggravated by the bad meta-ethic I discussed in Part I, which wants to do without the good altogether and hence makes this kind of selective denial easier. Worse, by putting forward a procedural conception of the right, whereby what we ought to do can be generated by some canonical procedure, it accredits the idea that what leads to a wrong answer must be a false principle. It is quick to jump to the conclusion that whatever has generated bad action must be vicious (hence nationalism must be bad because of Hitler, communitarian ethics because of Pol Pot, a rejection of instrumental society because of the politics of Pound and Eliot, and so on). What it loses from sight is that there may be genuine dilemmas here, that following one good to the end may be catastrophic, not because it isn't a good, but because there are others which can't be sacrificed without evil.

Moreover, now that I'm allowing myself the licence of bald statement, want to make an even stronger claim. Not only are these one-sided views invalid, but many of them are not and cannot be fully, seriously, and unambivalently held by those who propound them. I cannot claim to have proved this, but what I hope emerges from this lengthy account of the growth of the modern identity is how all-pervasive it is, how much it envelops us, and how deeply we are implicated in it: in sense of self defined by the powers of disengaged reason as well as of the creative imagination, in the characteris tically modern understandings of freedom and dignity and rights, in the ideals of self-fulfilment and expression, and in the demands of universal benevolence and justice.

This should perhaps be a banal truism, but it isn't. And it isn't because there are strong and varied inducements to repudiate one or another aspect of the "package" have just outlined. These include the tensions within the modern identity itself, like that between its 'disengaged' and 'expressive' aspects which I'll be discussing in minute; or the rebellion against the stringent demands of benevolence which Nietzsche denounced so effectively, and which I will also look at later. Another important source of obscurity is the uneasiness of Enlightenment naturalism with any notion of the good, including its own. This has greatly contributed to the credence given to the proceduralist ethics I just mentioned.

All this, in a context of historical ignorance, helps to accredit the oversimple and almost caricatural readings of one or another strand of modernity. Such readings make various facets of modernity seem easy to repudiate. Narrow proponents of disengaged reason point to the irrational and anti-scientific facets of Romanticism and dismiss it out of hand, blithely unaware of how much they draw on a post-Romantic interpretation of life as they seek 'fulfilment' and 'expression' in their emotional and cultural lives. On the other hand, those who condemn the fruits of disengaged reason in technological society or political atomism make the world simpler than it is when they see their opponents as motivated by a drive to "dominate nature" or to deny all dependence on others, and in fact conveniently occlude the complex connections in the modern understanding of the self between disengagement and self-responsible freedom and individual rights, or those between instrumental reason and the affirmation of ordinary life. Those who flaunt the most radical denials and repudiations of selective facets of the modern identity generally go on living by variants of what they deny. There is large component of delusion in their outlook. Thus, to take other examples, defenders of the most antiseptic procedural ethic are unavowedly inspired by visions of the good, and neo-Nietzscheans make semi surreptitious appeal to a universal freedom from domination.

A proof of these charges would have to consider them case by case. 11 But an exploration of the modern identity like that I have attempted here should prepare us to see their validity by taking us beyond caricatural, one-sided readings and giving us a sense of how pervasive this identity is, and how implicated we are in all its facets.

I think it is important to make this point, because these various repudiations and denials are not just intellectual errors. They are also modes of self-stultification, if an acknowledgement of the good can empower. The retrieval of suppressed goods is not only valuable on the Socratic grounds that if we are going to live by the modern identity, it better be by an examined version of it. It is also a way in which we can live this identity more fully. Of course, whether this is an unmixed good depends on whether the identity is a self-destructive one, which is itself one of the major points at issue in the debate about modernity. I will return to this in the final sections. But right now, after these preliminary remarks, I propose to examine different readings of the dispute over instrumentalism, whose terms I laid out in the previous section.

The protagonists of disengaged reason are often totally dismissive of these complaints. The alleged experiential consequences are illusory. Those who complain lack the courage to face the world as it is, and hanker after the comforting illusions of yesteryear. The supposed loss of meaning reflects merely the projection of some confused emotions onto reality. As for the public consequences, these may be real enough, but they can only be faced by tackling the problems of democracy and ecology as technical questions and searching for the best solutions through the application of the relevant sciences, social and natural.

From my standpoint, this position involves a massive blindness to the goods which underlie the negative charges I just outlined, e.g., the recognition of some intrinsically valuable purpose in life beyond the utilitarian; expressive unity; the fulfilment of one's expressive potential; the acknowledgement of something more than instrumental meaning to the natural environment; certain depth of meaning in the man-made environment. It is not part of my brief to argue this here, because my purpose is to illustrate my position rather than establish it. But the lines of argument are obvious enough.

Goods, as I said in Part I, can't be demonstrated to someone who really is impervious to them. One can only argue convincingly about goods which already in some way impinge on people, which they already at some level respond to but may be refusing to acknowledge. The order of argument is in sense ad hominem, and involves showing that there is what Ernst Tugendhat calls a "way of experience"12 which leads from one's interlocu tor's position to one's own via some error-reducing moves, such as the clearing up of a confusion, the resolving of a contradiction, or the frank acknowledgement of what really does impinge.(13)

I don't think it would be hard to find such in the case of the extreme proponents of disengaged reason. If they are orthodox utilitarians, and if my arguments in Part I are valid, they will have an untenable meta-ethic to start with. In addition, as have just indicated, there is plenty of evidence that in their lives they are not impervious to such goods as expressive unity and integrity. Romanticism has shaped just about everyone's views about personal fulfilment in our civilization. The apologists of instrumentalism suppress their awareness of this when it comes to espousing their explicit ideology. They simplify their moral world by deliberately narrowing their sympathy. Or so I would wish to argue.

Moreover, the instrumentalist reading of the public consequences is badly off target. There is an important set of conditions of the continuing health of self-governing societies, well explored by Tocqueville. These include a strong sense of identification of the citizens with their public institutions and political way of life, and may also involve some decentralization of power when the central institutions are too distant and bureaucratized to sustain : continuing sense of participation by themselves. These conditions are under threat in our highly concentrated and mobile societies, which are so dominated by instrumentalist considerations in both economic and defence policies. What is worse, the atomist outlook which instrumentalism fosters makes people unaware of these conditions, so that they happily support policies which undermine them--as in the recent rash of neo-conservative measures in Britain and the United States, which cut welfare programmes and regressively redistribute income, thus eroding the bases of community identification. Atomism has so befogged our awareness of the connection between the act and consequence in society that the same people who by their mobile and growth-oriented way of life have greatly increased the tasks of the public sector are the loudest to protest paying their share of the costs of fulfilling them. The hegemony of this outlook in our politics, further entrenched by irresponsible bureaucracy, also represents a standing threat to our ecological well-being. Such would be my claim.(14)

There is another family of views which comes to the fore when one has rejected the instrumentalist reading. These are views which share with instrumentalism common roots in Enlightenment naturalism. They are as thoroughly human-centred, but they espouse some notion of expressive fulfilment. On one reading, Marxism is such a view; and certainly the various theories of the earlier Frankfurt school, of Adorno and Horkheimer in one way, and of Marcuse in another, fit this description. They may be optimistic about the human prospect, as Marxism is, or rather pessimistic, as the thinkers of the Frankfurt school tended to be. Indeed, it appears almost as if Adorno saw the human problem as insoluble in history. But what he nevertheless hung onto was a notion of integral expressive fulfilment, in which the demands of sensual particularity would be fully harmonized with those of conceptual reason, and in which the domination and suppression of the former by the latter would be overcome. This remains a critical standard, even where it cannot be integrally realized.

Obviously, I have much greater sympathy for this position, particularly in its "pessimistic" variants, where it comes close to an undistorted recognition of conflict between goods. But from the standpoint of the modern identity as I understand it, this view still remains too narrow. It is still entirely anthropocentric, and treats all goods which are not anchored in human powers or fulfilments as illusions from a bygone age. In this it shows its filiation to the radical Enlightenment. This means not only that it is closed to any theistic perspective, but that it can't even have a place for the kind of non-anthropocentric exploration of sources which has been an important part of modernist art, be it in Rilke, Proust, Mann, Eliot, or Kafka. It is forced in the end to offer a rather reductive account of these explorations, and to relate them to the search for an expressive fulfilment of the subject. It is tied in this sense to subjectivism.

Even leaving the issue of theism aside, what is striking is the fact that the modernist works and experiments which are most deeply convincing and moving, those which have lasted, have been precisely those which went beyond subjectivism-e.g., among others, the works of the five I just mentioned. And many of these writers set their face against a subjectivist art-this was very often part of what was involved in their anti-Romanticism. It seems an arbitrary act, an excessive reliance on an ideological allegiance to the naturalist Enlightenment, to negate all this a priori.

Too, a certain subjectivist expressivism has won its way into contempo rary culture, and its limitations seem obvious. In the human potential movement in the contemporary United States, and in other writings of similar tenor, there is a set of ideals which come from Romantic expressivism, in large part through indigenous American roots: Emerson and Transcenden talism, and Walt Whitman. The goals are self-expression, self-realization, self-fulfilment, discovering authenticity. But the present climate is much more impregnated with naturalism than were its nineteenth-century sources. One thing this climate derives from Enlightenment naturalism is the stance of defending nature and ordinary desire from what are seen as specious spiritual demands, which lay the external standards of tradition on the self and threaten to stifle its authentic growth and fulfilment. Another thing it inherits is the belief in science and technique, which naturally has particularly strong roots in the United States. This emerges in the great importance given to methods of therapy and the sciences which supposedly underpin them: psychoanalysis, psychology, sociology. These two together, the subordination of some of the traditional demands of morality to the requirements of personal fulfilment, and the hope that this can be promoted by therapy, make up together the cultural turn which has been named "the triumph of the therapeutic".(15)

As critics have pointed out, the modes of life which this outlook encourages tend to a kind of shallowness. Because no non-anthropocentric good, indeed nothing outside subjective goods, can be allowed to trump self-realization, the very language of morals and politics tends to sink to the relatively colourless subjectivist talk of 'values'. 16 To find the meaning to us of "our job, social class, family and social roles", we are invited to ask questions like this: "In what ways are our values, goals, and aspirations being invigorated or violated by our present life system? How many parts of our personality can we live out, and what parts are we suppressing? How do we feel about our way of living in the world at any given time?"(17)

But our normal understanding of self-realization presupposes that some things are important beyond the self, that there are some goods or purposes the furthering of which has significance for us and which hence can provide the significance a fulfilling life needs. A total and fully consistent subjectivism would tend towards emptiness: nothing would count as a fulfilment in world in which literally nothing was important but self-fulfilment.

What is more, the primacy of self-fulfilment reproduces and reinforces some of the same negative consequences as instrumentalism. Community affiliations, the solidarities of birth, of marriage, of the family, of the polis, all take second place. Here is advice on how to deal with the midlife crisis from the same influential book of the mid-1970's I just quoted.

    You can't take everything with you when you leave on the midlife journey.
    You are moving away. Away from institutional claims and other people's
	agenda. Away from external valuations and accreditations, in search of an
	inner validation. You are moving out of roles and into the self. If I could
	give everyone a gift for the send-off on this journey, it would be a tent. A
	tent for tentativeness. The gift of portable roots ...
	the delights of self-discovery are always available. Though loved
	ones moved in and out of our lives, the capacity to love remains.(18)

We may attain expressive fulfilment by this route (subject to the caveat about subjectivism in the previous paragraph), but in a world of changing affilia tions and relationships, the loss of substance, the increasing thinness of ties and shallowness of the things we use, increases apace. And the public consequences are even more direct. A society of self-fulfillers, whose affilia tions are more and more seen as revocable, cannot sustain the strong identification with the political community which public freedom needs. Robert Bellah and his coauthors probe this erosion of the political in their Habits of the Heart. The primacy of self-fulfilment, particularly in its therapeutic variants, generates the notion that the only associations one can identify with are those formed voluntarily and which foster self-fulfilment, such as the 'life-style enclaves' in which people of similar interests or situation cluster -- e.g., the retirement suburbs in the South, or revocable romantic relationships.19 Beyond these associations lies the domain of strategic rela tions, where instrumental considerations are paramount. The therapeutic outlook seems to conceive community on the model of associations like Parents without Partners, a body which is highly useful for its members while they are in a given predicament, but to which there is no call to feel any allegiance once one is no longer in need.(20) The ethic generated beyond self-fulfilment is precisely that of procedural fairness, which plays big role in the instrumentalist outlook. Politically, this bit of the 'counter-culture' fits perfectly into the instrumental, bureaucratic world it was thought to chal lenge. It strengthens it.

There can also be more sinister or threatening offshoots of this culture. The "triumph of the therapeutic" can also mean an abdication of autonomy, where the lapse of traditional standards, coupled with the belief in technique, makes people cease to trust their own instincts about happiness, fulfilment, and how to bring up their children. Then the "helping professions" take over their lives,(21) a process described by Foucault but perhaps not adequately explained by him. And the extreme mobility and provisional nature of relationships can lead to a shrinking of the time sense, a feeling of inhabiting a narrow band of time, with an unknown past and a foreshortened future.(22) But enough has been said on this score to sketch the case against this subjectivist expressivism.

The logical place to turn would be to an anti-subjectivist reading of this conflict, one that a had a place for goods which are not simply centred on the individual or on human fulfilment, a view equally critical of instrumentalism and of subjective expressivism. But the difficulty is that views of this kind are frequently themselves one-sided; they have their own form of narrowness, their own blind spots. Thus the book Habits of the Heart, on which I have drawn a great deal, seems itself to offer a too simple view of our predicament. Bellah and his collaborators often write as though the principal issue were what I have called the public consequences. They see the threat that first utilitarian, and now also expressive individualism pose for our public life. They search for ways to recover a language of commitment to a greater whole. But without ever saying so, they write as though there were not really an independent problem of the loss of meaning in our culture, as though the recovery of a Tocquevillian commitment would somehow also fully resolve our problems of meaning, of expressive unity, of the loss of substance and resonance in our man-made environment, of a disenchanted universe. A crucial area of modern search and concern has been elided.

In a rather different way, there is parallel elision in the work of Jürgen Habermas. In his Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns,23 he takes Adorno to task for his pessimistic judgement on modernity. The sense of an impossible conflict between instrumental reason and expressive fulfilment comes, Habermas thinks, from the faulty conception of the agent. Adorno is still operating with the old 'consciousness theory' model of traditional philosophy, which construes our predicament in terms of a relation of subject to object; whereas in fact, the agent iS constituted by language, hence by exchange between agents, whose relationship thus escapes the subject/object model. The significant others (Habermas has borrowed a great deal from George Herbert Mead) are not simply external to me; they help constitute my own selfhood.

Habermas reasons that Adorno, thinking as he does in terms of the subject/object relation, can only construe the advance of Enlightenment reason as involving an increasing instrumental domination of object by subject. But once we see that agents are constituted by exchange, we understand that reason also advances in another dimension, that of the rational search for consensus through argument.

Habermas's speech model certainly gives us reason to be less pessimistic about democracy and self-management than Adorno was, because we can sec how the advance of instrumental control over nature doesn't have to mean a parallel growth of instrumental control over people. Habermas thus corrects Adorno's estimate of the public consequences of instrumentalism. But why should this alter our view of the experiential consequences? The fact that the self is constituted through exchange in language (and, as I indicated in Part I, strongly agree with Habermas on this) doesn't in any way guarantee us against loss of meaning, fragmentation, the loss of substance in our human environment and our affiliations. Habermas, rather like Bellah and his associates, elides the experiential problem under the public, as though the two could be solved for the price of one.

What gets lost from view here is not the demands of expressive fulfilment, because Habermas does take account of these--they have their own differ entiated sphere of modern rationality, alongside the moral-practical and the cognitive-instrumental. Rather, what cannot be fitted into his grid is what the last two chapters have been mainly occupied with, the search for moral sources outside the subject through languages which resonate within him or her, the grasping of an order which is inseparably indexed to a personal vision.

Habermas's conception of modernity, which is partly inspired by Weber, is in this respect in line with a widespread view. It allows that there was a premodern sense that humans were part of a larger order, but it sees the development of modern rationality precisely as showing the incoherence of this view. It has differentiated the varied strands of reason, and the old sense of order falls between the strands. Now there can be (r) a scientific attempt to know the world as objectified, i.e., as no longer seen in terms of its meanings for us; (2) the attempt of practical reason to determine the right; and (3) explorations of subjective expressive integrity and authenticity.24 But there is no coherent place left for an exploration of the order in which we are set as a locus of moral sources, what Rilke, Pound, Lawrence, and Mann were doing in their radically different ways. This is not (1) because they are not trying to objectify this order; on the contrary. It is not (2) because Habermas has a procedural conception of practical reason. It is not (3) because that is concerned purely with subjective expression. It falls between the holes in the grid.

We can easily see why. It is not the exploration of an 'objective' order in the classical sense of publicly accessible reality. The order is only accessible through personal, hence "subjective', resonance. This is why, as argued earlier, the danger of a regression to subjectivism always exists in this enterprise. It can easily slide into a celebration of our creative powers, or the sources can be appropriated, interpreted as within us, and represented as the basis for '*liberation'. But at its best, in full integrity, the enterprise is an attempt to surmount subjectivism. It is just that this remains a continuing task, which cannot be put behind us once and for all, as with the public order of former times.

This exploration of order through personal resonance fares no better at the hands of another class of views, even more strongly anti-subjectivist than the ones just examined. These are views, like those of the followers of Leo Strauss, which are critical of the whole modern turn, both in its disengaged- instrumental and in its Romantic-expressive forms. The sympathies of this type of outlook tend to be rather narrow, and their reading of the varied facets of the modern identity unsympathetic. The deeper moral vision, the genuine moral sources invoked in the aspiration to disengaged reason or expressive fulfilment tend to be overlooked; and the less impressive motives pride, self-satisfaction, liberation from demanding standards brought to the fore. Modernity is often read through its least impressive, most trivializing offshoots.(25)

But this distorts. The most frivolous and self-indulgent forms of the human potential movement in the United States today can't give us the measure of the aspiration to expressive fulfilment as we find it, for instance, in Goethe or Arnold. And even the most frivolous manifestation may reflect more than we can see at a glance. Above all, we have to avoid the error of declaring those goods invalid whose exclusive pursuit leads to contemptible or disastrous consequences. The search for pure subjective expressive fulfil ment may make life thin and insubstantial, may ultimately undercut itself, as argued above. But that by itself does nothing to show that subjective fulfilment is not a good. It shows only that it needs to be part of a 'package', to be sought within a life which is also aimed at other goods. This can be the basis, of course, for a cruel dilemma, in which the demands of fulfilment run against these other goods one which thousands of divorcing or near divorcing couples are living through in our time, for instance. But a dilemma doesn't invalidate the rival goods. On the contrary, it presupposes them.

I have been looking at different readings of the dispute over instrumentalism: from the standpoints of disengaged reason and subjective expressivism; then through the eyes of certain writers who contain subjectivism by assuming the experiential problem under the moral and political; finally through eyes critical of the whole modern turn, with its rejection of the public cosmic order of meanings. My claim is that they are all too narrow. They are all too quick and dismissive in denying certain goods whose validity emerges, I want to argue, if one does a close study of the modern identity as it has developed. These are goods, moreover, by which we moderns live, even those who believe they deny them: as disengaged rationalists still puzzle through their personal dilemmas with the aid of notions like fulfilment; and anti moderns will themselves invoke rights, equality, and self-responsible freedom as well as fulfilment in their political and moral life.

But what has emerged from this quick survey is that, although they are narrow in different ways and they dismiss different goods, one class seems to be the especially unlucky target of all of them, and that is what I called the exploration of order through personal resonance. It falls through all the grids. The exclusion goes even wider than I have indicated. I haven't mentioned Weber, principally because I have many fewer criticisms to make of his theory. His is one of the most profound and insightful, in my view, not less because it has a lively sense of the conflict among goods. But even Weber, under the influence of a subjectivist interpretation of Nietzsche, has no place for this exploration.

This is a major gap. It is not just the epiphanic art of the last two centuries which fails to get its due by this dismissal. We are now in an age in which a publicly accessible cosmic order of meanings is an impossibility. The only way we can explore the order in which we are set with an aim to defining moral sources is through this part of personal resonance. This is true not only of epiphanic art but of other efforts, in philosophy, in criticism, which attempt the same search. This work, though it obviously fails of any epiphanic quality, falls into the same category. I have throughout sought language to clarify the issues, and I have found this in images of profound personal resonance like 'epiphany', 'moral sources', 'disengagement', 'empowering', and others. These are the images which enable me to see more clearly than I did before. They could, believe, be the animating ideas of an epiphanic work, but that would require another kind of capacity. The great epiphanic work actually can put us in contact with the sources it taps. It can realize the contact. The philosopher or critic tinkers around and shapes images through which he or another might one day do so. The artist is like the race-car driver, and we are the mechanics in the pit; except that in this case, the mechanics usually have four thumbs, and they have only a hazy grasp of the wiring, much less than the drivers have. The point of this analogy is that we delude ourselves if we think that philosophical or critical language for these matters is somehow more hard-edged and more free from personal index than that of poets or novelists. The subject doesn't permit language which escapes personal resonance.

We either explore this area with such language or not at all. That is why the dismissal of this kind of exploration has important moral consequences. Proponents of disengaged reason or of subjective fulfilment embrace these consequences gladly. There are no moral sources there to explore. Root and-branch critics of modernity hanker after the older public orders, and they assimilate personally indexed visions to mere subjectivism. Stern moralists, too, want to contain this murky area of the personal, and tend as well to block together all its manifestations, whether subjectivist or exploratory. Morality is held to be distinct from all this, independent of it, and imperiously binding. One way of making this kind of claim (seem to) stick is by adopting a proceduralist conception of morality. Habermas and Hare, for instance, have theories of this kind. A similar containment can be brought about by a certain theological outlook. Our commands come from God, and we can bypass and subordinate the area of personal sensibility.

But a study of the modern identity ought to make one dissatisfied with all these positions. It is not that the basic moral standards of modernity, concerning rights, justice, benevolence, depend on this exploration; they depend rather on goods to which we don't have access through personal sensibility. But there are other important issues of life which we can only resolve through this kind of insight; for instance, why it matters and what it means to have a more deeply resonant human environment and, even more, to have affiliations with some depth in time and commitment. These are questions which we can only clarify by exploring the human predicament, the way we are set in nature and among others, as a locus of moral sources. As our public traditions of family, ecology, even polis are undermined or swept away, we need new languages of personal resonance to make crucial human goods alive for us again.

And this exploration is not only important for its experiential relevance. It would greatly help in staving off ecological disaster if we could recover a sense of the demand that our natural surrounding and wilderness make on us. The subjectivist bias that both instrumentalism and the ideologies of personal fulfilment make almost inescapable makes it almost impossible to state the case here. Albert Borgmann points out(6) how much of the argument for ecological restraint and responsibility is couched in anthropocentric language. Restraint is shown as necessary for human welfare. This is true and important enough, but it is not the whole story. It doesn't capture the full extent of our intuitions here. Our ideological milieu constitutes a force field in which even doctrines of a quite different intent are bent to conformity.

To read, for instance, Rilke is to get an articulation of our farther, stronger intuitions, of the way the world is not simply an ensemble of objects for our use, but makes a further claim on us. Rilke expresses this claim in images of 'praising' and 'making inward', which seem to lay a demand of attention, of careful scrutiny, of respect for what is there. And this demand, though connected with what we are as language beings, is not simply one of self-fulfilment. It emanates from the world. It is hard to be clear in this domain, just because we are deep into a language of personal resonance. But something extremely important to us is being articulated here through whatever groping and fragmentary one-sidedness. To declare this whole kind of thinking without object is to incur a huge self-inflicted wound.


I have discussed the conflict over instrumentalism at some length because it has been in the forefront of the discussion of modernity for a couple of centuries. My intent was to clarify the modern identity by providing a reading of the conflict in which it provides the context, and I hope that something has been gained by this. What emerges is a perspective critical of most of the dominant interpretations for being too narrow, for failing to give full recognition to the multiplicity of goods and hence to the conflicts and dilemmas they give rise to.

What also emerges from this discussion and that of earlier chapters is the way in which various sorts of selective blindness are entrenched and aggravated by philosophical considerations. As we saw with Descartes and Locke, the developing power of disengaged, self-responsible reason has tended to accredit a view of the subject as an unsituated, even punctual self. This is from one perspective quite understandable: it involves reading the stance of disengagement, whereby we objectify facets of our own being, into the ontology of the subject, as though we were by nature an agency separable from everything merely given in us a disembodied soul (Descartes), or a punctual power of self-remaking (Locke), or a pure rational being (Kant). The stance is thereby given the strongest ontological warrant, as it were. But however understandable, the move is erroneous. I haven't had space to pursue this here, but much of the most insightful philosophy of the twentieth century has gone to refute this picture of the disengaged subject.(27)

What is important to note here is that this is not just a wrong view of agency; it is not at all necessary as a support to self-responsible reason and freedom. These ideals can and do have their validity (however limited by others); we can still recognize the development of this power (within proper bounds) as an important achievement of modernity, even when we cast off this invalid anthropology.

However, it is one of those facts about the current distribution of the onus of argument, about which spoke in Chapter 9, that the case against disengaged subjectivity always has to be made anew; and similarly for the understanding that this case doesn't invalidate (though it may limit the scope of) self-responsible reason and freedom. The way the debate normally goes, it is all too easy for it to polarize into two camps. On one side are the holders of the ideals of self-responsible reason and freedom, who feel they therefore must take on the disengaged anthropology. Very often, this comes about through their attachment to an empiricist epistemology, whose omni competence does presuppose something like the Lockean view of the subject.* On the other side are protesters against this somewhat desiccated outlook, who therefore feel that they have to reject altogether these ideals of reason and freedom.

In a similar -- understandable but invalid way, the radical Enlightenment accredited a philosophy which denied strong evaluation; and in its own fashion, the developing power of creative imagination has tended to lend colour to philosophies of subjective self-expression. These have also given rise to polarized debates in which the important insights get lost. All of this points to the crucial importance of the strands of philosophy I mentioned above, which have been trying to lift us out of the preconceptions we easily slide into and to develop anthropologies of situated freedom. The other two zones of tension I mentioned at the outset are not as widely recognized as the one I have been discussing. Rather their contours become evident only through the picture of the modern identity that have been drawing.

The one I listed first contained the issue about sources. There doesn't seem to be an important conflict here. We agree surprisingly well, across great differences of theological and metaphysical belief, about the demands of justice and benevolence, and their importance. There are differences, includ ing the stridently debated one about abortion. But the very rarity of these cases, which contributes to their saliency, is eloquent testimony to the general agreement. To see how much our consensus embraces, we need only compare any strand in our culture with basic beliefs held earlier and outside it: we may think, for instance, of judicial torture, or mutilation for crimes of theft, or even of an openly declared (as against hidden and unavowed) racism. So why worry that we disagree on the reasons, as long as we're united around the norms? It's not the disagreement which is the problem. Rather the issue is what sources can support our far-reaching moral commitments to benevolence and justice.

In our public debates standards which are unprecedentedly stringent are put forward in respect of these norms and are not openly challenged. We are meant to be concerned for the life and well-being of all humans on the face of the earth; we are called on to further global justice between peoples; we subscribe to universal declarations of rights. Of course, these standards are regularly evaded. Of course, we subscribe to them with a great deal of hypocrisy and mental reservation. It remains that they are the publicly accepted standards. And they do from time to time galvanize people into action-as in the great television-inspired campaigns for famine relief or in movements like Band-Aid.

To the extent that we take these standards seriously (and that varies from person to person), how are they experienced? They can just be felt as peremptory demands, standards that we feel inadequate, bad, or guilty for failing to meet. No doubt many people, probably almost all of us some of the time, experience them this way. Or perhaps we can get a 'high' when we do sometimes meet them, from a sense of our own worth or, more likely, from the momentary relief from the marginal but oppressive sense we usually have of failing to meet them. But it is quite different thing to be moved by a strong sense that human beings are eminently worth helping or treating with justice, a sense of their dignity or value. Here we have come into contact with the moral sources which originally underpin these standards.

These sources are plural, as we saw. But they have in common that they all offer positive underpinning of this kind. The original Christian notion of agapè is of a love that God has for humans which is connected with their goodness as creatures (though we don't have to decide whether they are loved because good or good because loved). Human beings participate through grace in this love. There is a divine affirmation of the creature, which is captured in the repeated phrase in Genesis I about each stage I of the creation, "and God saw that it was good". Agapê is inseparable from such a "seeing-good".

The different, more or less secularized successor notions all incorporate something similar. Thus Enlightenment naturalism, as I argued above, is in part motivated by the sense that in rejecting religion it is for the first time doing justice to the innocence of natural desire, that it is countering the calumny implicit in ascetic codes.

High standards need strong sources. This is because there is something morally corrupting, even dangerous, in sustaining the demand simply on the feeling of undischarged obligation, on guilt, or its obverse, self-satisfaction. Hypocrisy is not the only negative consequence. Morality as benevolence on demand breeds self-condemnation for those who fall short and a depreciation of the impulses to self-fulfilment, seen as so many obstacles raised by egoism to our meeting the standard. Nietzsche has explored this with sufficient force to make embroidery otiose. And indeed, Nietzsche's challenge is based on a deep insight. If morality can only be powered negatively, where there can be no such thing as beneficence powered by an affirmation of the recipient as a being of value, then pity is destructive to the giver and degrading to the receiver, and the ethic of benevolence may indeed be indefensible. Nietzsche's challenge is on the deepest level, because he is looking precisely for what can release such an affirmation of being. His unsettling conclusion is that it is the ethic of benevolence which stands in the way of it. Only if there is such a thing as agape, or one of the secular claimants to its succession, is Nietzsche wrong.

There are other consequences of benevolence on demand which Nietzsche didn't explore. The threatened sense of unworthiness can also lead to the projection of evil outward; the bad, the failure is now identified with some other people or group. My conscience is clear because I oppose them, but what can I do? They stand in the way of universal beneficence; they must be liquidated. This becomes particularly virulent on the extremes of the political spectrum, in a way which Dostoyevsky has explored to unparalleled depths. In our day as in his, many young people are driven to political extremism, sometimes by truly terrible conditions, but also by a need to give meaning to their lives. And since meaninglessness is frequently accompanied by a sense of guilt, they sometimes respond to a strong ideology of polarization, in which one recovers a sense of direction as well as a sense of purity by lining up in implacable opposition to the forces of darkness. The more implacable, even violent the opposition, the more the polarity is represented as absolute, and the greater the sense of separation from evil and hence purity. Dostoyevsky's Devils is one of the great documents of modern times, because it lays bare the way in which an ideology of universal love and freedom can mask a burning hatred, directed outward onto an unregenerate world and generating destruction and despotism.

The question which arises from all this is whether we are not living beyond our moral means in continuing allegiance to our standards of justice and benevolence. Do we have ways of seeing-good which are still credible to us, which are powerful enough to sustain these standards? If not, it would be both more honest and more prudent to moderate them. And in this connection, the issue I raised briefly in Chapter 19 recurs. Is the naturalist seeing-good, which turns on the rejection of the calumny of religion against nature, fundamentally parasitic? This it might be in two senses: not only that it derives its affirmation through rejecting an alleged negation, but also that the original model for its universal benevolence is agape. How well could it survive the demise of the religion it strives to abolish? With the 'calumny' gone, could the affirmation continue?

The question might arise in another form, following the discussion in section 23.6: perhaps the original Enlightenment affirmation was indeed confident, based on a highly idealized, immediately post-providential vision of nature. But can this affirmation be sustained in face of our contemporary post-Schopenhauerian understanding of the murkier depths of human moti vation? Is there somewhere a transfigurative power to see these as good, without paying Nietzsche's price?

Or must benevolence ultimately come to be conceived as a duty we owe ourselves, somehow required by our dignity as rational, emancipated moderns, regardless of the (un) worth of the recipients? And to the extent that this is so, how close will we have come to the world Dostoyevsky portrays, in which acts of seeming beneficence are in fact expressions of contempt, even hatred?

Perhaps another question might be put here as well. Is the naturalist affirmation conditional on a vision of human nature in the fullness of its health and strength? Does it move us to extend help to the irremediably broken, such as the mentally handicapped, those dying without dignity, fetuses with genetic defects? Perhaps one might judge that it doesn't and that this is a point in favour of naturalism; perhaps effort shouldn't be wasted on these unpromising cases. But the careers of Mother Teresa or Jean Vanier seem to point to a different pattern, emerging from a Christian spirituality. I am obviously not neutral in posing these questions. Even though I have refrained (partly out of delicacy, but largely out of lack of arguments) from answering them, the reader suspects that my hunch lies towards the affirma tive, that I do think naturalist humanism defective in these respects or, perhaps better put, that great as the power of naturalist sources might be, the potential of a certain theistic perspective is incomparably greater. Dostoyevsky has framed this perspective better than ever could here.

But I recognize that pointed questions could be put in the other direction well, directed at theistic views. My aim has been not to score points but to identify this range of questions around the moral sources which might sustain our rather massive professed commitments in benevolence and justice. This entire range is occluded by the dominance of proceduralist meta-ethics, which makes us see these commitments through the prism of moral obligation, thereby making their negative face all the more dominant and obtrusive?° and pushing the moral sources further out of sight. But the picture I have been drawing of the modern identity brings this range back into the foreground.


I want now to look very briefly at the third zone. What emerged from the discussion of the critique of instrumentalism was the need to recognize a plurality of goods, and hence often of conflicts, which other views tend to mask by delegitimizing one of the goods in contest. Instrumentralists can ignore the cost in expressive fulfilment or in the severing of ties with nature, because they don't recognize these. Critics of modernity are frequently just as dismissive about these goods, which for their part they dismiss as subjectivist illusion. Proponents of subjective fulfilment allow nothing to stand against *liberation'.

And the discussion we have just finished about the sources of benevolence brought us also to a crucial conflict, which has been illuminatingly explored in rather different ways by Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky: the demands of benevolence can exact a high cost in self-love and self-fulfilment, which may in the end require payment in self-destruction or even in violence. And indeed, there has been some awareness of this for some centuries now in our culture. The naturalist rebellion against the ascetic demands of religion and the earlier quiet rejection of Christianity by discreet individuals in the name of paganism reflect at least in part the recognition that a terribly high cost was being demanded.

In our day, the conflict has been further articulated by writers who have drawn on Nietzsche. One of the important themes one can find in the work of the late Michel Foucault is the understanding of the way in which high ethical and spiritual ideals are often interwoven with exclusions and relations of domination. William Connolly has formulated this aspect of Foucault's thought very aptly.(30) And contemporary feminist critique has also contrib uted greatly to this understanding, in showing how certain conceptions of the life of the spirit exclude women, accord them a lesser place, or assume their subordination.(31) The sense that in this and other ways hypergoods can stifle or oppress us has been one of the motives for the naturalist revolt against traditional religion and morality, as argued in Part I (sections 3.2-3). From all these examples, in my view, a general truth emerges, which is that the highest spiritual ideals and aspirations also threaten to lay the most crushing burdens on humankind. The great spiritual visions of human history have also been poisoned chalices, the causes of untold misery and even savagery. From the very beginning of the human story religion, our link with the highest, has been recurrently associated with sacrifice, even mutilation, as though something of us has to be torn away or immolated if we are to please the gods.

This is an old theme, well explored by Enlightenment thinkers, and particularly by those with what I called the 'neo-Lucretian' outlook (section 19.3). But the sad story doesn't end with religion. The Kharkov famine and the Killing Fields were perpetrated by atheists in an attempt to realize the most lofty ideals of human perfection.

Well, then, one might say, the danger attends religion, or else millenarist ideologies which are somewhat similar to religion in putting moral passion before hard evidence. What we need sober, scientific-minded, secular humanism.

But in spite of the richness, as yet not fully explored, of the neo-Lucretian stance, this still seems to me too simple. And the reason lies in the crucial difference between the perspective I have been exploring here and the various naturalist and Nietzschean critiques of self-immolation. Characteristically, these take the self-destructive consequences of a spiritual aspiration as refutation of this aspiration. They make once again what believe is the cardinal mistake of believing that good must be invalid if it leads to suffering or destruction.

Thus Enlightenment naturalism thought it was refuting Christianity in showing the cost of asceticism; Nietzsche often gives a picture of 'morality' which shows it to be merely envy, or device of the weak, or ressentiment, and which thus deprives it of all claim on our allegiance.(32) Foucault in his writings seemed to be claiming (I believe) impossible neutrality, which recognized no claims as binding.

But I have argued that this way of reasoning is deeply mistaken. Not only can some potentially destructive ideals be directed to genuine goods; some of them undoubtedly are. The ethic of Plato and the Stoics can't be written off as mere illusion. And even non-believers, if they don't block it off, will feel a powerful appeal in the gospel, which they will interpret in a secular fashion; just as Christians, unless immured in blinkered self-sufficiency, will recognize the appalling destruction wrought in history in the name of the faith. ==That is why adopting a stripped-down secular outlook, without any religious dimension or radical hope in history, is not a way of avoiding the dilemma, although it may be a good way to live with it.== It doesn't avoid it, because this too involves its 'mutilation'. It involves stifling the response in us to some of the deepest and most powerful spiritual aspirations that humans have conceived. This, too, is a heavy price to pay.

This is not to say, though, that if we have to pay some price, this may not be the safest. Prudence constantly advises us to scale down our hopes and circumscribe our vision. But we deceive ourselves if we pretend that nothing is denied thereby of our humanity.

Is this the last word? Does something have to be denied? Do we have to choose between various kinds of spiritual lobotomy and self-inflicted wounds? Perhaps. Certainly most of the outlooks which promise us that we will be spared these choices are based on selective blindness. This is perhaps the major point elaborated in this book.

But didn't undertake it in this downbeat a spirit. The kind of study I have embarked on here can be a work, we might say, of liberation. The intuition which inspired it, which I have recurred to, is simply that we tend in our culture to stifle the spirit. We do this partly out of the prudence I have just invoked, particularly after the terrible experiences of millenarist destruction of our century; partly because of the bent of modern naturalism, one of our dominant creeds; partly because of partisan narrowness all around. We have read so many goods out of our official story, we have buried their power so deep beneath layers of philosophical rationale, that they are in danger of stifling. Or rather, since they are our goods, human goods, we are stifling. The intention of this work was one of retrieval, an attempt to uncover buried goods through rearticulation-and thereby to make these sources again empower, to bring the air back again into the half-collapsed lungs of the spirit.

Some readers may find this overblown (though these will probably have stopped reading long ago). And perhaps I am merely overreacting to narrowness of the academy which has little effect on the world outside -- although I don't think this is so. Others may accuse me with greater apparent justice of inconsistency -- or even irresponsibility. If the highest ideals are the most potentially destructive, then maybe the prudent path is the safest, and we shouldn't unconditionally rejoice at the indiscriminate retrieval of empowering goods. A little judicious stifling may be the part of wisdom. The prudent strategy makes sense on the assumption that the dilemma is inescapable, that the highest spiritual aspirations must lead to mutilation or destruction. But if I may make one last unsupported assertion, I want to say that I don't accept this as our inevitable lot. The dilemma of mutilation is in a sense our greatest spiritual challenge, not an iron fate.

How can one demonstrate this? I can't do it here (or, to be honest, anywhere at this point). There is large element of hope. It is a hope that I see implicit in Judaeo-Christian theism (however terrible the record of its adherents in history), and in its central promise of a divine affirmation of the human, more total than humans can ever attain unaided. But to explain this properly would take another book. My aim in this Conclusion has only been to show how my picture of the modern identity can shape our view of the moral predicament of our time.


  1. See A. Willener, L'Image-Action de la société (Paris: Seuil, 1970), part IV.

  2. Quoted in Robert Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 63.

  3. See Steven M. Tipton, Getting Saved from the Sixties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

  4. S. Kierkegaard, Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age, A Literary Review, trans. H. V. and E. H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).

  5. "Erbärmliches Behagen"; Also Sprach Zarathustra, Zarathustra's Preface, sect. 3• Albert Borgman, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), seems to echo this in showing how the original liberating promise of technology can degenerate into "the procurement of frivolous comfort" (p. 39).

  6. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958), p. 181.

  7. Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air (New York: Verso, 1982).

  8. Borgmann, Albert, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 41-42.

  9. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Garden City: Doubleday, Anchor Edition, 1959), p. 83.

1O. The Seventh Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell, in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (New York: Vintage, 1984), p. 189.

  1. have tried to show the impossibility of some of the repudiations made by Michel Foucault in my "Foucault on Freedom and Truth", in Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); and I have tried to make the more general point in "Humanismus und moderne Identität" in Der Mensch in den modernen Wissenschaften, ed. Krzysztof Michalski (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1985). Richard Bernstein in "Serious Play: The Ethical-Political Horizon of Jacques Derrida", Journal of Speculative Philosophy (forthcoming), shows how much the appeal of Derrida's work turns on its apparent commitment to an ethic of non-domination.

  2. See Ernst Tugendhat, Selbstbewusstsein und Selbstbestimmung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979), p. 275.

  3. I have discussed this at greater length in "Explanation and Practical Reason" (forthcoming).

  4. I have argued these Tocquevillian theses at some length in various places, e.g., "Social Theory as Practice", and "Legitimation Crisis?", in Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); also "Alternative Futures", in Constitutionalism, Citizenship and Society in Canada, ed. Alan Cairns and Cynthia Williams (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985); "The Politics of the Steady State", in Beyond Industrial Growth, ed. Abraham Rotstein (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), and "Algunas condiciones para una democracia viable". Democracia y Participación, eds. R. Alveyey and C. Ruiz (Santiago: CERC, 1988). Bellah et al., Habits, gives a Tocquevillean reading of the moral languages of contemporary America. See also Michael Sandel, "The Proce dural Republic and the Unencumbered Self", Political Theory 12 (February 1984), 81-96.

  5. See the original work by Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (New York: Norton, 1966). The concept is now widely invoked. Christopher Lasch makes use of it in his Culture of Narcissism (New York: Norton, 1979), and The Minimal Self (New York: Norton, 1984). Alasdair Macin tyre has drawn on it in sketching his 'characters' of the emotivist era, After Virtue (Note Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), chap. 3; and Bellah et al. also invoke it in Habits, chap. 5

  6. See, e.g., Bellah et al., Habits, pp. 80, 131-133.

17, Gail Sheehy, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), p. 30.

  1. Ibid., pp. 364, 513.

  2. Ibid., chap. 3

  3. Ibid., chap. 5- Steven Tipton, one of the co-authors of Habits, in his Getting Saved from the Sixties, chap. 5, shows how some of the milieus in the human potential movement, as well as certain sects, make it possible for people to integrate an expressive private life with an instrumental work and public life, although in their original 1960's posture the first was undermining the second.

  4. Christopher Lasch, chap. 7 passim, p. 387; idem, chap. I.

  5. Lasch, Narcissism, chap. 1; idem, Self, chap. 2.

  6. Jürgen Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, 2 vols. (Frank furt: Suhrkamp, 1981), I, chap.

  7. Ibid., chap. I.

  8. This is pattern it is easy to fall into. Even Bellah et al. sometimes present their subjectivist respondents in a largely negative light. Or perhaps the pattern is there in the mind of the reader. In any case, a penetrating book like Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue can create the impression in some readers of dismissing the 'Enlightenment project' as simply a mistake.

  9. Borgmann, Technology, chap. 11.

  10. See, for instance, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, La Phénoménologie de la per ception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945); Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tüb ingen: Niemayer, 1927); the works of the later Wittgenstein can also, I think, be seen in this light; as also Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge (New York: Harper, 1964); and The Tacit Dimension (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966).

  11. I have discussed this at greater length in "Overcoming Epistemology", in After Philosophy: End or Transformation? ed. Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman, and Thomas Macarthy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987).

  12. Bernard Williams, in his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana, 1985), chap. 10, shows the centrality of the notion of obligation to the dominant meta-ethic. Williams's chapter is entitled "Morality, the Peculiar Institution", and this gives some indication of its bent.

  13. See, c.g., William Connolly, "Taylor, Foucault and Otherness," Political Theory 13, no. 3 (August 1985), 365-376.

  14. See, c.g., the discussion of the tradition of political theory in Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

  15. But Nietzsche's thought is, as always, more many-sided and complex than this. See the section "Was bedeuten asketische Ideale?" in Jenseits von Gut und Böse.