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Fr. 514

April 28, 2014

In what form is this articulation to be given? And who is to do the articulating of our moral framework?

To the first question, Taylor’s own presentation provides an indirect answer. In order to discover the moral framework on which we draw and to which we appeal in our moral reactions, we must engage, first, in a work of self-exploration so as to be able to identify the sources responsible for our moral empowerment and, second, in a process of careful restitution of all that is bound up with these moral sources. The joint processes of exploration and restitution allow us not only to understand the dynamos driving our moral judgments and thought processes, but also better to situate our moral framework in the larger moral taxonomy and in relation to those of other persons.

In this way, the private and public ends come together in a single exercise. For even as we explore ourselves and identify the pertinent moral sources in our lives, we grant further definition to these by making them explicit and, thus, realize them in a form previously unavailable to them. In other words, in making the framework and sources publically available to ourselves and others, our attempt to define the framework entails or perhaps even constitutes its creation in a new form. (Interestingly, this falls very much in line with Taylor’s breakdown of post-Romantic expressivism’s lasting effects in contemporary society.) Case in point: Taylor’s own careful exploration and restitution of the modern identity (theism, Enlightenment naturalism, post-Romantic expressivism) at once reveals what was already present beneath the surface at the level of unspoken sources and gives rise to a new framework, one that permits us to think and understand ourselves in ways previously unavailable.

This last example leads us indirectly to our second question. If, generally speaking, it falls to a learned scholar like Taylor to reveal and create the modern moral framework and identity, it remains to be seen who is to carry this out on a more limited scale for the concrete individual or person. Is the person him or herself to have a hand in this process? At best, Taylor seems ambivalent about this possibility: “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” (p. 9).

In short, Taylor holds that, at least at times and in certain areas, third-person access and perspectives are least as effective in setting out the bounds of the person’s moral framework as the first-person access and perspective available to this person. More simply, in some respects, outsiders have a more accurate take on specific aspects of the person’s moral framework. To what does this irregularity owe? One reason might be found in the cognitive shortcomings and personal biases with which psychologists and cognitive scientists are well acquainted. That said, Taylor attributes this to a lack of internal consistency between the person’s express beliefs and the implied.

More specifically, he maintains that: “This is because there may be […] a lack of fit between what people as it were officially and consciously believe […] and what they need to make sense of some of their moral reactions […]” (p. 9). Accordingly, it might be necessary in some circumstances to appeal to a third party, acquainted with a certain level of conceptual analysis and hence capable of drawing those connections or signaling the lack thereof. Taylor is keen to note that such an endeavor remains nonetheless worthwhile for the individual, even should he or she have to seek out aid of this kind. For “the map of our moral world, however full of gaps, erasures, and blurrings, is interesting enough”, perhaps even interesting in itself (p. 11).

After all, the map of our moral world is simultaneously, on a certain reading of Taylor’s argument, a map of our self. As we shall see in another piece shortly to follow, Taylor equates the modern moral framework and its sources with the modern identity itself. This enables us to posit the closest of connections between exploration of framework and self, which in turn generates all sorts of fruitful directions in which to pursue this parallel.

Generally speaking, if moral framework and identity are indeed equivalent in this way, then there seems as much reason to explore the latter as the former. (Indeed, there seems reason to explore the self in a way that Taylor fails to do so, for reasons to be clarified elsewhere.) One of the first parallels that we might pursue is as follows. If our moral framework is also our identity and a moral framework is required to make sense of (or render consistent) our moral reactions and the fact of making sense of supposes that there is something substantive (in some broad sense) to be described, then the same can be maintained of identity and self. In sum, this approach supposes that there is something like the self to be described in a careful work of exploration and restitution, even beyond that which Taylor posits in the modern identity.

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