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Fr. 518

June 3, 2014

Secondly, there is the worry about who precisely is to carry out this expression or articulation of identity and individual. Tempting though it might be to confide the task to a third party, a professional without the first-person limits to self-awareness, this task would in the end prove an enormous labor insofar as he or she would be required to collect information and data which are simply not available to him or her as a third party. Therefore, the task would seem to fall to the person in question. This need is underscored in a way by the central place that is given to the person as the subject of expression or articulation:

“Why do we think of fundamental orientation in terms of the question, Who? The question Who? is asked to place someone as a potential interlocutor in a society of interlocutors […] To be someone who qualifies as a potential object of this question is to be such an interlocutor among others, someone with one’s own standpoint or one’s own role, who can speak for him/herself” (p. 29).

In the same vein, Taylor highlights this quality of person as subject of expression in the later Chapter 10 “Exploring ‘La condition humaine'”. This stance on the person’s self-articulation is, however, shot through with empirical and conceptual difficulties. Quite simply, we might say that human beings are simply not good at this kind of articulation, as is attested by the popularity of personality tests in our day and age, which attempt to make of a random set of data a coherent vision of our selves (i.e. given your data, you have this kind of self or that). Certainly, we push back at these attempted self-definitions through expansion, substitution or denial. The fact remains that we turn first to an objective point-of-view to provide the broad outlines of our selves. In certain important ways, we are blind to our selves and to a more or less complete picture of ourselves.  To some extent, it is not simply that we are temporarily blind; in some extreme cases, it is also that we cannot be made to see under any circumstances. As a case in point, Taylor highlights one such instance quite effectively in the first part of Sources of the Self when he shows in just what way the humanist-scientist-utilitarian approach to ethics and ways of life is itself indebted to older, more religious forms of life without being aware of these roots and moral sources.

That said, this inability owes to other factors beyond this first-person blindness. Some people may lack the conceptual tools and resources needed to carry out a sophisticated inquiry into their identity. Others may simply lack the will to pursue such an inquiry. In short, for every good reason to posit an articulable grammar of identity with distinct elements, there seems another equally worthwhile good reason to avoid positing an entity of this kind. Confronted with this dilemma, we, like a hypothetical and less charitable Taylor, could consider such an undertaking doomed from the very beginning, simply in virtue of its object.

It is our intent to rebut certain of these difficulties through a mixed argumentative strategy, both top-down and conceptual, bottom-up and empirical. From the top-down and conceptual perspective, it is our intent here to show that the object of this study, self and a grammar of identity, can be both be made more concrete and rendered more accessible to some hypothetical public. This has already been accomplished to one degree or another through the supplements that we have proposed to: Taylor’s presentation of the moral framework-identity equivalence; the categories of universal and particular; context-dependent identity. We can add to this the schematism of subject and individual, as distinct from one another, self, and the human person. In all of these, our account has brought greater clarity and understanding to certain intuitions that we hold about ourselves without, by the same token, leaping into the deep end of the abstract and there floundering.

If it is possible to build on and take Taylor’s account further in places all the while providing concrete indications for self-understanding and -articulation, there is neither an a posteriori nor a priori reason to exclude an exploration of the self in some more general terms. As our presentation is, like Taylor’s, an interpretation, we can remark general trends and develop broader strategies without positing the existence of some specious, unitary entity. At each point where Taylor has stopped short, we have shown that it is possible to go further, at least, to some degree. The real question for this account is then not principally “Why is such an interpretation of self, on the model of “best account available”, possible?” but rather “How far can this interpretation be taken?”. Therein lies the true interest of our account: to see to what extent we can meld the concrete exigencies of modern society with the conceptual resources of a grammar of identity. If the proof is in the pudding, our interpretation thus far does not seem without its grounds and has revealed certain helpful generalizations.


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