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Charles Taylor’s ‘Sexuated’ Subjects



In his major work, Sources of Self, Charles Taylor undertakes a massive project. As he writes in the preface, it is nothing less than ‘an attempt to articulate and write a history of the modern identity.’ This is approached through an examination of philosophical thought from its Platonic beginnings in ancient Greece, through the lens of certain modern philosophers of whom Heidegger figures prominently. However, what distinguishes Taylor’s contribution to our conception of the self is his unique mix of epistemology and philosophy of language, which are combined with his own views on the moral inheritance passed down to us by past generations. In fact, if we subtract the latter aspect from his overall approach, Taylor’s philosophy reduces to those very views of modern selfhood that he endeavors to oppose throughout all of his writings. Thus, to assess the overall value of Taylor’s contribution to our notion of the self, we should properly focus our efforts on his specific thoughts surrounding the moral subject.

Fortunately, this is easily done. Prior to his publication of Sources of Self, Taylor wrote two articles1, “Responsibility for Self” and “What is Human Agency?”, in which he specifically argues that the notion of the self is inextricably linked with the notion of responsibility for the self. This thesis is clearly thematic of his entire book, as witnessed right from the opening pages. In fact, as the very first paragraph has it, selfhood and morality are so tightly interlinked that any investigation would fail if they were not considered together as foundational to what he calls the ‘Inescapable Framework’ – the title of the first chapter. As well, this notion is reiterated as the explicit theme in many of his other papers. It seems reasonable, therefore, to assume that this thesis forms a critical feature of Taylor’s philosophy – if not outright constituting the core of his thought – with respect to which all other elements are defined. Accordingly, we will examine in detail the two above cited papers, largely because of their convenience in providing a self-contained, sustained and detailed discussion of Taylor’s principle thesis: how it is that responsibility for the self is inherently linked with the self, at the level of its notion? However, we will not only assess the conceptual content found therein. More importantly, we will analyze Taylor’s argument at the structural level. That is, our analysis will in large part be directed at the topological framework which could be said to ‘lie beneath’ or ‘behind’ his text, that which provides support for its conceptual products. It will be argued that it is from the standpoint of the logical (in)consistency of this framework which ultimately should decide for us the coherence of Taylor’s conclusions. If the topological support structure of those conclusions (and of the arguments leading to them) is found to be faulty, then those conclusions must seriously be questioned.

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