Graduate studies at Western
Inquiry 34 (2):155 – 182 (1991)
|Abstract||In his impressive and wide?ranging new book, Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor argues that modern moral philosophy, at least within the Anglo?American tradition, . offers a ?cramped? view of morality. Taylor attributes this problem to three distinctive features of contemporary moral theory ? its commitment to procedural rather than substantive rationality, its preference for basic reasons rather than qualitative distinctions, and its belief in the priority of the right over the good. According to Taylor, the result of these features is that contemporary moral theories cannot explain the nature of a worthwhile life, or the grounds for moral respect. Indeed, they render these questions unintelligible. I argue that Taylor has misunderstood the basic structure of most modern moral theory, which seeks to relocate, rather than suppress, these important questions. In particular, he fails to note the difference between general and specific conceptions of the good, between procedures for assessing the good and specific outcomes of that procedure, and between society's enforcement of morality and an individual's voluntary compliance with morality. Each of these distinctions plays an important role in contemporary moral theory. Once they are made explicit, it is clear that many contemporary theorists operate with a more sophisticated account of moral sources than Taylor attributes to them|
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