Living a life and the problem of existential impossibility

Inquiry 34 (2):217 – 236 (1991)
Taylor's book Sources of the Self faces the tasks of showing how persons are situated in moral traditions and how these can be used in moral arguments. ?Moral traditions? cover answers to questions of the meaning of life, of the good life and of justice. The first part of this paper deals with the relationship of persons with moral traditions. Do people have to make sense of their lives, do they have to distinguish between worthy and unworthy ways of living? It is argued that people have a strong need to answer these questions; life would be unbearable without biographical narratives; living without orientation towards the good is an existential impossibility. Taylor's theory is evaluative in the sense that his transcendental conditions of personhood are necessary because they fulfil a practical need. The second part of the paper examines the use of articulating moral traditions. It is claimed that they can be useful in practical discourse but that they presuppose the moral point of view. Moral traditions answer the question why people are worthy of respect, but not why we should ask that question. It is argued that a minimal version of the principle of equal respect is built into the structure of communication, so that we have no choice but to ask for the normative justification of relationships
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