The self as the locus of morality: A comparison between Charles Taylor and George Herbert Mead's theories of the moral constitution of the self

Abstract

This paper it provides a critical comparison of two leading exponents of the relationship between morality and selfhood: Charles Taylor and George Herbert Mead. It seeks to provide an assessment of the contribution each approach is able to make to a social theory of morality that has the self at its heart. Calhoun (1991: 232-233) argues that ‘Charles Taylor is perhaps the best starting point for recovering a strong and crucial understanding of the self as moral subject’, and that his work is able to ‘offer extremely valuable guidelines and first steps to this potential sociological enterprise’. Contrary to this, I argue that while many of Taylor’s (1989) arguments clearly resonate with sociological approaches (such as his critique of proceduralism and the decontextualised moral subject, as well as his emphasis on cultural historicity and the intersubjective formation of moral selfhood), the way he hinges his argument on a ‘transcendental’ phenomenological account of identity (1989: 32), rather than an interactional social ontology, has problematic consequences for how Taylor understands the relationship between morality and selfhood. His attempts to use a phenomenological perspective to show how human selfhood and identity are inextricably connected with a basic moral ‘ontology of the human’ (Taylor, 1989: 5) produces a weak ontological argument, leads to an overly moralised and intellectualist conceptualisation of identity, and assumes individuated dialogic moral subjectivity to be ontologically basic, rather than developing through interaction. Indeed, his phenomenological account neglects the significance of interaction and social relations in his conceptualisation of the relationship between morality and self, which undermines the capacity of his framework to explain how moral understandings and dialogic moral subjectivity develop in a world of shared meaning. I then argue that Mead’s pragmatist interactionist approach overcomes many of the flaws in Taylor’s framework, and offers a grounded conceptualisation of the relationship between self and morality that is able to provide a basis for a properly social account of moral subjectivity. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Download options

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,879

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Analytics

Added to PP
2020-09-23

Downloads
17 (#642,528)

6 months
1 (#386,016)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Owen Abbott
University of Manchester

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

George Herbert Mead on Social and Economic Human Rights.Joseph Betz - 2013 - In F. Thomas Burke & Krzysztof Piotr Skowronski (eds.), George Herbert Mead in the Twenty-First Century. Lexington Press. pp. 175.
7. George Herbert Mead as a Socio- Environmental Thinker.Bradley H. Brewster & Antony J. Puddephatt - 2019 - In Hans Joas & Daniel R. Huebner (eds.), The Timeliness of George Herbert Mead. University of Chicago Press. pp. 144-164.
George Herbert Mead on the Social Bases of Democracy.David W. Woods - 2013 - In F. Thomas Burke & Krzysztof Piotr Skowronski (eds.), George Herbert Mead in the Twenty-First Century. Lexington Press. pp. 203.
The Concept of Rule-Following in the Philosophy of George Herbert Mead.Roman Madzia - 2013 - In F. Thomas Burke & Krzysztof Piotr Skowronski (eds.), George Herbert Mead in the Twenty-First Century. Lexington Press. pp. 61.
4. George Herbert Mead and the Promise of Pragmatist Democracy.Robert Westbrook - 2019 - In Hans Joas & Daniel R. Huebner (eds.), The Timeliness of George Herbert Mead. University of Chicago Press. pp. 82-91.