1. What is strong evaluation? A reading and reconstruction of Taylor’s central concept

In Strong Evaluation Without Moral Sources: On Charles Taylor's Philosophical Anthropology and Ethics. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 13-60 (2008)
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One of the central concepts in Charles Taylor’s philosophy is that of strong evaluation. What is strong evaluation? The crucial idea is that human relations to the world, to self and to others are value-laden. In the first subsection the central features of the concept of strong evaluation are discussed, namely qualitative distinctions concerning worth and the role of strong evaluation for identity. The nature of strong evaluations both as background understandings and explicit judgements is clarified. It is also claimed that strong evaluation is not precisely a matter of second-order desires, but of evaluative beliefs. In subsection 1.2, some additional and less central characterizations are scrutinized: contingent conflicts, articulacy, discriminacy, reflectivity, depth. The claim is that most of these are not criterial for the distinction between strong and weak evaluations. In the third subsection various criticisms are taken up (from Ernst Tugendhat, Jurgen Habermas, Owen Flanagan, Joel Anderson), which are relevant for defining strong evaluations and assessing the role strong evaluation has in ethics. The terminological solutions are here connected to substantive issues in moral theory. I will defend Taylor against three aspects of a Kantian critique that the notion of strong evaluation is too broad, and overlooks crucial distinctions. Should one distinguish between moral and other values more clearly? Should one distinguish between categorical and optional goods more sharply? Should one distinguish between the whole “moral map” and one’s own orientation more clearly? I think these are indeed essential questions, but they are to be answered within the realm of qualitative distinctions concerning worth. The Kantian attempts to segregate one type of issue as involving strong evaluation and another type of issue as not involving it are misguided. In the fourth subsection I put forward three critical claims in an attempt to show that the notion of strong evaluation as Taylor defines it is too narrow (or at least ambivalent about how narrow it is). These critiques are inspired by more comprehensives approaches to ethics (e. g. by Joseph Raz or Paul Ricoeur). First, is strong evaluation restricted strictly to second-order self-evaluation (as some formulations by Taylor seem to suggest), or does it cover value-judgement in general (as some other formulations by Taylor seem to suggest)? In the broad sense, strong evaluations also include first-order judgements made in various different situations, and background commitments to goods. I suggest that the broad sense be adopted. Second, how does the distinction between strong and weak evaluations relate to “small” values? Third, can self-evaluation succeed without the deontic layer of reasons and norms and if not, does the concept of strong evaluation cover that as well? I defend a different line from Taylor on the issues of small values and the deontic realm. This will lead to a suggestion of “strong evaluation in an extended sense”.



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Arto Laitinen
Tampere University

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