Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods

The Tragic and the Ordinary: Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self
Sara Beckwith, Katherine Everett Gilbert Professor of English, Theater Studies and Religion, Duke University


Charles Taylor’s book is a capacious philosophical history and moral essay. It offers us a rich picture of human agency and its goods, in eloquent opposition to the dangerous reductions and seductions of scientism (the idea that the humanities should model themselves on the protocols of science). In this lecture I will focus on one aspect of Taylor’s broad, deep history, what he calls the affirmation of ordinary life. I will ask what constitutes the ordinary for Taylor in his history. I’ll also explore Taylor’s own education in ordinary language philosophy at Oxford, and finally ask whether Taylor’s idea of the ordinary can accommodate the tragic. If not, what are the consequences for his philosophical history?



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