Begin Where You Are: Self-Knowledge and the Objectivity of Values in Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self

Date

2018-03-29

Authors

Holmgren, Elena

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Abstract

“To begin where you are” is to explain - rather than explain away - what is given in the experience from which we depart in all theorizing. If Taylor's analysis of value experience is right, value distinctions form part of our starting point properly conceived. He shows that our best account of self presupposes the objectivity of values. Moreover, he presents a series of convincing arguments showing that the standard naturalist ontology, with its third-personal emphasis lacks the conceptual resources to situate either selves or values in the world. He proposes that we can make more progress in explaining – rather than explaining away – the value terms that form part of our starting point if we seek a naturalism that takes seriously Taylor's "Best Account" principle, and that recognizes the conceptual priority of the first-person, subject stance. However, while Taylor reveals the incoherence of a naturalist account of self and value, he fails to do more than supply a diagnosis of the problem facing our paradigm, leaving no inkling of its solution. His phenomenological account of value experience describes the explanandum for moral ontology, but in so doing, merely sets the challenge for further theory. What we need is an ontology of value that better grounds our best account of our experience than current naturalism does. In this work, I draw on the little-known work of Donald Walhout in The Good and the Realm of Values to show what such a positive proposal might look like. Walhout's Aristotelian concept of function, which straddles the normative and the descriptive, as well as the subjective and the objective domains, can help us explain value non-reductively. It thereby paves the way to a first-person-friendly naturalism that finally puts value experience on the map.

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Keywords

Phenomenology, moral ontology, axiology, value theory, Charles Taylor, ontology of self, naturalism, first-person

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