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Three Malaises of Modernity. malaise, n. 1. (A feeling of) vague, non-specific physical discomfort; absence of the sense of physical well-being. 2. fig. Uneasiness of mind or spirit; the unhealthy state of an institution, organization, activity, or situation. (OED)

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malaise, n.


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    1. Three Malaises of Modernity malaise, n. 1. (A feeling of) vague, non-specific physical discomfort; absence of the sense of physical well-being. 2.fig. Uneasiness of mind or spirit; the unhealthy state of an institution, organization, activity, or situation. (OED) Taylor begins by trying to help us articulate three malaises – widespread but not always clearly defined concerns about the modern world.

    2. Three Malaises of Modernity 3 Malaises: 1) Individualism. “… the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society.” Phil Connors at the start of Groundhog Day is an individualist in this sense. 2) Emphasis on instrumental reason. Instrumental reason is “the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end.” The worry is that this type of reason displaces all others. 3) Loss of freedom. What Tocqueville calls “soft despotism.” We find ourselves alone facing a “vast bureaucratic state.” Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 4, 5, 10.

    3. The Great Chain of Being Taylor is ambivalent about the abandonment of this shared sense of cosmic hierarchy. On the one hand “Modern freedom came about through the discrediting of such orders” and yet many of us worry that “the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action.” Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 3.

    4. Sources of Inarticulacy Soft relativism. Allan Bloom: soft relativism is the default assumption of modern educated youth (and many others besides). A default attitude of respect seems very close to indifference. We are too nice. Egoism. Taylor: It is not just that people put themselves first selfishly; they feel called to pursue their own careers in the search for fulfillment in authenticity. The liberalism of neutrality. This is the view that “a liberal society must be neutral on questions of what constitutes a good life.” This is not necessarily based upon soft relativism, but it is a cause of the marginalization of talk of ideals from political debate. Social science? Eschews reference to ideals in understanding society. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 17-18.

    5. The Sources of Authenticity • 1. The Moral Sense: a voice within discerning right or wrong. • 2. Rousseau (and others): Self-determination becomes a central ideal. Not just formal freedom, but acting independently of the influence of others. • 3. Herder: Each person has an original way of being human, his own measure.

    6. An Exercise in Retrieval “The picture I am offering is… that of an ideal that has degraded but that is very worthwhile in itself, and indeed, I would like to say, unrepudiable by moderns. So what we need is neither root-and-branch condemnation nor uncritical praise; and not a carefully balanced trade-off. What we need is a work of retrieval, through which this ideal can help us restore our practice. To go along with this, you have to believe three things, all controversial: (1) that authenticity is a valid ideal; (2) that you can argue in reason about ideals and about the conformity of practices to these ideals; and (3) that these arguments can make a difference.” Overall, Taylor sees more to be pleased about in the moral state of modernity. They can both agree that progress has been made on a number of important issues – the abolition of slavery, the advent of universal suffrage, etc. – but Taylor also believes that we have made moral advances at a conceptual level. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 23.