The human agent and the retrieval of authenticity in the writings of Charles Taylor: a new realism?

In A Secular Age Taylor makes reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan,[i] following Ivan Illich, to illustrate how his understanding of the human agent not only differs in practice from more common conceptions of the same but, as a more faithful account of how live is lived in the light of the past, is a more truthful account.[ii]

My argument will attempt to demonstrate the intelligibility of Taylor’s analysis within a twenty-first century Western European/North American context and as such I will be drawing on my own experiences working in the United Kingdom as a social care professional.  In the first instance I will argue for the intelligibility of Taylor’s analysis, as posited in his understanding of human beings as self-interpreting animals,[iii]that those actions unique to and constitutive of human agency, are irreducible to either sensibility or reason but wrought by their synergetic action.  I will then argue that common therapeutic practices, central within a Western understanding of life in late-modernity, demonstrate the incongruity between current social perceptions of human agency and those values it purports to embody.  In conclusion, I will argue that rather then cutting across the central ideas of human emancipation consciously drawn upon within late modernity to effect a more considerate, benevolent, understanding and just age,[iv]Taylor’s analysis of the human agent calls for a fundamental re-orientation that embodies these ‘goods’ in a more consistent and fulsome manner: positing the construction of a more truthful world.

[i] Luke 10:25-37

[ii] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (London: Harvard university Press, 2007), pp 737-744.

[iii] Charles Taylor, Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp 45-76.

[iv] Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (London: Polity Press, 1991), p 210.

Robin Barden

Robin is the Director at Cambridge CYM.  He became acting director of CYM at Ridley Hall in September 2015, having previously held the posts of deputy director and senior lecturer.  Having completed a CYM degree as a mature student, Robin has gone on to complete a PgDip in Oral Life History, an MA in Philosophy and Religion, and is currently undertaking a Prof Doc in technology enhanced learning within theological education.