Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory

By Stephen K. White | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
THE “RICHER ONTOLOGY” OF CHARLES TAYLOR

NO THINKER TODAY has done more to press broad ontological questions than Charles Taylor. He has pursued this campaign for a number of years and been all too aware of how much his work has challenged “the current distribution of the onus of argument” in philosophy and social theory. The dominant, modern philosophical perspective has privileged a portrait of the self as essentially “disengaged” from its world. This self wants to gain epistemological purchase on, and practical control of, its world. It aims to master the terms of engagement. This is, of course, a kind of ontological perspective; but it has largely been assumed to be the only reasonable one. This has fostered “a kind of eclipse of ontological thinking” in contemporary moral and political theory.1 Sometimes this has bordered on “motivated suppression” of ontological reflection, Taylor asserts, an orientation seen as justified “because the pluralist nature of modern society makes it easier to live that way.”2 Too much emphasis on ontological fundamentals will only rigidify lines of division between different ways of seeing the world and the human predicament.

If one of the theses of this book is correct, however, a growing number of thinkers have concluded that the simple avoidance of ontology is a bad strategy in the face of late modern concerns. The costs of a commitment—either explicit or implicit—to a “disengaged” view of the self now

The following abbreviations will be used for referring to Taylor's books.

____________________
1
“Cross-Purposes,” in PA, 185.
2
SS, 10.

-42-

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