Living in an age of authenticity: Charles Taylor on identity today
McEvoy, James Gerard
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Studies of contemporary Western culture, and of the conceptions of human agency which inform it, almost invariably identify an increasing emphasis on the individual as a principal theme. For some this individualising tendency is a matter of loss or decline: they believe that ours is a decadent age, a narcissistic culture, built upon corrupted views of the human. Others offer a decidedly more up-beat evaluation of the individualising shift, prizing such fruits as the development of human rights and the capacity to mobilise sentiment in response to tragedies like the South East Asian Tsunami of 2004. For Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, neither the outright knockers of contemporary culture nor the straight boosters have plumbed the depths of our age; and nor will a simple trade-off between advantages and costs do justice to the transition taking place. In his view, a new understanding of human identity, that of authenticity, has permeated Western culture since the 1960s, with its own insight into the human good as well as its own debased forms.