Identity of Self-Interpreting Animals. Charles Taylor in Contemporary Debate

    • Presentation speakers
      • Jakub Čapek, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic


    The traditional question of personal identity, from Locke to Parfit, focuses on the numerical identity of a person across time. This debate prioritizes the investigation of personal identity based either on her consciousness (mental criterion), or on her continuous bodily existence (somatic or bodily criterion). Still, we as persons are also members of divers groups which contribute to create who we are. There are good reasons to treat these two topics – the “numerical identity of a person” and the “social identities” a person may have – separately. Yet it is no less important to ask whether and how they are interrelated. The famous claim put forward by Charles Taylor – humans are “self-interpreting animals” – constitutes an important example of such an analysis. To show this, I focus on cases in which different identities clash within one and the same person. These situations – traditionally treated as moral dilemmas – can be analyzed as cases in which the relation of personal and social identities becomes explicit (the adherence of a person to some of her identities gest fundamentally questioned). I start by considering Sartre’s account of moral dilemma and Taylor’s re-description of it. Secondly, I analyze fundamental concepts of Taylor’s account: “strong evaluations”, “inescapable horizons” and the “porous” character of the self. These concepts enable Taylor to claim that identity has both personal and social dimension. In the third part of the paper, I delimit the underlying hermeneutical idea of the self (in terms of its identity). In the concluding part, I deal with some major objections against Taylor with special emphasis on the Appiah’s criticism (Taylor failed to recognize the tension between the “subject-centered” and “social-centered” model of interpretation), as this objection targets precisely the very topic of my paper.