Authenticity: Charles Taylor “Ethics Of Authenticity” Essay, Research Paper
In The Ethics of Authenticity Charles Taylor makes a radical claim that we only become capable of understanding ourselves and defining our identity through dialogue. He says humans are fundamentally dialogical creatures (29) and cannot develop into individuals without interaction with others. Through dialogue we are able to exchange our ideas with others and construct our values and beliefs from bits and pieces we hear. This is how we become authentic humans. Authenticity is being true to yourself. It almost seems paradoxal; to discover your individuality you must converse with others. Charles Taylor also believes that some lives are better than others, based on how authentically a life is lived. In modern society, where soft relativism prevails, this view is often seen as unacceptable. Current thought seems to be that lives are all equal; in fact the choices we face have neither a right nor a wrong answer. Charles Taylor believes this causes people to become self absorbed, and can bring about a loss of meaning in their lives.
Socrates is also a believer in the value of dialogue. In fact all of his teachings are in the form of a conversation. Through dialogue Socrates can challenge the idea of those he talks to. The challenging of ideas is the most important part of dialogue because it forces you to defend your ideas, and therefore realize what exactly it is that you believe. If you approach a philosophical conversation with an open mind, conflict can either strengthen your belief, or cause you to modify your former beliefs to something that works better for you.
Oedipus is given ample opportunity to engage in dialogue. However, when Oedipus talks to others, he only listens to what he wants to hear. When Teiresias tries to tell him the truth, he becomes angry and says, “And who has taught you the truth? Not your profession surely.” (25). Instead of trying to understand what Teiresias is saying, he immediately discards it because it does not fit into his plan to pull Thebes out of the plague. He is unwilling to engage in true dialogue, because he is afraid that it might cause him to question his own beliefs. Oedipus is not living his life authentically; he is not being true to himself. In his arrogance he believes himself greater than he really is, and this prevents him from truly seeking his own individuality. Oedipus becomes so caught up in himself that he cannot see his own shortcomings. This prevents him from truly knowing himself.
When he goes to the oracle at Delphi to ask who his parents are, he does not follow the advice inscribed above the gate, “Know Yourself.” His lack of self-knowledge leads to a lack of interest in dialogue. If he had known himself going into the oracle, he would have realized that running from his fate would solve nothing. Had he been more secure with his individuality and allowed himself to engage in conversation he might have avoided his ultimate demise.
Dialogue is essential if we want to be truly capable of defining ourselves as individuals. Finding out own authenticity leads to what Taylor would define as a better life. Oedipus misses out on the good life because he cannot engage in the dialogue necessary, and ends up being destroyed.
Charles Taylor “the Ethics of Authenticity”