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Charles Taylor’s book entitled The Ethics of Authenticity was first published in Canada under the name “The Malaise of Modernity” which was broadcast in November 1991 on the CBC’s Ideas series. By 2003 it was in its 11th printing.

Three Malaises of Modernity.

1. The first malaise concerns the dangers of individualism and the loss of meaning.

“. […] The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life.  People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for.  Alex de Tocqueville [author of Democracy in America] sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the “petits et vulgaires plaisirs” [“petty and vulgar pleasures”] that people tend to seek in the democratic age.  In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion.  Kierkegaard saw “the present age” in these terms. And Nietzsche’s “last men” are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a “pitiable comfort.” This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focused on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, “et menace de le renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur” [“and threatens finally to enclose him entirely within the solitude of his own heart”].  In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes  them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with  others or society (Taylor, Charles. 1991. “Taylor 1991:4 .”

2. The second malaise is the disenchantment of the world.

“Once society no longer has a sacred structure, once social arrangements and modes of action are no longer grounded in the order of things or the will of God, they are in a sense up for grabs. They can be redesigned with their consequences for the happiness and well-being of individuals as our goal. The yardstick that henceforth applies is that of instrumental reason Taylor 1991:5 .”

3. The third malaise concerns the atomism of the self-absorbed individual who is so “enclosed in their own hearts” and comfortable in their own homes that they no longer participate actively in self-government. This results in an “immense tutelary power” of a mild and paternalistic government, democratic in form with periodic elections but in reality a form of soft despotism as predicted by Tocqueville. (Tocqueville 1835) cited in Taylor 1991:9 .

“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain (de Tocqueville 1835.” Democracy in America).”

de Tocqueville, Alexis. 1835. “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.” Democracy in America.

Taylor, Charles. 1991. “Three Malaises.” The Ethics of Authenticity. Harvard University Press. pp. 1-12.


Haraway’s work examines how ideology informs science both through legitimization of claims and the intrusion of values into ‘scientific’ facts. In her introduction Haraway describes how the concepts of love, power and science are intricately intertwined in the constructions of nature in the late twentieth century. In the eighteenth century Linneaus named the order of Primates. Since then in western life sciences, ‘nature’ has encompassed themes of race, sexuality, gender, nation, family and class. Projects of colonialism developed ideologies of the control of nature and the civilization of native cultures (Haraway 1989:1).

The concept of ‘civilization’ as a benchmark for evaluating the evolution of culture had been an accepted and integral part of colonialism. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the control of nature by technology, the machine, had become ambiguous. Nature, a potent symbol of innocence, was female and she needed protection from technology.

The American Museum of Natural History near Central Park, New York, was opened after the Civil War. In 1936 the African Hall was unveiled, a vision of the communion between nature and man, made possible through the craft of taxidermy. Carl Akeley’s, the chief taxidermist, greatest success was his display of a giant silverback gorilla from Congo-Zaire. This silverback is exhibited in a specially created diorama against a backdrop of Akeley’s own burial site in Congo-Zaire where he died in 1921. Haraway notes that in the same year, the Museum of Natural Science hosted a meeting of the International Congress of Eugenics. (Haraway 1989:26 -27).

Haraway reveals how the funding of the Museum of Natural History and related projects, such as public education, scientific collection and eugenics was provided by wealthy philanthropists. These men were often sports hunters who hunted in the African jungle and were enamoured with nature (Haraway 1989:54). They created a Hall of the Age of Man which museum trustee H. F. Osborn hoped would provide children with “…the book of nature written in facts” in order to prepare them to be “…better citizens of the future.” These early trustees and scientists believed that the nature they knew and were showing was not an interpretation. Nature was real. This realism also informed aesthetic choices in exhibitions.

Haraway reveals how it was also designed to “…make the moral lessons of racial hierarchy and progress explicit.” Osborn was an ardent eugenicist. Another Museum trustee was a white-supremacist author, Madison Grant, who was deeply concerned by the increase of immigration of non-white working classes whom he feared would outnumber the “old American stock”. Non-white included the Jewish and Eastern European cultures (Haraway 1989:57).

Haraway traces the way in which primates: monkeys, apes and chimpanzees, represent a privileged relation to nature and culture. In the chapter on the work of Robert Yerkes (Yale) on Human Engineering and the Laboratories of Primate Biology (1924-1942) she examines his research in comparative primate psychobiology. Human engineering was a term and tool developed c. 1910 to establish and maintain a stable, productive, non-conflictual workplace to prevent lost time and resources. Workers who were properly managed, or ‘engineered’, would ensure industry’s profits. The engineering included concern for stable family situations to encourage the maintenance of a constructive force. In Yerkes research chimpanzees became physiological models of humans. Through them Yerkes investigated instinct, personality, culture and human engineering. In the process he was reformulating the relationship between nature and culture (Haraway 1989:66).

In her final chapter Haraway narrates a link between primatology and science fiction. She tells the story of Lilith, an Octavia Butler character in the science-fiction Dawn. Lilith, a woman of colour, out of Africa, becomes the primal mother, the Eve to a polymorphous species. The story unfolds in a post-nuclear, post-slavery world overtaken by an alien species. It is a survival fiction about the “… resistance to the imperative to recreate the sacred image of the same (Haraway 1989:378).” Haraway refers to a part in Dawn when Lilith talks about her feelings of being impregnated with something that is not human, a metamorphose. “I had gone back to school.” [Lilith] said. “I was majoring in anthropology.” She laughed out bitterly. “I suppose I could think of this as fieldwork – but how the hell can I get out of the field?” (Butler 1987: 262-3)

In this monumental, thorough work Haraway examined the various ‘border disputes” about primates including those between biology and psychiatry, scientists and administrators, specialists and lay people and historians of science and real scientists. “The primate field, naturalistic and textual, has been a site for elaborating and contesting the bio-politics of difference and identity for members of industrial and post-industrial cultures (Haraway 1989:368).” She traced the history of the science of primatology down an exciting path through Central Park, into the dark jungles of Africa, to taxidermy laboratories, to museum dioramas, to Disney homes for chimps and women scientists who serve as a kind of missing link in a long evolutionary chain. She concludes with a fiction, the beginning of a myth of Eve without Adam. She ends her narrative with that of a female scientist who becomes part of the experiment, part of the field study unable to escape (Haraway 1989:14).

Her work is so deeply intertextual and detailed that it confounds but does not prevent criticism. Haraway looked at the way frameworks become acceptable on the basis of value systems or world views held by particular interest groups or power groups which in turn provide the criteria for the legitimization of truth claims. She describes how ideology informs science.

Debates in sociology revolve around sociology’s function as a discipline within academia. Conflicting oppositional viewpoints are often defined as extreme and exclusive dichotomies: nomologism vs. historicism, generalizing vs particularizing, positivism vs relativism, scientific facts vs discourse, Science vs journalism, uncritical vs self-reflexive, occupation vs profession, value-free vs. social, hard science vs soft science, centre vs periphery, intra disciplinary vs interdisciplinary, optimistic vs sceptical; scientific elite vs the public; liberal vs illiberal; objective vs engaged political thinker.

These debates are somewhat like a conversation that takes place over centuries. The character of the debates often takes on the form of rhetorical assertions coupled with evidence. However, the evidence is often grounded in oppositional stances. The most diametrically opposed players then face an impasse which Joan Huber’s and Goldthorpe describe as an unbridgeable chasm. Empirical positivists “know” Science deals in Scientific facts which are predictable, replicable and guaranteed results of pure scientific methodologies. There is no need to theorize because they already know this to be true. SSK, relativists and postmodernists assert that the tools with which scientists work, their methodologies and the very environments in which they work, have to be constantly revisited and theorized. This they know is true. Those who attempt to enter into the conversation, need to first gauge the level of credibility of the discourse on either side. A legalistic strategy of the weighing of evidence might be useful. However, the weight of evidence can be valid only if all the major arguments on both sides are reviewed, a monumental task.

Webliography and Bibliography

Haraway, Donna. 1989. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science.

My Summary: Haraway looked at the way frameworks become acceptable on the basis of value systems or world views held by particular interest groups or power groups which in turn provide the criteria for the legitimization of truth claims. She describes how ideology informs science. In Primate Visions (1989) Haraway reveals how Yerkes’ Human Engineering projects (1924-1942) used chimpanzees as physiological models of humans. Through them Yerkes investigated instinct, personality, culture and human engineering. In the process he was reformulating the relationship between nature and culture (Haraway 1989:66).


Like many viewers initially watching the television seriesLost, I remained lost throughout its entire unfolding. At times we joked that is must be written from episode to episode with about the same level of thought given to fictional productions in the cynical sit-com Made in Canada on what really happens in the name of television productions. But according to US Today journalist, Keveney (2007) the ABC televised drama apparently paid homage to western philosophers who focused on a study of man, nature and society as namesakes for Lost fictional characters: John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher of the Enlightenment Era, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), French philosopher, born in Switzerland, Stephen Hawking (1942-), Anthony Cooper (1671-1713), English philosopher and Third Earl of Shaftesbury, English theoretical physicist, Edmund Burke (1730-97), Irish political writer whose work delved into philosophy).

We met Danielle Rousseau, the intensely suspicious survivor of an earlier ill-fated expedition, who survived but was unhinged due to extreme isolation in the wild, was driven by her desire to find her daughter. Her fictional character is meant to refer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), the French philosopher, born in Switzerland who also grew paranoid later in life and had a famed falling-out with philosopher colleague David Hume. In his writings, Rousseau adopted a more positive attitude towards civil society since it enabled people to work together and to provide each other with some form of security. David Thomer, who teaches philosophy at La Salle University, argued that Rousseau’s relationship to the natural world became self-destructive and is therefore a warning about the potential for destruction in “the state of nature.”

John Locke, the frustrated wheelchair-bound office worker who was miraculously transformed to a vital, ambulatory explorer on the island is loosely based on John Locke (1632-1704), the English philosopher of the Enlightenment Era. Unlike his namesake, the island version of Locke represents faith over reason and science. The island healed him so he feels a spiritual bond with its mystery. Like the Enlightenment philosopher, the island boy scout also believes in the tabula rasa, or blank slate, and learns through experience. Thomer, argued that just as John Locke, the philosopher saw humans starting in a state of nature, Lost survivors, also moved toward a form of social contract. His belief that action is based on experiences fits in with Lost‘s ample use of flashbacks in which we see how particular life experiences motivates certain characters to behave the way they do.

“The first person who, having fenced off a plot of ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society (Rousseau 1753).”

“the State of Nature has a Law of Nature to Govern it, which
obliges everyone: And Reason … is that Law” (Locke 1690).

God “has given the earth to the Children of Men, given it to mankind in common” (Psalms 115:16 cited in Locke 1690).

In his germinal essay (1753) entitled “Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inegalite”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau addressed humanity as a whole. He focused on the situation of the individual in society and the distinction and relationship between Self and the Other. He praised Geneva’s republican form of government which to him represented the principles of freedom. He this descriptive text he attempted to reconstruct the history of mankind, a hypothetical evolution of society. Rousseau compared himself to ancient philosophers and metaphorically placed himself in the Greek Lyceum.

In his essay on political philosophy entitled “Two Treatises of Government” (1690) John Locke argued that a government’s assurance of the individual right to private property [1] was a positive result of the alignment of natural and civil law whereas Jean-Jacques Rousseau viewed civil society as a regrettable end to a superior mode of living. Hayllor following Miller (1992 ix) points out that Rousseau’s hypotheses regarding the state of nature were largely drawn from the Comte de Buffon’s seminal text Natural History.

Notes

1. In these essays (1690) Locke distinguishes between political power and other distinct power that the same individual man might have over others. Political power refers to the power of a magistrate over a subject in a commonwealth. The same individual may also have power as a father over his children, a master over his servant, a husband over his wife, a captain of a galley over his seamen and a lord over his slave. Locke’s concept of political power is that power that gives one the “right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good” (Locke 1690). It is crucial to read both Locke and Rousseau in context. Locke’s essay is considered to be a strong rebuttal of monarchist ideas and critique of forms of governance in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. It is interesting to note that in 2008 the wikipedia article on Rousseau’s “Two Treatises of Government” (1690) continues to provoke controversy and remains on the list of articles requiring editing to ensure it remains free of bias. His treatises have been used by anti-capitalists as the beginning of capitalist arguments for private property.

[2] Rousseau’s essay was written in response to a call for papers by Dijon academy. Rousseau wrote the response to the question, “What is the Origin of the Inequality among Mankind; and whether such Inequality is authorized by the Law of Nature?” He also refers frequently to Hobbes and refutes Hobbes’ arguments but to different ends. Rousseau wrote elegantly without formal education.

Webliography and Bibliography

Hayllar, Andrew. “Virtue or Vice? Exploring the Role of Property in the Works of Locke and Rousseau.

Mercken-Spaas, Godelieve. 1978. “Some aspects of Self and the Other in Rousseau and Sade.” SubStance. 6: 20:71-77. Autumn. University of Wisconsin Press.

Keveney, Bill. 2007-03-28. “‘Lost’ philosophy: Something to think about.” USA Today.

Locke, John. 1690. “Two Treatises of Government.”

Locke, John, Two treatises of government, Student Edition, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series, ed. P Laslett, Cambridge University Press,

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1964. The first and second discourses, trans. R & J Masters, ed. R Masters, St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1973. Social contract and discourses, Everyman’s Library no. 660, trans. GDH Cole, ed. & rev. J. H Brumfitt and JC Hall, JM Dent & Sons Ltd., London.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1992. Discourse on the origin of inequality, trans. DA Cress, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, 1992. Introduction by J Miller.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1753. “Discourse on the origin of inequality.” Second discourse.

Ryan, A. 1984. Property and political theory, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford.

Wokler, R. 2001. Rousseau: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1753. “Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inegalite.”

de Sade, Marquis. 1795. La Philosophie dans la boudoir.”