The Culmination: A Twist on Self
In “Responsibility for Self,” Charles Taylor articulates an account of the self that is a
critical synthesis of Sartre, Frankfurt, and Heidegger views. Articulated below will be
Taylor’s account of the self and how it developed from the other philosophers’ views.
Taylor sees many virtues, as well as, problems contained within Sartre’s, Frankfurt’s, and
Heidegger’s account of self and agency.
A natural place to begin is with Charles Taylor’s concept of “responsibility for self.”
For Taylor, responsibility for self consists in duty of radical re-evaluation of our deepest
This radical evaluation is a deep reflection, and a self-reflection in
a special sense: it is a reflection about the self, its most fundamental
issues, and a reflection which engages the self most wholly and
deeply. Because it engages the whole self without a fixed yardstick
it can be called a personal reflection….[I]n this reflection the self is
in question; what is at stake is the definition of those inchoate
evaluations which are sensed to be essential to our identity (117).
Taylor makes this claim about responsibility for self in opposition to Sartre’s
characterization of the human condition as nothingness and absolute freedom. Sartre
derives from this condition an understanding of freedom as the radical, infinite openness
of the freedom of our choices and concludes that it is this freedom that characterizes our
fundamental moral dilemma. Taylor argues that it is not the weight of the openness that
defines our moral selves or the moral dilemmas we face, but the fact that various choices
necessarily blind and pull us in different directions. Sartre’s example of an individual
faced with joining the Resistance or staying home to take care of his dying mother
constitutes a dilemma, according to...