Reflections on Key Books and Publications

Reflections on Key Books and Publications

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The Explanation of Behavior. (Routledge and Paul Kegan, 1964)
This was my doctoral dissertation.  It was an all-out attack on psychological behaviorism, which tried to show that only muddled philosophical thinking could hide from its practitioners that their research program was reaching a dead-end.


Hegel. (Cambridge University Press, 1975; various languages)
This was an attempt to write an introduction to Hegel’s philosophy which would make his work understandable to people trained in the analytical tradition.  It was originally commissioned for the Penguin series on major philosophers, but it rapidly outgrew the permitted dimensions for this series and had to be published elsewhere. Why Hegel?  Because I sensed then that I wanted to attempt the kind of philosophically informed reflection on history, and particularly the rise of modernity, that Hegel had pioneered.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with his actual results (and I have big disagreements with it), you have to come to terms with Hegel’s work before you form your own view.


Hegel and Modern Society. (Cambridge University Press, 1979; various languages)
This was basically a shortened version of Hegel, without some of the difficult parts (for instance, on the Logic), and with more emphasis on the relevance of Hegel today.


Philosophical Papers Vol. 1: Human Agency and Language.
Philosophical Papers Vol. 2: Philosophy and the Human Sciences
. (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
In these two collections, I brought together a number of papers written in the previous two decades.  These were mostly critiques of mechanistic, and/or reductive, and/or atomistic approaches to human sciences.  Following a similar line to The Explanation of Behavior, I tried to show that the popularity of these approaches, which modeled human on natural science, depended on faulty philosophical thinking and /or obviously over-simplified views of human life.  One paper in particular in these collections brought together a number of these themes: “Interpretation and the Sciences of Man.”


Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. (Harvard University Press, 1989; various languages)
This was my first large-scale attempt to make a philosophically-informed reflection on history.  The theme was the development of the modern understanding of the human agent, with its peculiar and often conflicting features: an individual, potentially disengaged from history, society and the body, and yet with inner depths, calling for further definition through expressive activity, with an identity which he or she can contribute to define.  My thesis is that we are all caught in the tension between what we have drawn from the Cartesian-Lockean tradition and the Enlightenment on one hand, and what we have learned from the Romantic-expressive movement on the other.


The Malaise of Modernity. (Anansi, 1991; various languages). 
The Ethics of Authenticity (United States title; Harvard University Press, 1992).
This text was the basis for my Massey Lectures, a series of talks given each year on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  It tried to explore our conflictual relation to modernity, in particular to modern individualism, the stress on instrumental reason; and it looked at the problems these pose for democracy, largely in a Tocquevillean spirit.  I attempted to describe the ethic of authenticity, which emerges from the Romantic-expressive tradition I had articulated in Sources, and to discuss the ways in which this can be led astray and trivialized in contemporary society.


Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition”.
(with Amy Gutman and others) (Princeton University Press, 1992; various languages)
Modernity has produced a new concept of identity, a definition of self which we partly take over from our world and our history, and partly redefine ourselves.  This has had a profound impact on our political life.  Issues which might have been fought out in terms of equality versus privilege, or the fight against exploitation, in the past, are now frequently framed in terms of personal and collective identities and their alleged non- or mis-recognition.  I was trying in this essay to analyze this new phenomenon, drawing heavily on conflicts with which I am (all too) familiar, those surrounding Quebec nationalism, language rights and the issue of independence.


Philosophical Arguments. (Harvard University Press, 1995; various languages)
This is another collection similar to the two published in 1985, and it reflects further developments of the same themes, with a greater emphasis on epistemological issues.


A Catholic Modernity? (Oxford University Press, 1999)
This is a published version of the Marianist Lecture that I gave in Dayton.  I try to cast the issue of how the Catholic Church should relate to the modern world, in the context of an understanding of Catholic Christianity as capable of finding a place in, without ever identifying with, all human civilizations and cultures.  I tried to look at modern Western civilization as another such culture, analogous to the unfamiliar cultures which missionaries may find themselves in.  I think this kind of move dissolves the too close identification which Western Christians have with the Modern West, seen as a former Christendom partly in the process of apostasy, with all the multiple resentments and attempts to hold on to an idealized past which this entails.


Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. (Harvard University Press, 2002; various languages)
This is one of the (three) products of my Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 1999.  The theme of those lectures, delivered at the Vienna Institute of the Human Sciences, was the rise of the contemporary secular age in the West (see below A Secular Age).  This was an off-shoot, a look back at William James’ Gifford Lectures, also delivered in Edinburgh a century before (1902).  I note the often uncanny parallels between what he said then, and what we see now.


Modern Social Imaginaries. (Duke University Press, 2004)
This is the second product of the Gifford Lectures, an expanded version of one of the chapters in A Secular Age, where I try to define the shifts in our way of collectively imagining ourselves as a society which occurred in the development of Western modernity and helped to constitute it.  I examine particularly the way we have come to understand ourselves as existing in an economy, participating in a public sphere, and being part of a citizen state.


A Secular Age.  (Harvard University Press, to be published Fall 2007)
This will be the third (and central) product of the Gifford Lectures.  It is an attempt to follow the development of the modern Western secular age, which at the same time is an attempt to define what we mean by this term.  It is a basic thesis of the book that these two questions: “What is secularity?” and “How did it develop?” can only be properly addressed together.  In the course of it, I challenge what for a long time was the dominant “master narrative” of secularization, as the inevitable decline of religion with advancing modernity; and this, of course, involves a rather different understanding of the place of religion and spirituality today.