How to Struggle With Big Questions

Charles Taylor, Zócalo Public Square

Charles Taylor’s 1989 book “Sources of the Self” is about 500 pages long, drawing on history, philosophy, poetry, music, and art to explain how the modern Western sense of self and identity came to be. Starting with Augustine, Taylor describes how people conceived of themselves from antiquity, and how a new understanding of the self started during the time of Descartes and the Enlightenment. These new selves were characterized by their inwardness, their interest in freedom, individuality, and a sense of being embedded in nature. “We have yet to capture, I think, the unique combination of greatness and danger, of grandeur and misère, which characterizes the modern age.”

We asked Taylor how he struggles with big questions, what his research process is like, and how he felt as he wrote “Sources of the Self.”