I was delighted to discover that one of my all time favourite lectures has been uploaded to YouTube in its original form. The 1991 Tanner Lectures by Charles Taylor were the basis for his Ethics of Authenticity, in which he investigates those “features of our contemporary culture which people feel very very worried about even as they seem to flow from the development of our civilisation”.
There are many reasons I love this lecture but perhaps the most significant is Taylor’s commitment to interpretive generosity in relation to moral change. He resists easy narratives of decline, what he later terms subtraction stories, in order to recover the moral sources underpinning contemporary moral experience. He’s interested in how moral ideas are often lived out in mundane and diminished ways, reflecting aspirations which their adherents may be profoundly inarticulate about. It’s a theoretically important stance but I think it’s a moral-political one as well. To see what its absence looks like, check out this obnoxious paragraph.