Peter Hawes

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Dr. Brannon McDaniel


In this paper I compare two different genealogies of the idea of the ‘self’: Charles Taylor’s and Michel Foucault’s. I begin by arguing that Taylor’s focus on combating what he calls “subtraction stories” places him in the genealogical tradition with Foucault. I then engage with Foucault's genealogy of the self, which illuminates how the notion of the ‘self’ was constructed as a means of control, which leads him to say we should do away with trying to understand it outside of relations of power. This call for the rejection of the self, I suggest, presents a problem for us, who find it difficult to stop trying to understand who we are. I then present Taylor's genealogy as a response to this problem. Taylor’s genealogy can be read as an expansion of Foucault’s which also undermines our simple notions of the self. But rather than show why we should do away with the self, Taylor’s genealogy attempts to explain why we have come to understand it in all the various ways we have. In this way, Taylor uses the genealogy to support a plurality of views about the self. Thus I argue that Taylor’s genealogy seems to use Foucault’s method to overcome the conclusion reached by Foucault.

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