Charles Taylor (philosopher)

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Charles Taylor
CC GOQ FBA FRSC
Charles Taylor.jpg
Taylor in 2012
Born Charles Margrave Taylor
(1931-11-05) November 5, 1931 (age 86)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Alma mater
Awards
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic
Communitarianism
Hermeneutics[1]
Institutions
Main interests
Notable ideas
Communitarian critique of liberalism, critique of naturalism

Charles Margrave Taylor CC GOQ FBA FRSC (born 1931) is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec, and professor emeritus at McGill University best known for his contributions to political philosophy, the philosophy of social science, the history of philosophy, and intellectual history. This work has earned him the prestigious Kyoto Prize, the Templeton Prize, the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy, and the John W. Kluge Prize, in addition to widespread esteem among philosophers.

In 2007, Taylor served with Gérard Bouchard on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation with regard to cultural differences in the province of Quebec. He has also made contributions to moral philosophy, epistemology, hermeneutics, aesthetics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of action.[4][5]

Biography[edit]

Charles Margrave Taylor was born in Montreal, Quebec, on November 5, 1931, to a francophone mother and an anglophone father by whom he was raised bilingually.[6] He attended Selwyn House School from 1941 to 1946[7] and began his undergraduate education at McGill University where he received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in history in 1952.[8] He continued his studies at the University of Oxford, first as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, receiving a BA degree in philosophy, politics and economics in 1955, and then as a postgraduate student, receiving a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1961 under the supervision of Isaiah Berlin and G. E. M. Anscombe.[9] As an undergraduate student, he started one of the first campaigns to ban thermonuclear weapons in the United Kingdom in 1956.[10]

He succeeded John Plamenatz as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford and became a Fellow of All Souls College.[11]

For many years, both before and after Oxford, he was Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he is now professor emeritus.[9] Taylor was also a Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston for several years after his retirement from McGill.

Taylor was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986.[12] In 1991, Taylor was appointed to the Conseil de la langue française in the province of Quebec, at which point he critiqued Quebec's commercial sign laws. In 1995, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2000, he was made a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec. He was awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize for progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities, which includes a cash award of US$1.5 million. In 2007 he and Gérard Bouchard were appointed to head a one-year Commission of Inquiry into what would constitute "reasonable accommodation" for minority cultures in his home province of Quebec, Canada.[13]

In June 2008, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in the arts and philosophy category. The Kyoto Prize is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Nobel.[14] In 2015, he was awarded the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, a prize he shared with philosopher Jürgen Habermas.[15] In 2016, he was awarded the inaugural $1-million Berggruen Prize for being "a thinker whose ideas are of broad significance for shaping human self-understanding and the advancement of humanity." [16]

Views[edit]

In order to understand Taylor's views, it is helpful to understand his philosophical background, especially his writings on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Taylor rejects naturalism and formalist epistemologies. He is part of an influential intellectual tradition of Canadian idealism that includes John Watson, Paxton Young, C. B. Macpherson, and George Grant.[17]

In his essay "To Follow a Rule", Taylor explores why people can fail to follow rules, and what kind of knowledge it is that allows a person to successfully follow a rule, such as the arrow on a sign. The intellectualist tradition presupposes that to follow directions, we must know a set of propositions and premises about how to follow directions.[18]

Taylor argues that Wittgenstein's solution is that all interpretation of rules draws upon a tacit background. This background is not more rules or premises, but what Wittgenstein calls "forms of life". More specifically, Wittgenstein says in the Philosophical Investigations that "Obeying a rule is a practice." Taylor situates the interpretation of rules within the practices that are incorporated into our bodies in the form of habits, dispositions, and tendencies.[18]

Following Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michael Polanyi, and Wittgenstein, Taylor argues that it is mistaken to presuppose that our understanding of the world is primarily mediated by representations. It is only against an unarticulated background that representations can make sense to us. On occasion we do follow rules by explicitly representing them to ourselves, but Taylor reminds us that rules do not contain the principles of their own application: application requires that we draw on an unarticulated understanding or "sense of things"—the background.[18]

Taylor's critique of naturalism[edit]

Taylor defines naturalism as a family of various, often quite diverse theories that all hold "the ambition to model the study of man on the natural sciences."[19]

Philosophically, naturalism was largely popularized and defended by the unity of science movement that was advanced by logical positivist philosophy. In many ways, Taylor's early philosophy springs from a critical reaction against the logical positivism and naturalism that was ascendant in Oxford while he was a student.

Initially, much of Taylor's philosophical work consisted of careful conceptual critiques of various naturalist research programs. This began with his 1964 dissertation The Explanation of Behaviour, which was a detailed and systematic criticism of the behaviourist psychology of B. F. Skinner[20] that was highly influential at mid-century.

From there, Taylor also spread his critique to other disciplines. The still hugely influential essay "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man" was published in 1972 as a critique of the political science of the behavioural revolution advanced by giants of the field like David Easton, Robert Dahl, Gabriel Almond, and Sydney Verba.[21] In an essay entitled "The Significance of Significance: The Case for Cognitive Psychology", Taylor criticized the naturalism he saw distorting the major research program that had replaced B. F. Skinner's behaviourism.[22]

But Taylor also detected naturalism in fields where it was not immediately apparent. For example, in 1978's "Language and Human Nature", he found naturalist distortions in various modern "designative" theories of language,[23] while in Sources of the Self (1989) he found both naturalist error and the deep moral, motivational sources for this outlook in various individualist and utilitarian conceptions of selfhood.

Taylor and hermeneutics[edit]

Concurrent to Taylor's critique of naturalism was his development of an alternative. Indeed, Taylor's mature philosophy begins when as a doctoral student at Oxford he turned away, disappointed, from analytic philosophy in search of other philosophical resources which he found in French and German hermeneutics and phenomenology.[24]

The hermeneutic tradition develops a view of human understanding and cognition as centred on the decipherment of meanings (as opposed to, say, foundational theories of brute verification or an apodictic rationalism). Taylor's own philosophical outlook can broadly and fairly be characterized as hermeneutic. This is clear in his championing of the works of major figures within the hermeneutic tradition such as Wilhelm Dilthey, Heidegger, Merleau Ponty, and Gadamer.[25] It is also evident in his own original contributions to hermeneutic and interpretive theory.[25]

Communitarian critique of liberalism[edit]

Taylor (as well as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, and Michael Sandel) is associated with a communitarian critique of liberal theory's understanding of the "self". Communitarians emphasize the importance of social institutions in the development of individual meaning and identity.

In his 1991 Massey Lecture "The Malaise of Modernity", Taylor argued that political theorists—from John Locke and Thomas Hobbes to John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin—have neglected the way in which individuals arise within the context supplied by societies. A more realistic understanding of the "self" recognizes the social background against which life choices gain importance and meaning.

Philosophy and sociology of religion[edit]

Taylor's later work has turned to the philosophy of religion, as evident in several pieces, including the lecture "A Catholic Modernity" and the short monograph "Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited".[26]

Taylor's most significant contribution in this field to date is his book A Secular Age which argues against the secularization thesis of Max Weber, Steve Bruce, and others.[27] In rough form, the secularization thesis holds that as modernity (a bundle of phenomena including science, technology, and rational forms of authority) progresses, religion gradually diminishes in influence. Taylor begins from the fact that the modern world has not seen the disappearance of religion but rather its diversification and in many places its growth.[28] He then develops a complex alternative notion of what secularization actually means given that the secularization thesis has not been borne out. In the process, Taylor also greatly deepens his account of moral, political, and spiritual modernity that he had begun in Sources of the Self.

Politics[edit]

Taylor was a candidate for the social democratic New Democratic Party in Mount Royal on three occasions in the 1960s, beginning with the 1962 federal election when he came in third behind Liberal Alan MacNaughton. He improved his standing in 1963, coming in second. Most famously, he also lost in the 1965 election to newcomer and future prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. This campaign garnered national attention. Taylor's fourth and final attempt to enter the House of Commons of Canada was in the 1968 federal election, when he came in second as an NDP candidate in the riding of Dollard. In 1994 he coedited a paper on human rights with Vitit Muntarbhorn in Thailand.[29] In 2008, he endorsed the NDP candidate in Westmount—Ville-Marie, Anne Lagacé Dowson. He was also a professor to Canadian politician and former leader of the New Democratic Party Jack Layton.

In 2010, Taylor said multiculturalism was a work in progress that faced challenges. He identified tackling Islamophobia in Canada as the next challenge.[30]

Interlocutors[edit]

Selected works by Taylor[edit]

Books
Book chapters

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bjorn Ramberg; Kristin Gjesdal. "Hermeneutics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 12 September 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Campbell 2014, p. 58.
  3. ^ Taylor 1992, p. 14.
  4. ^ https://www.mcgill.ca/philosophy/people/faculty/taylor
  5. ^ https://books.google.ca/books/about/Charles_Taylor.html?id=3jCQTHna3CIC
  6. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958; Abbey 2017; Smith 2002, p. 7.
  7. ^ "Charles Taylor '46 receives world's largest cash award". Selwyn House School. March 15, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2015. 
  8. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958.
  9. ^ a b Brown, Collinson & Wilkinson 1996, pp. 774–776.
  10. ^ Smith 2002, p. 7.
  11. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958; Miller 2014, p. 165.
  12. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences, p. 536.
  13. ^ Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles Archived July 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Dr. Charles Taylor to Receive Inamori Foundation's 24th Annual Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievement in "Arts and Philosophy"" (Press release). Kyoto, Japan: Inamori Foundation. June 20, 2008. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Philosophers Habermas and Taylor to Share $1.5 Million Kluge Prize" (Press release). Washington: Library of Congress. August 11, 2015. ISSN 0731-3527. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
  16. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2016). "Canadian Philosopher Wins $1 Million Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 4, 2016. 
  17. ^ Meynell 2011.
  18. ^ a b c Taylor, Charles (1995). "To Follow a Rule". Philosophical Arguments. Cambridge: Harvard. pp. 165–180. ISBN 9780674664777. 
  19. ^ Taylor 1985a, p. 1.
  20. ^ Taylor 1964.
  21. ^ Taylor 1985b.
  22. ^ Taylor 1983, pp. 141–169.
  23. ^ Taylor 1985c.
  24. ^ "Interview with Charles Taylor: The Malaise of Modernity" by David Cayley: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2011/04/11/the-malaise-of-modernity-part-1---5/
  25. ^ a b Taylor 1985d.
  26. ^ A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture, ed. James Heft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Varieties of Religion Today (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
  27. ^ Taylor 2007.
  28. ^ Taylor 2007, pp. 1–22.
  29. ^ Muntarbhorn & Taylor 1994.
  30. ^ "Part 5: 10 leaders on how to change multiculturalism". Our Time to Lead. The Globe and Mail. June 21, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 

References[edit]

Abbey, Ruth (2016). "Taylor, Charles (1931–)". In Shook, John R. The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers in America: From 1600 to the Present. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 958ff. ISBN 978-1-4725-7056-7. 
 ———  (2017). "Taylor, Charles (1931– )". Dictionnaire de la Philosophie politique (in French). Encyclopædia Universalis. ISBN 978-2-341-00704-7. 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. "T" (PDF). Book of Members, 1780–2012. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. pp. 533–552. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
Brown, Stuart; Collinson, Diané; Wilkinson, Robert, eds. (1996). Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-06043-1. 
Campbell, Catherine Galko (2014). Persons, Identity, and Political Theory: A Defense of Rawlsian Political Identity. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-7917-4. ISBN 978-94-007-7917-4. 
Meynell, Robert (2011). Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom: C.B. Macpherson, George Grant and Charles Taylor. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3798-9. 
Miller, David (2014). "Political Theory, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences: Five Chichele Professors". In Hood, Christopher; King, Desmond; Peele, Gillian. Forging a Discipline: A Critical Assessment of Oxford's Development of the Study of Politics and International Relations in Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 165ff. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199682218.003.0009. ISBN 978-0-19-968221-8. 
Muntarbhorn, Vitit; Taylor, Charles (1994). Road to Democracy: Human Rights and Human Development in Thailand. Montreal: International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. 
Smith, Nicholas H. (2002). Charles Taylor: Meaning, Morals and Modernity. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-7456-6859-8. 
Taylor, Charles (1964). The Explanation of Behaviour. International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 
 ———  (1983). "The Significance of Significance: The Case for Cognitive Psychology". In Mitchell, Sollace; Rosen, Michael. The Need for Interpretation: Contemporary Conceptions of the Philosopher’s Task. New Jersey: Humanities Press. ISBN 978-0-391-02825-8. 
 ———  (1985a). "Introduction". In Taylor, Charles. Human Agency and Language. Philosophical Papers. 1. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–12. ISBN 978-0-521-31750-4. 
 ———  (1985b) [1972]. "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man". In Taylor, Charles. Philosophy and the Human Sciences. Philosophical Papers. 2. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15–57. 
 ———  (1985c) [1978]. "Language and Human Nature". In Taylor, Charles. Human Agency and Language. Philosophical Papers. 1. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 215–247. ISBN 978-0-521-31750-4. 
 ———  (1985d). "Self-Interpreting Animals". In Taylor, Charles. Human Agency and Language. Philosophical Papers. 1. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 45–76. ISBN 978-0-521-31750-4. 
 ———  (1992) [1991]. The Ethics of Authenticity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-26863-0. 
 ———  (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02676-6. 

Further reading[edit]

Perreau-Saussine, Émile (2005). "Une spiritualité libérale? Alasdair MacIntyre et Charles Taylor en conversation" [A Liberal Spirituality? Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor in Conversation] (PDF). Revue Française de Science Politique (in French). Presses de Sciences Po. 55 (2): 299–315. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 27, 2009. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
Redhead, Mark (2002). Charles Taylor: Thinking and Living Deep Diversity. Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-2126-1. 
Skinner, Quentin (1991). "Who Are 'We'? Ambiguities of the Modern Self". Inquiry. 34 (2): 133–153. doi:10.1080/00201749108602249. 
Temelini, Michael (2014). "Dialogical Approaches to Struggles Over Recognition and Distribution". Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. 17 (4): 423–447. doi:10.1080/13698230.2013.763517. 
Tully, James; Weinstock, Daniel M., eds. (1994). Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43150-7. 

External links[edit]

Online videos of Charles Taylor