Charles Taylor (philosopher)

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Charles Taylor (philosopher)
Western Philosophy
20th century philosophy
Full name Charles Taylor
School/tradition Analytic, Hegelian
Main interests Communitarianism
Secularism · Faith · Modernity

Charles Margrave Taylor, CC, GOQ, FRSC (born November 5, 1931) is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, who has made significant contributions to political philosophy, philosophy of social science, and the history of philosophy. He is often classified as a communitarian, but is uncomfortable with the label. He is a practicing Roman Catholic.


[edit] Career

Charles Taylor began his undergraduate education at McGill University (B.A. in History in 1952). He continued his studies at the University of Oxford, first as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, (B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics ) in 1955, and then as a post-graduate, (D.Phil. in 1961), under the supervision of Isaiah Berlin and G.E.M. Anscombe.

He succeeded John Plamenatz as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory in the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College and was for many years Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he is now professor emeritus. Taylor is now Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University. Many of his students have gone on to be important philosophers and political theorists. Taylor also serves as Contributing Editor for the academic journal Public Culture, published by Duke University Press.

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 the "reasonable accommodation" in his home province of Quebec, Canada.[1] 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.[2]

[edit] Views

In order to understand the stance that Taylor presents in Sources of the Self one should understand his philosophical background, especially his writings on Hegel, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Taylor rejects naturalism, mediational epistemologies, and what, following Mikhail Bakhtin, he calls "monological consciousness" (or the intellectualist's perspective).

Another one of his essays is on Wittgenstein's analysis of rule-following. In the essay "To follow a rule," Taylor explores why it is that people can fail to follow rules and what kind of knowledge is it that allows a person to successfully follow a rule, such as directions to a party or the arrow on a sign. In the intellectualist tradition we would presuppose that to follow directions to a party that we must have in consciousness a set of propositions and premises about how to follow directions. But how do we know whether or not the directions are adequate, i.e. what prevents skepticism of the arrow on a sign or your friends directions to a party? To an intellectualist, before any rule can be followed, all of these issues must already be resolved.

Taylor argues that Wittgenstein's solution is the articulation of a background of understanding. This background is not more rules or premises, but what Wittgenstein often referred to as "forms of life." More specifically, Wittgenstein says in the Philosophical Investigations that "Obeying a rule is a practice." Since giving reasons for following a rule must end at some point, Taylor locates this in our embodied understandings of the world, that is in the practical mastery we incorporate into our bodies in the form of habits, dispositions, and tendencies. The parallel would be how we learn to drive a car. Driving a car appears to follow rules, but in fact we never need to refer to rules when speeding down the highway. Rather our attention is elsewhere and we seem to rely on the skills we have embodied to constantly adjust and respond to events that we encounter. Taylor says, "Our understanding itself is embodied. That is, our bodily know-how and the way we act and move can encode components of our understanding of self and world."

Taylor's point is to say that we don't need to posit the human being primarily as the subject of representations in order to understand rule-following behavior or something like driving down the highway. Following Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Michael Polanyi, and of course Wittgenstein, Taylor argues that it is mistaken to presuppose that we are inherently cut off from the world and that our understanding of it is essentially mediated by representations. When we act, for example, we act with our bodies, whether linguistically or through grasping with the hand. But little of what is involved in our action, whether the goals of action or the rule specifying movement, is consciously articulated. In fact, he argues, it is only against an unarticulated background that representations can make sense to us at all.

The notion of background helps us approach how it is that we understand in our everyday mode of being. That is, when we walk we have a bodily understanding of where to place the foot, but normally we do not need rules to do this. Rather our ability to walk is a bodily knowledge. Instead, Taylor argues, our ability to follow rules is founded in the relationship between a background of practices and bodily habits. On occasion we do follow rules but Taylor wants us to consider that the rules do not contain the principles of their own applications. As such we need to understand the more complicated relationship between our bodily know-how and the social and historical "forms of life" which explain our actions and of which rules often only supply an after-the-fact explanation and description.

[edit] Communitarian critique of Liberalism

Taylor is associated with political theorists like Michael Walzer and Michael Sandel, for their communitarian critique of liberal theory's understanding of the "self." Communitarians emphasize the importance of social and communal arrangements and institutions to the development of individual meaning and identity.

In his 1991 Massey Lecture, "The Malaise of Modernity," Taylor addressed what he saw as the central problems or "malaises" plaguing modern societies. He argued, among other things, that traditional liberal theory's conceptualization of individual identity is too abstract, instrumentalist, and one dimensional. For Taylor, early theorists from John Locke and Thomas Hobbes to more modern standard bearers of liberal theory like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, have neglected the individual's ties to community and those people social theorist George Herbert Mead called significant others. A more realistic understanding of the "self" recognized what Taylor called "horizons of meaning" (a Heideggerian expression), the important background of social and dialogical relations with others, against which life choices gain importance and meaning. Without this background of meaning, life choices are vulnerable to an equal value, rendering them meaningless.

[edit] Politics

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 place 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 since both Taylor and Trudeau were considered intellectuals and "star candidates". Taylor's fourth and final attempt to enter the Canadian House of Commons was in the 1968 federal election, when he came in second as an NDP candidate in the riding of Dollard. In 2008, he endorsed the NDP candidate in Westmount—Ville-Marie, Anne Lagacé Dowson.

[edit] Interlocutors

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles
  2. ^ North American Kyoto Prize Web Site: Kyoto Prize

[edit] Selected Books by Taylor

  • 1964. The Explanation of Behavior.
  • 1975. Hegel.
  • 1979. Hegel and Modern Society.
  • 1985. Philosophical Papers (2 volumes).
  • 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Harvard University Press
  • 1992. The Malaise of Modernity, being the published version of Taylor's Massey Lectures. Reprinted in the U.S. as The Ethics of Authenticity. Harvard University Press
  • 1994. Multiculturalism: Examining The Politics of Recognition.
  • 1995. Philosophical Arguments. Harvard University Press
  • 1999. A Catholic Modernity?.
  • 2002. Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. Harvard University Press

[edit] Bibliography

  • 2005 : Emile Perreau-Saussine, Une spiritualité démocratique? Alasdair MacIntyre et Charles Taylor en conversation, Revue Française de Science Politique, Vol. 55 No. 2 (Avril 2005), p. 299-315[1]
  • 1995 : James Tully and Daniel M. Weinstock ed., Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1995).

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Videos online

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