Charles Taylor

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Charles Taylor (5 November 1931 - )

A Canadian philosopher, Taylor often is classified as a communitarian although he is a practicing Roman Catholic.

He received his B.A. in history in 1952 and McGill University; his B.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics in 1955 from Balliol College, Oxford; his M.A. in 1960, and his D. Phil. in 1961 from Balliol. He studied under Isaiah Berlin and G.E.M. Anscombe.

In Montreal, he taught political science and philosophy at McGill University, where he now is professor emeritus.

In the 1960s, he was a candidate for federal offices and in 1965 lost to the future prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. 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. In 2007 he was awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities.

His Sources of the Self (1989), Taylor as a "post-analytic" philosopher rejects naturalism, meditational epistemologies and, like Mikhail Bahtin, "monological consciousness" (or the intellectualist's perspective)

Taylor's books include the following:

The Explanation of Behavior (1964)
Hegel (1975)
Hegel and Modern Society (1979)
Philosophical Papers (2 volumes, 1985)
Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (1989)
The Malaise of Modernity (1991; the published version of Taylor's Massey Lectures,
reprinted in the U.S. as The Ethics of Authenticity (1992)
The Politics of Recognition (1992)
Philosophical Arguments (1995)
A Catholic Modernity? (1999)
Modern Social Imaginaries (2004)
The Secular Age (2007)

Reviewing The Secular Age The Economist (6 September 2007) included the following:

Understandably, then, one of Mr Taylor's keenest concerns is to show that man has not progressed down a simple, linear path from one mode of consciousness to another. Modernity, he argues, implies a huge range of possible ways of thinking, including many variations of theism and atheism.
It is also significant that theocracy is not monolithic either. Societies can be brutally theocratic in either or both of two senses. Sometimes worldly rulers draw on religious symbolism to enforce their authority, impress their subjects or legitimise war. Alternatively, “pure” clerical power can use its prerogatives (over sacraments like baptism or marriage or absolution) to exercise authority over everybody else, including worldly rulers. Neither kind of theocratic power can guarantee that its subjects are deeply religious in their personal consciousness; indeed the opposite is very often the case.
Working through Mr Taylor's careful but idiosyncratic prose (a mixture of colloquialisms, technical jargon and terms that he has invented or redefined), one finds big nuggets of insight, useful to almost anybody with an interest in the progress of human society. His book is not exactly a history of secularism; he is a philosopher, not a historian. The account does have a chronological element, but it is more a vast ideological anatomy of possible ways of thinking about the gradual onset of secularism as experienced in fields ranging from art to poetry to psychoanalysis.
Intricate as it is, there are certain threads that run through Mr Taylor's argument. The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution made it possible to think about the material world without reference to any transcendent power. He calls this way of thinking the “immanent frame”. But this frame is not hermetically sealed. People's yearning for, or intuition of, some ultimate meaning continues to break through in many different ways. One sign of divinity “breaking in” is the transcendental experience which can still be undergone by rational, modern people; he cites several descriptions of such moments, including one by Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident-turned-president.
Mr Taylor accepts that the “liberation” from clerical power (over thought and society) that occurred during the Enlightenment amounted to something real and legitimate. But he picks apart some crude versions of post-Enlightenment secularism. In some secularist accounts, he notes, religion is presented as an odd, temporary delusion into which mankind was unfortunate enough to fall for a brief moment. Once science had proved the falsehood of religious statements about the origins of the world, man could “revert” to a more “natural” way of thinking. Mr Taylor argues that a secular, scientific way of thinking is also a sort of existential choice, a particular moment in human development rather than a “natural” state of affairs.
Mr Taylor also lays bare the inconsistencies of some secular critiques of religion. Many modern thinkers have criticised Christianity as a faith of repressive, life-denying killjoys; they say that by holding up asceticism as the ultimate ideal, Christianity denies the value of existence as it is enjoyed by most ordinary people, including erotic love and family life. At the same time, a more Nietzschean critique is advanced, finding that Christianity rejects humanity's most extreme passions, including those that drive people to accomplish heroic deeds. Mr Taylor argues that the task of holding together the ideal, the passionate and everyday life is as much a difficulty for post-Enlightenment secularists as it is for Christians.
Mr Taylor's field of study is the Christian West, broadly speaking Europe and North America—and that is more than enough to fill his pages. But he would not have to look very far outside that world to find new answers to the religious problems that he so meticulously describes. How, for instance, can the pious affirm the sanctity of the human body while urging people to discipline their bodily desires? Eastern Christianity, which takes a less pessimistic view of human nature than Augustine or Aquinas did, has answers to such dilemmas; so has Buddhism. But to go down those routes would, at Mr Taylor's careful pace, require thousands more pages of intricately woven argument.