Charles Taylor (philosopher)

Charles Taylor (philosopher)
Charles Taylor
Full name Charles Taylor
Born November 5, 1931 (1931-11-05) (age 80)
Montreal, Quebec
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic, Hegelian
Main interests Communitarianism
Secularism · Religion · Modernity

Charles Margrave Taylor, CC, GOQ, FRSC (born November 5, 1931) is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec best known for his contributions in political philosophy, the philosophy of social science, and in the history of philosophy. His contributions to these fields have earned him both the prestigious Kyoto Prize and the Templeton Prize, in addition to widespread esteem among fellow 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. Taylor currently teaches at McGill University in the Department of Philosophy. He is a practicing Roman Catholic.



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.[1]

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. For many years, both before and after Oxford, he was Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he is now professor emeritus.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]


In order to understand his views it is helpful to understand his philosophical background, especially his writings on Hegel, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Taylor rejects naturalism and formalist epistemologies.

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. But how do we know whether or not the directions are adequate?

Taylor argues that Wittgenstein's solution is that all interpretation of rules draws upon a tacit background. This background is not mere 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.

Following Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, 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.

Communitarian critique of Liberalism

Taylor (as well as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, Michael Sandel, and Gad Barzilai) 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.


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. 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. 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.[5]



  1. ^ a b Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. London: Routledge. 1996. pp. 774–776. ISBN 0415060435. 
  2. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter T". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles
  4. ^ North American Kyoto Prize Web Site: Kyoto Prize
  5. ^ "Part 5: 10 leaders on how to change multiculturalism: Charles Taylor". Globe and Mail. 

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
  • 1993. Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism. McGill-Queen's 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
  • 2004. Modern Social Imaginaries.
  • 2007. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press
  • 2011. Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays. Harvard University Press.
  • Forthcoming. With Hubert Dreyfus, Retrieving Realism.


  • 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]
  • 2002  : Redhead, Mark. Charles Taylor: Thinking and Living Deep Diversity. Rowman & Littlefield
  • 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).
  • 1991 : Quentin Skinner, "Who Are 'We'? Ambiguities of the Modern Self", Inquiry, vol. 34, pp. 133–53. (a critical appraisal of Taylor's 'Sources of the Self')

See also

External links

Online Videos of Charles Taylor

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