Friday, 25 February 2011

Charles Taylor

Among Taylor's influences: Hegel, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty. ["Charles Taylor (philosopher), Wikipedia, 26 Feb 2011.]

Taylor is part of the neo-Aristotelian revival, arising out of the perceived failure of ethical thought in the post-Enlightenment world. [He is therefore far from being 'modernist.'] His specific approach to neo-Aristotelianism is marked by a firm and constant rejection of what he calls 'naturalism' - 'that the nature of which he is a part is to be understood according to the canons which emerged in the seventeenth-century revolution in natural science' (Philosophy and the Human Sciences). [Dene Baker, "Philosopher of the Month: May 2003: Charles Taylor" at, on 26 Feb 2011.]

In taking on naturalism, Taylor challenges 'the modern malaise' - an excessive centering on the self that flattens and narrows our lives, making them poorer in meaning and less concerned with others and with society (The Ethics of Authenticity). [His earliest writings seem to be leftist; his political affiliation was to a left-leaning, social democratic party.] [Baker]

He is associated - together with people like Alaisdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, Michael Sandel, and Gad Barzilai - 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. [Wikipedia.] In his 1991 Massey lecture, "The Malaise of Modernity," he argued that political theorists from Locke and Hobbes to Rawls and Dworkin have neglected the way in which individuals arises within contexts supplied by society. 

The self is essentially defined by the framework of goods that define the good life in the Aristotelian sense. These moral frameworks are presided over by hypergoods - 'goods which not only are incomparably more important than others but provide the standpoint from which these must be weighed, judged, decided about'. (Sources of the Self) [Baker]

Taylor is described as a 'post-analytic' philosopher - someone who retains the clarity of the analytic tradition but goes beyond the analytic-continental divide. His efforts at 'philosophical archaeology' in Sources of the Self is a good witness to his desire to go beyond the ahistorical tendency of the analytic tradition (he studied in Oxford under Isaiah Berlin and G.E.M. Anscombe). [Baker]

While rejecting the tendency of certain forms of political liberalism to promote homogeneity, he upholds multiculturalism, but also argues that not all cultures are - or perhaps not everything in a culture is - intrinsically valuable, and that we must work towards a fusion of horizons. [Baker]

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