Charles Taylor
Taylor in 2019
Charles Margrave Taylor

(1931-11-05) November 5, 1931 (age 92)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Alma mater
Notable work
  • Alba Romer Taylor
    (m. 1956; died 1990)
  • Aube Billard
    (m. 1995)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
ThesisExplanation in Social Science (1961)
Doctoral advisorSir Isaiah Berlin
Doctoral students
Other notable students
Main interests
Notable ideas

Charles Margrave Taylor CC GOQ FRSC FBA (born November 5, 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. His work has earned him the Kyoto Prize, the Templeton Prize, the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy, and the John W. Kluge Prize.

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.[49][50]


Charles Margrave Taylor was born in Montreal, Quebec, on November 5, 1931, to a Roman Catholic Francophone mother and a Protestant Anglophone father by whom he was raised bilingually.[51][52] His father, Walter Margrave Taylor, was a steel magnate originally from Toronto while his mother, Simone Marguerite Beaubien, was a dressmaker.[53] His sister was Gretta Chambers.[54] He attended Selwyn House School from 1939 to 1946,[55][56] followed by Trinity College School from 1946 to 1949,[57] and began his undergraduate education at McGill University where he received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in history in 1952.[58] He continued his studies at the University of Oxford, first as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, receiving a BA degree with first-class honours in philosophy, politics and economics in 1955, and then as a postgraduate student, receiving a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1961[13][59] under the supervision of Sir Isaiah Berlin.[60] As an undergraduate student, he started one of the first campaigns to ban thermonuclear weapons in the United Kingdom in 1956,[61] serving as the first president of the Oxford Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[62]

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.[63]

For many years, both before and after Oxford, he was Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, where he is now professor emeritus.[64] Taylor was also a Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, 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.[65] 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. In 2003, he was awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Gold Medal for Achievement in Research, which had been the council's highest honour.[66][67] He was awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize for progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities, which included 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.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70] 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".[71]


Despite his extensive and diverse philosophical oeuvre,[72] Taylor famously calls himself a "monomaniac,"[73] concerned with only one fundamental aspiration: to develop a convincing philosophical anthropology.

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 epistemology. He is part of an influential intellectual tradition of Canadian idealism that includes John Watson, George Paxton Young, C. B. Macpherson, and George Grant.[74][dubiousdiscuss]

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.[75]

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.[75]

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.[75]

Taylor's critique of naturalism

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."[76] 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[77] that was highly influential at mid-century.

From there, Taylor also spread his critique to other disciplines. The 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.[78] 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.[79]

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,[80] while in Sources of the Self (1989) he found both naturalist error and the deep moral, motivational sources for this outlook[clarification needed] in various individualist and utilitarian conceptions of selfhood.[citation needed]

Taylor and hermeneutics

Taylor in 2012

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 modern hermeneutics and phenomenology.[81]

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 and has been called engaged hermeneutics.[8] 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.[82] It is also evident in his own original contributions to hermeneutic and interpretive theory.[82]

Communitarian critique of liberalism

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

Further information: A Secular Age and Secularity § Taylorian secularity

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".[83]

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.[84] 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.[85] 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.


Taylor was a candidate for the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) 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.[86]

Taylor served as a vice president of the federal NDP (beginning c. 1965)[62] and was president of its Quebec section.[87]

In 2010, Taylor said multiculturalism was a work in progress that faced challenges. He identified tackling Islamophobia in Canada as the next challenge.[88]

In his 2020 book Reconstructing Democracy he, together with Patrizia Nanz and Madeleine Beaubien Taylor, uses local examples to describe how democracies in transformation might be revitalized by involving citizenship.[89]


Published works


Selected book chapters

See also


  1. ^ Reprinted in Taylor's Philosophical Papers series.
  2. ^ The published version of Taylor's Massey Lectures. Republished in the US in 1992 as The Ethics of Authenticity.
  3. ^ Republished in 1994 with additional commentaries as Multiculturalism: Examining The Politics of Recognition.



  1. ^ Bjorn Ramberg; Kristin Gjesdal. "Hermeneutics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  2. ^ Berlin 1994, p. 1.
  3. ^ A. E. H. Campbell 2017, p. 14.
  4. ^ Abbey, Ruth (2016). "Curriculum Vitae". Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  5. ^ Beiser 2005, p. xii.
  6. ^ "Michael Rosen". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  7. ^ "Michael Sandel and AC Grayling in Conversation". Prospect. London. May 10, 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  8. ^ a b Van Aarde 2009.
  9. ^ Sheehan 2017, p. 88.
  10. ^ "Guy Laforest". ResearchGate. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  11. ^ Weinstock 2013, p. 125.
  12. ^ Palma 2014, pp. 10, 13.
  13. ^ a b "Fact Sheet – Charles Taylor". Templeton Prize. West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania: John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  14. ^ Brachear, Manya A. (March 15, 2007). "Prof's 'Spiritual Hunger' Pays Off". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  15. ^ Birnbaum 2004, pp. 263–264.
  16. ^ Abbey 2019.
  17. ^ Abbey 2000, p. 106; C. G. Campbell 2014, p. 58.
  18. ^ Abbey 2004, p. 3; J. K. A. Smith 2014, p. 18.
  19. ^ a b Taylor 2016, "Preface".
  20. ^ Semko 2004, p. 5; Taylor 2016, "Preface".
  21. ^ Taylor 1992, p. 14.
  22. ^ Fraser 2003, pp. 759, 763.
  23. ^ Busacchi 2015, p. 1.
  24. ^ Taylor, Charles. "Review: McDowell on Value and Knowledge". JSTOR. Oxford University Press. JSTOR 2660352. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  25. ^ Grene 1976, p. 37; J. K. A. Smith 2014, p. 18; N. H. Smith 2004, pp. 31–32.
  26. ^ Abbey 2004, p. 18; Meijer 2017, p. 267; Meszaros 2016, p. 14.
  27. ^ Apczynski 2014, p. 22.
  28. ^ Grene 1976, p. 37.
  29. ^ Bhargava, Rajeev (November 29, 2016). "How the Secular Diversity of India Informed the Philosophy of Charles Taylor". Newslaundry. Retrieved November 3, 2020.
  30. ^ Abbey 2000, p. 222.
  31. ^ Rodowick 2015, p. ix.
  32. ^ Nathan, Andrew J. (2015). "Beijing Bull: The Bogus China Model". The National Interest. No. 140. Washington: Center for the National Interest. pp. 73–81. ISSN 0884-9382. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  33. ^ Bellah, Robert N. (2002). "New-Time Religion". The Christian Century. Chicago. pp. 20–26. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  34. ^ Bellah, Robert N. (2011). Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. Cited in Converse, William (April 17, 2013). "Review of Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, by Robert N. Bellah". Anglican Church of Canada. Archived from the original on August 17, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  35. ^ Calhoun 2012, pp. 66, 69.
  36. ^ Di Noia, Joseph Augustine (June 12, 2010). "New Vocations in the Province of St. Joseph: Ecclesial, Historical & Cultural Perspectives". New York: Dominican Friars Province of St. Joseph. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  37. ^ Hansen, Luke (October 26, 2018). "Australian Bishop: Respect for Women Is a Top Concern at Synod". America. New York. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  38. ^ C. G. Campbell 2014, p. 58.
  39. ^ Steinmetz-Jenkins, Daniel (November 6, 2014). "Review of Faith as an Option, by Hans Joas". The Immanent Frame. New York: Social Science Research Council. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  40. ^ Hendrickson, Daniel (March 9, 2011). "Review of All Things Shining, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly". Full Stop. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  41. ^ Laforest 2009, p. 251.
  42. ^ Geddes, John (September 2, 2011). "The Real Jack Layton". Maclean's. Toronto: Rogers Media. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  43. ^ Lindholm 2007, p. 24.
  44. ^ Kolodziejczyk, Dorota (2001). "Review of Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, by Bhikhu Parekh". Culture Machine. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  45. ^ Mukhopadhyay 2005, p. 45.
  46. ^ "Christian Smith". Science of Generosity. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  47. ^ Marty, Martin E. (November 12, 2018). "James K.A. Smith's 'Cultural Liturgies'". Sightings. Chicago: University of Chicago. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  48. ^ Adam 1997, p. 146.
  49. ^ Abbey 2000.
  50. ^ "Charles Taylor". Montreal: McGill University. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  51. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958; Abbey 2017; N. H. Smith 2002, p. 7.
  52. ^ "How To Restore Your Faith In Democracy". The New Yorker.
  53. ^ Mathien & Grandy 2019.
  54. ^ "History Through Our Eyes: Sept. 5, 1991, the Chambers task force". Montreal Gazette.
  55. ^ "Charles Taylor '46 Receives World's Largest Cash Award". Westmount, Quebec: Selwyn House School. March 15, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
  56. ^ Selwyn House School Yearbook 1946
  57. ^ "TCS to present prestigious awards on Reunion Weekend". Archived from the original on 2020-05-31. Retrieved 2020-05-13.
  58. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958.
  59. ^ Mason 1996.
  60. ^ Ancelovici & Dupuis-Déri 2001, p. 260.
  61. ^ N. H. Smith 2002, p. 7.
  62. ^ a b Palma 2014, p. 11.
  63. ^ Abbey 2016, p. 958; Miller 2014, p. 165.
  64. ^ "Charles Taylor - 2017". McGill University. Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  65. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences, p. 536.
  66. ^ "Prizes". Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Archived from the original on August 11, 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  67. ^ "Prizes: Previous Winners". Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Archived from the original on August 11, 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  68. ^ "Home". Montreal: Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences. Archived from the original on July 1, 2008. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  69. ^ "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.
  70. ^ "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.
  71. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2016). "Canadian Philosopher Wins $1 Million Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  72. ^ Bohmann, Keding & Rosa 2018.
  73. ^ Bohmann & Montero 2014, p. 14; Taylor 1985b, p. 1.
  74. ^ Meynell 2011.
  75. ^ a b c Taylor 1995.
  76. ^ Taylor 1985b, p. 1.
  77. ^ Taylor 1964.
  78. ^ Taylor 1985a.
  79. ^ Taylor 1983.
  80. ^ Taylor 1985c.
  81. ^ "Interview with Charles Taylor: The Malaise of Modernity" by David Cayley,
  82. ^ a b Taylor 1985d.
  83. ^ Taylor 1999; Taylor 2002.
  84. ^ Taylor 2007.
  85. ^ Taylor 2007, pp. 1–22.
  86. ^ Muntarbhorn & Taylor 1994.
  87. ^ Abbey 2000, p. 6; Anctil 2011, p. 119.
  88. ^ "Part 5: 10 Leaders on How to Change Multiculturalism". Our Time to Lead. The Globe and Mail. June 21, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  89. ^ Taylor, Nanz & Beaubien Taylor 2020.

Works cited

Further reading

  • Barrie, John A. (1996). "Probing Modernity". Quadrant. Vol. 40, no. 5. pp. 82–83. ISSN 0033-5002.
  • Blakely, Jason (2016). Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and the Demise of Naturalism: Reunifying Political Theory and Social Science. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0-268-10064-3.
  • Braak, Andre van der. Reimagining Zen in a Secular age: Charles Taylor and Zen Buddhism in the West (Brill Rodopi, 2020) online review
  • Gagnon, Bernard (2002). La philosophie morale et politique de Charles Taylor [The Moral and Political Philosophy of Charles Taylor] (in French). Quebec City, Quebec: Presses de l'Université Laval. ISBN 978-2-7637-7866-2. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  • Lehman, Glen (2015). Charles Taylor's Ecological Conversations: Politics, Commonalities and the Natural Environment. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-52478-2.
  • McKenzie, Germán (2017). Interpreting Charles Taylor's Social Theory on Religion and Secularization. Sophia Studies in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures. Vol. 20. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-47700-8. ISBN 978-3-319-47698-8. ISSN 2211-1107.
  • Meijer, Michiel (2018). Charles Taylor's Doctrine of Strong Evaluation: Ethics and Ontology in a Scientific Age. London: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-78660-400-2.
  • 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). 55 (2). Presses de Sciences Po.: 299–315. doi:10.3917/rfsp.552.0299. 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.
  • Svetelj, Tone (2012). Rereading Modernity: Charles Taylor on Its Genesis and Prospects (PhD thesis). Chestnut Hills, Massachusetts: Boston College. hdl:2345/3853.
  • 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. ISSN 1743-8772. S2CID 144378936.
Online videos of Charles Taylor
Academic offices Preceded byJohn Plamenatz Chichele Professor ofSocial and Political Theory 1976–1981 Succeeded byG. A. Cohen Preceded byRichard Lewontin Massey Lecturer 1991 Succeeded byRobert Heilbroner Preceded byG. A. Cohen Tanner Lecturer on Human Valuesat Stanford University 1991–1992 Succeeded byThomas E. Hill Preceded byHolmes Rolston III Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh 1998–1999 Succeeded byDavid Tracy Preceded byDavid Fergusson Gifford Lecturer at the University of Glasgow 2009 Succeeded byGianni Vattimo Preceded byMargaret Atwood Beatty Lecturer 2017 Succeeded byRoxane Gay Awards Preceded byAlice Munro Molson Prize 1991 With: Denys Arcand Succeeded byDouglas Cardinal Preceded byJean-Jacques Nattiez Succeeded byFernand Dumont Preceded byBruce Trigger Prix Léon-Gérin 1992 Succeeded byGérard Bouchard Preceded byJ. Bryan Hehir Marianist Award for Intellectual Contributions 1996 Succeeded byGustavo Gutiérrez New award SSHRC Gold Medal for Achievement in Research 2003 Succeeded byAlex Michalos Preceded byJohn D. Barrow Templeton Prize 2007 Succeeded byMichał Heller Preceded byPina Bausch Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy 2008 Succeeded byPierre Boulez Preceded byFernando Henrique Cardoso Kluge Prize 2015 With: Jürgen Habermas Succeeded byDrew Gilpin Faust New award Berggruen Prize 2016 Succeeded byThe Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Preceded byAnita Desai Blue MetropolisInternational Literary Grand Prize 2019 Succeeded byAnnie Proulx Preceded byMario Botta Ratzinger Prize 2019 With: Paul Béré Succeeded byJean-Luc Marion Preceded byMarianne Schlosser [de] Succeeded byTracey Rowland