Charles Taylor (philosopher)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Taylor in 2019

Charles Taylor , CC , FRSC (born November 5, 1931 in Montreal ) is a Canadian political scientist and philosopher . He is professor em. for Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal and Permanent Fellow at the IWM Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna . It is attributed to communitarianism .

The subjects of Taylor's extensive and varied research are in particular moral philosophy , language philosophy , political philosophy , the concept of the multicultural society and, most recently, the philosophy of religion . However, he called himself a "monomaniac" early on and still sees himself that way today, i.e. as a thinker driven by a single idea with the aim of developing a convincing philosophical anthropology. In his main work, Sources of the Self , Taylor tries to reconstruct the moral sources of the modern age, which are constitutive for the understanding of the self and the world.


Charles Taylor

Taylor was born as the youngest child of three children to parents Walter Margrave Taylor and Simone Beaubien. He had a Catholic upbringing and grew up bilingual. Taylor attended the private Selwyn House School in Montreal and Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. He then studied history at McGill University in Montreal and philosophy, political science and economics at the University of Oxford . With his dissertation published in 1964 on The Explanation of Behavior , he presented a sharp criticism of psychological behaviorism .

Taylor's academic career alternated between Montréal and Oxford. After completing his studies, he initially worked as an assistant professor, and from 1962 as a professor of political science and philosophy at McGill University and the Université de Montréal . From 1976–1981 he taught social and political theory at Oxford University before returning to Montreal in 1982. He worked at McGill University there until his retirement. In 2002, Taylor was appointed professor of law and philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois . In addition, he has repeatedly accepted visiting professorships, including at the universities of Kingston, Princeton, Berkeley, Delhi, Tübingen, at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In autumn 2005 he conducted research at the Berlin Wissenschaftskolleg on the return of religion in the secular age. In 2012 he held the Schiller Professorship at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena . As a Senior Fellow at the Potsdam Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies , Taylor researched and taught on strengthening democratic structures in the face of post-truth and decentralized value changes .

Taylor ran several times as a candidate for the Social Democratic New Democratic Party in Mount Royal in elections to the Canadian House of Commons . In 1965 he was defeated by the future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau . In 2007 he was commissioned by the Prime Minister of Québec , Jean Charest , to co-head a “Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accomodements reliées aux différences culturelles”, which was supposed to research the social environment of religious and cultural minorities in the province of Québec.

Charles Taylor has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1986 .


Over the course of almost six decades, Taylor made significant contributions to political philosophy, to the philosophy of the social sciences, and to the history of philosophy, through his teaching activities as well as through numerous books and essays. His influential work can hardly be surveyed in its breadth, but has recently been re-measured in line with Taylor's concept of the moral map. The main topics of his research are moral philosophy, the question of the identity of individuals and communities and the concept of the multicultural society. Taylor's basic question of political thought is always: "How do we want to live?"

In his dissertation, The Explanation of Behavior , he criticizes the neo-positivist way of explaining behaviorism , in which human actions are reduced to observable behavior. He contrasts this with an intentional model of human action that he takes from the phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty .

Taylor's studies from 1971 to 1981, published as Philosophical Papers , cover a broad spectrum of social philosophy, political philosophy, philosophical anthropology and ethics.

His comprehensive Hegel monograph, published in 1975, met with a great response, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, and triggered a new reception of Hegel's philosophy there. Taylor considers Hegel's systematic idea to have failed, but believes that Hegel's work expresses the fundamental conflict of modernity, the opposition between natural science and the subject.

In his 1989 published work Sources of the self (dt. Sources of the Self , 1994) criticizes Taylor the idea of the autonomous individual as a misunderstanding of modernity on its own foundations. Not a neutral reason, but rather an ethical idea stands at the beginning of modernity. Taylor turns critically against the idea of ​​a neutral individual who can only open up the world through his "disengaged reason". In contrast, the life of the individual, in the sense of Hegel and Wittgenstein, always takes place against the background of a certain form of life .

From this starting point, Taylor arrived at a conception of ethics in Negative Freedom (1988) that brought him into opposition to Kantian models. The basis of the actions of the individual are judgments that are based on the idea of ​​the human self. These values ​​only apply to a concrete historical community in which the individual has always been active. Human identity, human action and recognition are not possible without the intersubjectively binding acceptance of ultimate and highest goods.

In The Malaise of Modernity (1991, dt. U nbehagen at the Modern , 1995) criticized the central Taylor modern idea of human freedom and self-determination of the individual as a truncated image of man with fatal consequences. It leads to an “individualism of self-realization” and thus to a value relativism and subjectivism that ignores issues beyond the self and makes it impossible to answer moral issues. Taylor outlines the counter-model in How Much Community Does Democracy Need? (2001). Taylor calls for a reflection on values ​​such as community spirit and solidarity . The rights guaranteed by the community must be matched by an obligation on the part of the individual for the community.

A secular age


Taylor addresses three meanings of secularity:

  1. Separation of state / public and church (secularity 1) The various areas of society are devoid of religion.
  2. Decline of religious belief (secularity 2): Faith is practiced less, people turn away from God more and more.
  3. Multiplication of options (secularity 3): Belief in God is no longer a matter of course, but one of many options, but has not completely disappeared.

Religion can play different roles in society:

  • Paleo-Durkheimian: Religion is so natural that it is not questioned. It determines all areas of life and there is no alternative to it.
  • Neo-Durkheimian: Religion is not practiced in the same way by all of society, but there are groups whose identity a religion belongs to. Religion cannot be taken for granted, there is an outside. It has to be fought for, e.g. B. to convince through preaching and catechesis. The plausibility of religion is most likely to arise in groups.
  • Post-Durkheimian: Religion is no longer a matter of course, not even for larger groups. Religion has to prove itself for each individual.

Bulwarks of Faith

Taylor distinguishes two types of self. The development goes from the porous self to the buffered:

  • porous self: it is influenced by external forces, deities and powers.
  • Buffered self: Internalization takes place, you make yourself independent of a supposedly enchanted world.

The great disentanglement

For Taylor, the human was embedded as follows:

  • the mind in the body
  • the individual in society / community
  • the society / community in nature
  • nature in God

These embeddings have dissolved more and more (disentanglement). Every detachment increases the fragility of faith.

Discomfort with modernity

For Western society, authenticity has become more important. The ethic of authenticity has its roots in Romanticism, but it was only in the last few decades that it had spread in society as a whole. It's about "doing your thing", discovering yourself. The feeling of belonging to a larger ensemble (state, denomination, church, ...) is disappearing more and more.

This is accompanied by an anthropocentrism that demystifies the world: You no longer believe in spirits and powers, but rely on reason and your own strength. This makes people invulnerable - and one is no longer dependent on God's power. They broke out of a kind of captivity and freed themselves from fears that previously haunted people. A key concept is "civilization", which is characterized by education, self-discipline, the arts, political order, etc. The development towards civilization increases the feeling of invulnerability. The disenchanted world lacks meaning, especially the youth have difficulties to find a goal for their life. The danger of senselessness is part of modernity, which is said to have had its forerunner in melancholy. Identity is becoming more and more unstable, not least because pluralism does not simply mean the coexistence of different groups of beliefs (which has also existed in the past), but today's pluralism is characterized by the fact that changing to a different belief has become a realistic option .

In the modern age, the accusations against religion have grown ever greater: It is unreasonable (because of the secrets and paradoxes), authoritarian (i.e. against freedom and reason), raises the insoluble theodicy problem , etc. Whether one continues to look to God in the face of theodicy Believing, or rather in a blind universe full of coincidences, depends heavily on the solidarity groups in which you are: If everyone around you believes in God, it is easier to believe in him too. If everyone around you is rebelling against him, that is easier. In any case, something seems to have been lost with the loss of the transcendence of society: one's own actions, goals, achievements, etc. have less weight. The path in life that you have taken can be questioned at any time and at some point you may not even be able to justify it to yourself. Such crises repeatedly lead to the question of the meaning of life. The emptiness and senselessness show up in the difficulty of appropriately appreciating events such as birth, marriage and death. But an emptiness can also be felt in everyday life, which results from the same processes over and over again (e.g. the sequence of needs and needs satisfaction in the consumer society). Different paths had been taken to find meaning: First, Kant identified morality with autonomy. The overemphasis on reason led to counter-reactions from Romanticism, which opposed the tyranny of reason over feelings and emphasized the unity with nature.

The age of authenticity

For Taylor, the age of authenticity begins after the Second World War, and is increasingly expressed again in the 60s and 70s. Nowadays, individualization has increased to the point that self-realization has become an imperative that affects all areas of life. Also and especially the work should be spiritually fulfilling, self-fulfilling, always challenging, etc. In the way of life, one has the impression that more freedom of choice increases the quality of life. One is skeptical about authorities because nobody has to tell anyone what to do or what not to do. Taylor cites the changes in gender roles, homosexuality and the abortion debate as examples. Strict sexual norms are also being questioned more and more. That is also one of the points why the church is losing strength because it stands for more conservative values ​​and social orders. The turn to the age of authenticity is rejected by critics because it primarily spreads hedonism and egoism. Proponents of the Wende see their values ​​(especially freedom) as irrevocable and unquestionable, which would not have any disadvantages. Taylor himself would position himself in such a way that he welcomes the turnaround towards authenticity in principle, because for him the positive consequences predominate, but he is also aware that the turnaround also costs something (e.g. that clear value orientations no longer apply or relativism spreads). In the age of authenticity, everyone should have their own values, because you also want to choose your own. However, individualization also leads to a new kind of loneliness, which is particularly broken by the festive: football stadiums or rock festivals are examples of the fact that the individual longs to be part of a larger whole. Taylor does not consider it absurd that new forms of religion are seen here in modern times. In the case of religion and the establishment of truth in general, it is no longer so much a question of finding the correct, rationally justified formula that is reasonably comprehensible, but in the age of authenticity the truth is found through experience.

In earlier times the Church had taught that sex should only be used for procreation, and such sex is also sinful. In the 19th century, however, the Church no longer allowed the church to dictate what sex was good for, but instead oriented oneself to the medical-scientific ideal, whereby the health aspect came to the fore, but still not pleasure. Taylor points to the context that priests who are bound by celibacy also demand special sexual purity from others. The ideal of a sexually disciplined, honest citizen was increasingly repulsive, especially for men who want to live out their freedoms unhindered, which is why men have increasingly distanced themselves from the church. Therefore a feminization of the church and the faith can be observed. The sexual revolution fought against the strict sexual norms, which even in the reform Catholicism of the 2nd Vatican Council had not really been relaxed. One of the disadvantages of sexual liberation is the danger that men can objectify and exploit women even more. In any case, the church will find it difficult to be heard in the age of authenticity as long as it does not change the prevailing image of it as a monolithic block.

Religion today

Although religion is becoming less important in contemporary society, Taylor does not accept that people's religious pursuit will wane. Taylor not only fixes religion to its institutionalized forms, but also addresses intermediate forms between church-organized religion and free-floating spirituality (e.g. Taizé, non-practicing church members or non-church members with belief in a god or higher powers).

The immanent framework

In the 15th chapter Taylor deals with the question of why it is currently hardly imaginable to believe in God, while around 1500 it was still hardly imaginable not to believe in God. In order to pursue this question, he illuminates a phenomenon of society that he calls the immanent framework: the world is explained purely scientifically without resorting to external entities (God, forces and other elements of the enchanted world). This is accompanied by a process of internalization: Instead of z. For example, to speak of demonic possession, one speaks of mental illness. Things are shifting inward, into the psyche, which thereby gains more depth, whereas the external influencing factors of the external world are eliminated.

An important belief in the immanent framework is the view that the sciences have refuted God or that religion is superfluous. Taylor considers the arguments for this opinion to be extremely weak. He therefore investigates the question of why this view is so popular, although it cannot be well supported by arguments. Taylor explains this through milieus and their role models who represent this position. It creates identity and connects people, regardless of their argumentative weakness. An exclusive humanism develops that distinguishes itself from Christianity. After the death of God you are faced with a cold universe, which you first have to give meaning yourself, because it has no meaning in itself. The orderly, meaningful cosmos also died with God. In this narrative, one feels like an awakened person who has passed from the childhood stage to the adult stage. You no longer feel naive, you can explain everything, have everything under control and bravely defy the senselessness of the world. This narrative seems so fundamental that even on the island of firm belief, this idea creeps in in the form of doubt. God comes up primarily in the mode of missing.

Another important facet of the immanent framework is the subtraction theory: God has gradually been eliminated because more and more explanations make God superfluous. Materialism and naturalism lead to the death of God and convey a feeling of control. Modernity also includes options for spirituality that are not closed in the immanent framework, but keep the framework open.

The old order was strongly determined by hierarchies, whereas with the French Revolution freedom, equality and fraternity came to the fore. The feeling of liberation and effectiveness are added: the ability to act and justice have a strong moral attraction. The central values ​​of the new order: freedom, empowerment, mutual benefit and reason. Religion's contribution is that it takes on a transcendence, the idea that there is something higher. Taylor assumes that this feature of religion does not compromise the stated enlightenment value. Therefore, the history of modernity does not necessarily have to be anti-religious, but there are moral motives for taking the secular, anti-religious path anyway.

The next facet of the secularization narrative is that you no longer refer to the values ​​of God, gods, the cosmos, etc., but recognize them as fictional and now want to build the values ​​and morals not on others but on your own authority. An example of this is the utilitarian principle that one should act on what is most fortunate for most people. Kant bases his morality on reason. The bottom line is that we are dealing with a radicalization of the maturity narrative.


Taylor addresses conversions or (re) conversions as examples of people who break through the immanent framework. He also speaks of the related phenomenon of epiphany experiences, which can be associated with a feeling of fullness: Bede Griffith, Václav Havel, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley. Other examples are Charles Péguy, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Converted people find new ways for themselves.

Christianity and modernity

A practicing Catholic, Taylor received the University of Dayton's 1996 Marianist Award . In his lecture on the acceptance of the prize, he takes the view that certain Christian values ​​are more firmly realized in secularized Western societies than they ever were in Christian-dominated societies before the age of the Enlightenment . Taylor cites as examples the recognition of universally valid human rights and far-reaching works of charity within the framework of the welfare state as well as through international aid in natural disasters and humanitarian intervention in civil wars.

Taylor regards it as a prerequisite for such humanity that a society should not be dominated by a single religion or by a secular ideology. On the other hand, he regards an exclusive humanism as a danger , which understands human happiness and well-being as the exclusive and highest value. Taylor sees a human need for a purpose that transcends this world of human life . He interprets modern philosophical positions that question both Christian and humanistic values ​​- such as those of Friedrich Nietzsche - as an expression of dissatisfaction with the affirmation of human life as the sole basis of a value system.

Taylor also sees humanism as insufficient motivation for moral action: If an aid is justified solely on the basis of a positive humanistic image of man, there is a constant risk that the recipient will not meet the idealistic expectations of the giver. In this case, the helper's philanthropy could turn into contempt and hatred over time. A more cynical view of man spares such disappointments, but brings with it the danger of not being able to muster sufficient motivation for moral action. From this perspective Taylor refers to the importance of the Christian image of man, which understands the human being as a sinner , but at the same time ascribes him as an image of God but nevertheless unconditional value and dignity. At the same time, he points out that Christian faith alone is no guarantee for lasting moral action.


“The ideology of multiculturalism comes from Charles Taylor. His thesis: Liberal individualism leads to the fact that people pursue the satisfaction of their needs and become alienated and amoral by the consumer world. That can be corrected by falling back on old structures, namely the community, which provides an authentic identity and good morality ... Taylor uses a Marxist terminology, which he however totally transforms. I am of the opinion that multiculturalism is not a left, but a reactionary ideology, directed against liberal individualism. "

- Ralph Ghadban , 2019 :


Works (selection)

  • Reconstructing Democracy. How Citizens Are Building from the Ground Up , (with Patrizia Nanz ) Harvard University Press, 2020
  • Hegel (=  Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft . Volume 416 ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 978-3-518-28016-4 ( table of contents - original title: Hegel, 1975. Translated by Gerhard Fehn).
  • Sources of self. The emergence of modern identity (=  Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft . Volume 1233 ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 978-3-518-28833-7 ( table of contents of the English original - original title: Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity, 1992. Translated by Joachim Schulte).
  • The forms of the religious in the present . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 978-3-518-29168-9 .
  • A secular age . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-518-58534-4 ( table of contents - original title: A Secular Age . Translated by Joachim Schulte).
  • Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-518-29529-8 (original title: Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition" . Translated by Reinhard Kaiser).
    • Excerpt (see title) in: Lothar Baier u. a. Ed .: America writing differently. Quebec literature. Das Wunderhorn , Heidelberg 2000, pp. 214-223
  • Secularity and freedom of conscience . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2011 (original title: Laïcité et liberté de conscience . Translated by Eva Buddeberg; Robin Celikates , co-author Jocelyn Maclure).
  • The linguistically gifted animal. Basic features of human language skills . Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-518-58702-7 (Original title: The Language Animal. The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity .).
  • with Hubert L. Dreyfus : The recovery of realism. Translated by Joachim Schulte. Suhrkamp Verlag , 2016 ( Retrieving Realism. Harvard University Press , 2015)


  • Ingeborg Breuer: Charles Taylor for an introduction . 2nd Edition. Junius, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-88506-327-8 .
  • Ulf Bohmann (Ed.): How do we want to live? Charles Taylor's political thinking and understanding of the state . Nomos, Baden-Baden, ISBN 978-3-84871-110-9
  • Ulf Bohmann, Gesche Keding, Hartmut Rosa (Eds.): Special Issue: Tribute to Charles Taylor . In: Philosophy & Social Criticism, Vol. 44 (2018), Issue 7, pp. 725–801.
  • Gesche Keding, Ulf Bohmann (Ed.): Special Issue: Charles Taylor's "The Language Animal" . In: Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie, vol. 56 (2017), issue 4, pp. 613–743.
  • Michael Kühnlein: Religion as the Source of the Self. On the critique of reason and freedom by Charles Taylor , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149689-9 .
  • Michael Kühnlein, Matthias Lutz-Bachmann (Ed.): Unfulfilled Modernity? New perspectives on the work of Charles Taylor . Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-518-29618-9 .
  • Michael Kühnlein (Ed.): Charles Taylor. A secular age (classic interpretation 59), De Gruyter, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-11-040948-2 .
  • Emile Perreau-Saussine: Une spiritualité démocratique? Alasdair MacIntyre et Charles Taylor en conversation , Revue française de science politique, Vol. 55 (2), April 2005, pp. 299-315.
  • Hartmut Rosa : Identity and Cultural Practice. Political philosophy according to Charles Taylor , Frankfurt / M .: Campus, 1998, ISBN 3-593-35996-0 .
  • Hartmut Rosa , Ulf Bohmann: The political theory of communitarianism: Charles Taylor , in: André Brodocz / Gary S. Schaal (ed.): Political theory of the present II. An introduction , 4th edition, Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2015, p 65-102.
  • Markus Schütz: Charles Taylor's concept of the good. Can there still be a normative theory of the good life under the autonomy condition of modernity? . Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-8316-0525-4 .
  • James Tully , M. Weinstock (Eds.): Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Charles Taylor . In: IWM . October 7, 2010 ( [accessed November 29, 2017]).
  2. Hartmut Rosa, Ulf Bohmann: The political theory of communitarianism: Charles Taylor . In: André Brodocz, Gary Schaal (ed.): Political theory of the present . 4th edition. tape II . Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2015, ISBN 978-3-8252-4078-3 , p. 65-102 .
  3. ^ Charles Taylor: Philosophical Papers . tape 1 & 2 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1985, ISBN 978-0-521-31750-4 , pp. 1 .
  4. Ulf Bohmann, Darío Montero: History, Critique, Social Change and Democracy. An interview with Charles Taylor . In: Constellations. An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory . tape 21 , no. 1 , 2014, p. 3–15, here p. 14 .
  6. How do we strengthen democracy? Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor as a Senior Fellow at the IASS. In: Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) - News. November 15, 2017, accessed May 31, 2018 .
  7. 2007
  8. Charles Taylor: Sources of the Self. The emergence of modern identity . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, ISBN 3-518-28833-4 , pp. 52 ff .
  9. Ulf Bohmann, Gesche Keding, Hartmut Rosa: Charles Taylor's map . In: transit . tape 49 , 2016, ISBN 978-3-8015-0412-0 , pp. 90-187 .
  10. Ulf Bohmann: How do we want to live? Charles Taylor's political thinking and understanding of the state . Nomos, Baden-Baden 2014, ISBN 978-3-8487-1110-9 .
  11. Otfried Höffe: Hermeneutics and Secularity (Introduction) . In: Michael Kühnlein (Ed.): Charles Taylor. A secular age. Lay out classics . 2019, p. 17-29 .
  12. a b c d Oliver Flügel-Martinsen: Religion and Modernity (Chapter 14) . In: Michael Kühnlein (Ed.): Charles Taylor. A secular age . 2019, p. 149-159 .
  13. Taylor: A Secular Age . S. Cape. 8 Introduction .
  14. Taylor: A Secular Age . S. Cape. 8 Section 1 .
  15. Taylor: A Secular Age . S. Cape. 8 Section 2 .
  16. Taylor: A Secular Age . S. Cape. 13 Section 5 .
  17. Taylor: A Secular Age . S. Cape. 13 Section 6 .
  18. Taylor: A Secular Age . Cape. 15 Section 1.
  19. Taylor: A Secular Age . Cape. 15 Section 6.
  20. Taylor: A Secular Age . Cape. 15 Section 7.
  21. Taylor: A Secular Age . Cape. 15 Section 8.
  22. a b c Published in James Heft (Ed.): A Catholic Modernity? Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture. Oxford University Press, 1999
  23. When the women rebel, the clan structure falls apart. Focus , December 2, 2019; also in Berliner Kurier . Conversation with Andreas Kopietz
  24. Bruno Kreisky Prize for the Political Book Prize Winners 1993-2018 ,, accessed December 1, 2019
  25. See Schwäbische Zeitung Online from November 29, 2015; Press releases from the University of Tübingen and the Academy of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart .
  26. Berggruen Prize ( Memento of the original from January 4, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. 2016 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /