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Study Notes

Charles Taylor (1931- )

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 30 Dec 2018

Charles Taylor is a Canadian philosopher and communitarian. Taylor is an academic and has been an engaged social democratic politician. His work is broad and he has considered a wide range of philosophical and sociological topics from identity to religion to the nature of social studies itself.

We are particularly interested in his work on multiculturalism, but there are clear links running throughout his work.

Taylor is a social democrat and a communitarian, rather than a liberal, and argues that it is important to understand the social nature of identity. He also rejects the idea that our identity, sense of self and values are a rational exercise - the utilitarian idea of the greatest good (in that sense he agrees with Berlin) but instead we need to look at the diverse sources of moral beliefs. Unlike Berlin, Taylor points to a great deal of consensus on moral standards: people have significant levels of agreement on many of the great moral questions. Where we disagree is about where that moral belief comes from: is it reason, science, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc? These differences are important aspects of people's identity.

When it comes to practical politics, rather than abstract philosophy, Taylor was interested in the politics of recognition. This is based on the idea that there should be a universal right for all to have their identity recognised. This formed part of his work on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission into the issue of the integration of different identities in the Canadian province of Quebec, and the idea of reasonable accommodation being made to ensure the peaceful co-existence of different religious and ethnic groups in the region.

Taylor argued that majorities should demonstrate "openness and generosity of spirit" to minorities. This work followed some resistance to multiculturalism in Canada, and Quebec in particular, with particular concerns about Islam and Muslims among the traditional French-speaking catholic population. Some of the recommendations of the commission were very controversial, such as the combination of removing the crucifix from the national assembly while permitting children to wear any religious symbols they wished to at school (turbans, hijab, kippah, etc). The recommendation re: the crucifix was not followed, and Taylor later said he disagreed with it himself. Taylor saw multiculturalism very much as a "work in progress" and identified the struggle against Islamophobia as the next big fight in Canada.

For Taylor, the politics of recognition is based on both equality and difference: the equalisation of all rights and entitlements, and the politics of difference.

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