Charles Taylor, bridging politics and philosophy

Charles Taylor (BA ‘52), one of the world‘s most important philosophers, began teaching at McGill in 1961.

Praised for his ability to broaden people’s perspectives, regardless of whether they agree with his beliefs, Taylor’s writings on the self and society have been translated into over 20 languages. He has made important contributions to the study of secularism, multiculturalism, morality and social behaviour.

Taylor stands apart as a philosopher who puts ideas into practice. He ran in three federal elections representing the NDP — most famously against Pierre Trudeau in 1965.

In 2007, the Quebec government recruited Taylor to co-chair an inquiry into reasonable accommodations for cultural and religious groups, now known as the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. Among the recommendations, the report suggested that an official policy of “interculturalism” in Quebec could offer security to the province’s French-speaking core, as well as to minority ethno-cultural groups.

His work has won him many accolades — the first Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Gold Medal in 2003; the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities in 2007; Japan’s Kyoto Prize for arts and philosophy in 2008 (the first awarded to a Canadian); and in 2015, the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, and the inaugural Berggruen Prize (2016). He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1995, and a Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec in 2000.

In 2017, Taylor delivered the Beatty Memorial Lecture at McGill, stressing that Canadians must continue to advocate for democracy and not become complacent.

“Parts of the world may seem to be drifting in the direction of totalitarianism, but I think there are also forces working against this. I have been involved in politics all my life and to be involved in politics, you have to believe that changes can be made. You have to manufacture a certain horizon of hope to go on acting.”