What makes Taylor so important? Over more than 40 years, four large books, four or five slimmer essays and several volumes of articles, he has worked out a distinctive network of arguments and an exceptionally rich analysis of the modern self and its values—an analysis that reveals us to be altogether deeper and more interesting, but also less self-aware, than we tend to suppose.
At the heart of Taylor’s thought is a critique of “naturalist” modes of thinking, whether manifest in philosophy, social science, economics or psychology. For Taylor, naturalism is the view that all human and social phenomena, including our subjectivity, are best understood on the model of natural phenomena, by using scientific canons of explanation. So wherever possible, apparently complicated social entities should be reduced to their simple component parts; social and cultural institutions and practices explained in terms of the beliefs and actions of individuals; value judgements reduced to brute animal preferences; the physical world to sense data; sense data to neurological activity and so on. Taylor believes that in the last 400 years, naturalism has fundamentally reshaped our individual and collective self-understanding. Seeing the limits of this mode of thought promises to give us a critical purchase on ourselves and our culture.
more from Prospect Magazine here.