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article imageCanadian philosopher Charles Taylor wins one million dollar prize

By Ken Hanly     Oct 6, 2016 in World
Montreal - Charles Taylor has become the first winner of the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy. Taylor, 84 will be given the prize in a ceremony in New York City on December 1.
The Berggruen Prize in Philosophy is intended to recognize living thinkers whose ideas are of basic importance for contemporary and future life. The prize comes with a generous cash award of one million dollars. The inaugural prize was awarded to Taylor for his contributions that "fundamentally shaped public discussion of the nature of multi-culturalism, secularism, and contemporary religious life." Taylor will be invited to present and discuss his work at a major lecture and symposium to be held in New York City in December.
The prize is sponsored by the Berggruen Institute a think tank and research institute in Los Angeles California. The institute is funded by Nicolas Berggruen a billionaire investor and philanthropist. An interesting article on Berggruen and the institute can be found in the LATimes.
Taylor was chosen by an independent nine-member jury headed by philosopher Kwame Appiah. The jury praised Taylor's support for "political unity that respects cultural diversity" and for his work that demonstrated that "Western civillization is not simply unitary but like all civilizations the product of diverse influences".
Earlier, in 2015, Taylor won the John W. Kluge Prize for the Achievement in the Study of Humanity which he shared with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. He also won the 2007 Templeton Prize for achievement in the advancement in spiritual matters. Both prizes also have large financial awards of over a million dollars.
Among Taylor's many books are "Sources of the Self" which explores the way that different ideas of the self were instrumental in defining Western civilization. Another important tome was "A Secular Age" that explored the coexistence of religious and non-religious people in an age dominated by secular ideas.
Taylor is a professor emeritus at McGill University and a resident of Montreal. Taylor has always been interested in multiculturalism. In 2007 he served together with Gerard Bouchard on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accomodation with regard to cultural differences in Quebec. Taylor has taught at the University of Oxford, and was Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University. Taylor was a Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston before he retired.
CBC has a recent interview with Taylor about his work. Taylor said that he was heartened to receive the prize from a foundation that was dedicated to creating a world where people talked to each other without cross-purposes and to be recognized as someone who shared that goal.
Taylor said that much of his work was centered on multiculturalism: With creating a society in which people from very different cultures can form together a body politic, a people, a democracy, and fight against all the attempts that are arising in every one of our societies to raise boundaries of exclusion against certain kinds of people — in other words, divide us. For instance, in Quebec we had the so-called "Charter of Quebec Values," which I fought very vigorously against and which we managed to avoid.
Another key aspect of Taylor's work is his critique of a simplistic view of the enlightenment: I've been a very strong opponent of the idea that there's something called enlightenment, reason, which is highly simple and which everybody agrees on. I see the great enlightenment in the West as a very complex movement with many different sides and some of them rather dark. You have to pick them apart. There isn't a simple thing called Western civilization. There's a very, very complex mix of mutually incompatible elements. If you think that way you're more open, I think, to looking at and understanding other civilizations in their complexity. You get over this Western civilization versus the rest. All that is very damaging and based on illusions of some kind of simple essence of the West and a simple essence of some other society.
When asked how Taylor squared his ideas of liberal democracy with the rise of nationalism and other conflicting forces he repied that he did not. He said we had to fight against such forces, but should recognize there are deep strains in all cultures. As an example he noted that in the west there was a tendency to regard newcomers as a threat. He noted that poor economic conditions often made these feelings stronger. Taylor claimed that it was not enough just to criticize those feelings but to deal with the needs and fears that cause people to feel the way they do.
When asked if he felt despair at what was happening politically in Canada, North America and Europe, Taylor said that he did have a great fear for what was taking place. However, he thought that some attempts to set back democracy could be defeated. He thought that Canada did not turn in a direction such as that exemplified by Trump in the US. Canada showed it was fed up with the kind of politics represented by Stephen Harper. He thought that this made Canada somewhat immune to the kind of fears that are causing politics to change in Europe.
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