Taylor, Charles (1931–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD089-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

5. Communitarianism and multiculturalism

Although these modern transformations of the self lead to new capacities for individuation and fulfilment in interpersonal relationships, these new capacities give rise to new ethical and political challenges. Increased attention to intersubjective community is therefore important not only for philosophical accuracy but for moral life and personal satisfaction. Taylor is thus part of the diverse philosophical and political movement termed ‘communitarianism’. In addition to his enduring emphases on the constitutive role of language and the intersubjective nature of agency, in his work of the 1990s Taylor focused attention on the sociological dimensions of community, including especially the nature of nationalism and the irreducibly social nature of some human goods.

Drawing on his analysis of the modern self, Taylor shows in The Ethics of Authenticity (1991) how the search for authentic self-fulfilment can become incoherent and self-defeating when it is tied to atomistic individualism, the overvaluation of instrumental reason and an alienation from public life. At the same time, he argues against pessimism, suggesting that the other elements of our philosophical and cultural traditions give us resources for confronting our current crisis – including the recognition that our wants are necessarily qualitatively distinguishable (so that, among other things, we can want to have better wants), that our individuality is grounded in sociality (so that we can conceive of freedom in ways other than absence of external constraint), and that frameworks of strong evaluation are inescapable (so that the attribution of significance is not simply a matter of immediate subjective choice).

Among the most important themes in this work is a renewed link to Hegel. In many different versions of the fragmentation of political life, Taylor sees a common theme of competing demands for recognition of the legitimacy or value of different identities. This ‘politics of recognition’, appearing in nationalism, ethnic politics, feminism and multiculturalism, is an outgrowth of the modern valuation of self and ordinary life. Claims often assert the rightness and value of differences among people, in contradiction to earlier politics that stressed universal dignity by recommending blindness to differences. Many are incoherent, however, in demanding a recognition of equal worth that can only be met by a ‘soft relativism’, since it is demanded in advance of genuine evaluative engagement. There is no resolution to this dilemma in pure individualistic liberalism because of its homogenizing conception of the person and consequent incapacity to provide a sense of significant differentiation so that partial communities can be centres of value within larger politics in ways that connect members to the whole. A presumption of mutual respect is a useful beginning, but also a ‘mere ought’, unless linked to a notion of the self as, first, necessarily socially engaged rather than merely observing from an external vantage point; second, limited in its capacity for understanding by the very cultural frameworks that make its individuality and understanding possible; and, third, open to change through communicative interaction. Such a notion of the self fits with the aspiration to combine full moral autonomy with the recovery of community both expressive of the common life of its members and constitutive of their individuality (see Community and communitarianism §§2–3).

Citing this article:
Calhoun, Craig. Communitarianism and multiculturalism. Taylor, Charles (1931–), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD089-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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