Here is some brief overview from Wikipedia on his philosophical views:
There are also some videos of him speaking floating around the internet, including this one from FORA.tv on the future of the secular:
In order to understand his views it is helpful to understand his philosophical background, especially his writings on Hegel, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Taylor rejects naturalism and formalist epistemologies.
In his essay To Follow a Rule, Taylor explores why people can fail to follow rules, and what kind of knowledge is it that allows a person to successfully follow a rule, such as the arrow on a sign. The intellectualist tradition presupposes that to follow directions we must know a set of propositions and premises about how to follow directions. But how do we know whether or not the directions are adequate?
Taylor argues that Wittgenstein's solution is that all interpretation of rules draws upon a tacit background. This background is not more rules or premises, but what Wittgenstein calls "forms of life." More specifically, Wittgenstein says in the Philosophical Investigations that "Obeying a rule is a practice." Taylor situates the interpretation of rules within the practices that are incorporated into our bodies in the form of habits, dispositions, and tendencies.
Following Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Michael Polanyi, and Wittgenstein, Taylor argues that it is mistaken to presuppose that our understanding of the world is primarily mediated by representations. It is only against an unarticulated background that representations can make sense to us. On occasion we do follow rules, but Taylor reminds us that rules do not contain the principles of their own application.
With that foundation, here is the interview from The Utopian:
Read the whole interview.
Is it possible to be religious in today’s world?What did Aquinas say? From being to possibility? I think I am religious, so it might be possible. Now, that’s perhaps not the sense in which the question was meant. But in almost any sense, yes, it is possible. Now, some people may be in a situation — both in their own evolution and in what surrounds them — where they have a sense of the Immanent Frame as absolutely unbreakable. So you can also have local points where you might find it absolutely impossible. But then you also have other local points, like the Bible Belt and so on, where it is almost impossible to be the opposite.
But in general in our great society we have all kinds.But you believe that the Immanent Frame somehow limits the mode in which we can be religious?
If you’re living in this Western modern construction of which the Immanent Frame is a part, your whole understanding of what it means to be religious is going to be different than if you’re living in 15th century Tuscany, say, or even some parts of 20th century rural Mexico, or 21s century Benares. The thing is: the more you study this, the more you see how fantastically different what we call religious can be, and how many different situations and different openings and different possibilities there are.It is one thing to say it is different. It is another thing to ask how, as a believer, you evaluate this. Is there a way in which it was once possible to envisage belief, but is no longer possible?
“There are very few transitions in history where I feel it’s obvious that it’s all downhill, or all uphill.”
It’s not unambiguous and easy to say if it was better or worse. But you can say two things. Number one: we couldn’t be like that. We couldn’t be like the Aztecs, etc.Number two: most of the time I want to say that there are gains and losses. There are very few transitions in history where I feel it’s obvious that it’s all downhill, or all uphill. It’s not all anything.
That’s the interesting thing about the human condition — that you have these different cultural constellations that open up parts of people’s minds but close others. So the interesting normative issue that arises from all this is how to maximally develop, and make as full as possible the things that are good in this country — while somehow seeing whether we can’t recuperate some of the losses.You know, this is not an invention of mine. This is what underlies a great deal of the Romantic period — of Romantic poetry, and so on. I mean, some Enlightenment boosters think that this means totally looking backward. In reality most of the great Romantic poets were taking some very important features of the Enlightenment, but they were also saying something about loss. Now, we can argue a lot about what are the gains and what are the losses. We won’t agree on that. But this is the only sensible way of talking. The idea that it’s all uphill or downhill is so incredibly implausible in virtue of the nature of human beings and their cultures, that these positions should just be thrown out before we start talking. And yet they are actually very common positions.
So one way of formulating the political upshot of A Secular Age is to say that by learning to appreciate again the values we have lost, we may actually be able to incorporate some of them into the present world. Do you have an example of how that might be possible, and of how politics might help us do that?The book may have political consequences, but it’s not something that you could necessarily produce by political action. For example: we develop this tremendous tendency to see the world in terms of instrumental reason, all the time. But when we look back to earlier kinds of culture, we see that for big swathes of life this was not at all the case. If you go back far enough, you find Aborigines in Australia, for whom particular elements of the landscape hold a different kind of meaning. If you go back less far, you find other ways in which the way we organized our social life was also not seen as instrumentally, rationally justified. So there are certain gains here. We have greater power, we can develop these big societies like nations where you can have some degree of control over things since you share a common cultural identity. So you can see the positive side. But you also see the incredible amount of loss of sensitivity to what nature is like around us, which is something that it’s worth rediscovering.
Now, this is not something for which I have a political program for recovery. But I do note that it has political consequences. People who are activated by this kind of desire are more likely to be militants in the ecological movement, or vote for the Greens, than people who are entirely into the instrumental stance.Do you think of any particular mode of thought as a particular intellectual adversary to your way of thinking?
“For someone who has a hammer all problems look like nails. The same is true of someone who has an instrumentally rational view of the world.”
Yes. There is a combination between the instrumental, rational stance and attempts to understand human life totally in terms of the mechanistic category — without the categories of purpose, teleology, intentionality, and so on. The mechanistic view and pure instrumentalism go very well together because, from the very beginning, the kind of post-Baconian, Galilean science that is paradigmatic for such people has been a science of, if you like, efficient causation, linked ideologically with control over nature. The point is not to have a beautiful view of the order of the universe that will inflate our ego, but to improve the condition of humankind.
For someone who has a hammer all problems look like nails. The same is true of someone who has an instrumentally rational view of the world. All problems will look like nails to him. So you get an absurd overreliance on certain kinds of explanations and interventions. People think that all psychological problems can be cured by changing body chemistry, taking some Prozac, and so on. These attitudes and explanatory hypotheses all share a certain affinity. It’s not that it isn’t logically possible to break with one and stick with the other, but there is a certain affinity between them.
So that whole complex I’ve always seen as my primary enemy.
“Ecumenicism as a real desire to learn from the other — and this extends to atheists as well — to learn from the other why their position so deeply appeals to them…”
So let’s talk about these political consequences. If you jettison something like the mechanistic worldview, and perhaps substitute it with a more holistic religion that makes more claims of authority during our time on earth — wouldn’t one of the consequences be that it would be very difficult for many such religions to co-exist? Is the liberal part of your soul worried about the societal clashes that might result?
That sort of thing is possible, but it’s not inevitable. Religions can be lived in very many different ways. One of the big things that started happening in the 20th century is ecumenicism. I don’t just mean: let’s get together, let’s be nice to each other. (Laughs) I mean, I’m all for that.
But there’s something else which is much more subtle. This is ecumenicism as a real desire to learn from the other — and this extends to atheists as well — to learn from the other why their position so deeply appeals to them. There is a great deal of exchange operating at this level. It both presupposes but also builds initial respect and friendship. Again, you could say that this all corresponds to a new upheaval for people, who find it very difficult to flip back to the old way. So people argue that it, too, has downsides. I’m not sure about that, but it certainly has upsides. For instance, it frees in a plural-religious situation — where the other is a real possibility — certain kinds of ecumenicism that have traditionally existed in more despotically ordered societies. For instance, where the Greek Christians and the Armenian Christians and the Turkish Muslims all co-existed and nobody expected anyone to look at each other.But in situations where one can move around, there is an easy tendency to defend yourself against any doubts about whether you should become an atheist, or whether an atheist should become a Christian, by supremely deprecatory views of the other. “I mean, I could change my mind, but their view is so ridiculous,” or horrifying or whatever. So the side of all this that clears away the deprecatory images is very important to one’s spiritual development — but it’s more than that. It’s a sense that (one is tempted to use one’s own language, naturally, so let me use the Christian language) you can see the Spirit moving in all these different lives, and that is something both very inspiring and furthering of one’s own spiritual development. I think a lot of that is coming to exist.
And you can see it in Vatican II. It’s not an accident that Vatican II adopted a very new stance to ecumenicism on the part of the Catholic clergy. There are still a number of holdouts. The current pope clearly doesn’t know what he thinks about ecumenicism. So one of the downsides is that we have tremendous fights about this within each confession, perhaps. Nevertheless, it opens up the possibility of the co-existence of people who are not lukewarm about their faith, yet don’t see a reason to rush out and start fighting with others.