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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor was a student of Elizabeth Anscombe and Isaiah Berlin. He was the recipient of the 2007 Templeton Prize, and is a prominent critic of modern secularism and naturalism.

Taylor has been influenced by the philosopher-theologians Johann Georg Hamann and Hamann's student Johann Gottfried Herder, the educator Alexander von Humboldt, as well as philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Martin Heidegger.

From his 1989 Sources of the Self to his 2016 Language Animal, and including his magnum opus A Secular Age (the basis for his Templeton Prize), Taylor opposes what he calls "disengaged reason," perhaps better known (and described) as Max Weber's "disenchantment" and Alisdair Macintyre's "dark at the core of the enlightenment."

Here is the preface from Taylor's latest book, The Language Animal.

This is a book about the human linguistic capacity. In it I attempt to show that this is more multiform than has usually been supposed. That is, it includes capacities for meaning creation which go far beyond that of encoding and communicating information, which is too often taken as its central form.

My inspiration has been the views on language developed in the 1790s in Germany, the time and place where what we think of as German Romanticism flowered. The main theorists I have drawn on are Hamann, Herder, and Humboldt—hence my name for the theory I have taken from them, the "HHH".

The contrast case to this outlook is one which developed in the great thinkers of early modernity, rationalist and empiricist, which were also responsible for the modern epistemological theories which grew out of, and sometimes partly against, the work of Descartes. The main early figures in this tradition which I cite here are Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac. Hence the shorthand title “HLC”.

This theory seems impossibly unsophisticated to thinkers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, influenced as we have all been by Saussure, Frege, and to some extent Humboldt. But certain of its key assumptions have survived into analytic post-Fregean philosophy, as well as some branches of cognitive theory.

So an important part of my task in this book has been to refute the remaining fragments of the legacy of the HLC, by developing insights out of the HHH. The result (I hope) is a much more satisfactory, and therefore varied (if less tidy), account of what the human linguistic capacity consists in.

My original intention in embarking on this project was to complement this development of the Romantic theory of language with a study of certain strands of post-Romantic poetics, which I see as closely linked. I started on this in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in face of numerous self-interruptions, I have only got as far as completing the first part, plus a scattering of studies which could help constitute the second.

I have therefore decided to publish this book on the linguistic capacity, and to continue my work on the Romantics in order to complete the second part (I hope), as a companion study to this one. I will from time to time in this book indicate what that, second study may contain. But I hope that this work will be sufficiently interesting on its own to justify its separate publication.

Taylor is primarily an apologist for religion, defending a the broad romanticist attack on the supposed atheistic views of the enlightenment. He is correct that understanding the relation between information and meaning has been obscure.

Taylor introduces a number of jargon terms for his Hobbes-Locke-Condillac view of enlightenment - "designative, enframing, instrumental, representational epistemology, reductive, behavioral response (Skinner), reification, external observer, occluding the background, disengaged."

And for his Hamann-Herder-Humboldt romanticism - "constitutive, expressive, articulatory, reflective, sensitivity, irreducible intrinsic rightness, natural, form of life, background, holistic, semantic dimension, linguistic dimension, agent's experience of self."

"Language involves sensitivity to the issue of rightness," he says (Language Animal, p.7). Does he mean morality and values?

The above is mostly from his 2016 Language Animal, but except for his proliferation of additional jargon, Taylor's basic thinking seems no different from his 1989 Sources of the Self, which was an attack on "disengaged reason, naturalistic reduction, ethics without a good," etc. In short, Taylor gives us the standard religious-romantic positions to refute secularist, materialist, naturalist, and reductionist science and the enlightenment ideas of and John Locke.

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