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Jury Statement on Charles Taylor, 2016 Berggruen Prize Winner

By The Berggruen Prize Jury

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Charles Taylor is one of the most eminent philosophers in the world today. His work addresses issues that are of critical importance both for a wide range of academic discussions and for public life. He has contributed crucial new ideas and analyses that help us understand language, human agency, the limits of mechanistic explanation, the social constitution of the self, and the nature of modern politics. His work has fundamentally shaped public discussion of the nature of multiculturalism, secularism and contemporary religious life. 
 
Taylor’s work exemplifies the importance of philosophy that reaches beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries, and has been influential in political science, sociology, anthropology, literature, and the study of religion as well as in philosophy.  But he has also addressed issues of central importance outside the academy, and his ideas have played an important role in debates about the role of gender, ethnicity and religion in modern politics. 
 
A leading public intellectual in Quebec, in Canada and, indeed, around the world, Taylor has been a voice for political unity that respects cultural diversity. As juror Amy Gutmann commented, “Taylor's life's work has called for—and his life has modeled—mutual understanding and respect across the widest range of cultural identities. Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition instantly became a classic text because it eloquently and succinctly conveyed a profound social message that has never been more essential to our world: ‘Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need.’”  
 
On a global scale, Taylor has urged recognition of the importance of varied intellectual and civilizational traditions. Juror Wang Hui stressed the influence of Taylor’s work in Asia and elsewhere for demonstrating that Western civilization is not simply unitary, but like all civilizations the product of diverse influences. Jury chairman Kwame Anthony Appiah observed, “Whether or not you agree with him, if you want to face up to the challenges of identity on every continent today, you can do no better than to start with the work of Charles Taylor.” 
 
Among the most influential of Taylor’s many books are:
 
·       Sources of the Self, his magisterial exploration of the way in which the modern idea of selfhood developed and helped to define Western culture. 
·       A Secular Age, an enormously influential discussion of what it means for both religious and non-religious people to live in an era when secular understandings dominate. 
·       Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition, which established and then explored the way that politics has increasingly taken up the claims of identity, particularly on the part of groups that have been denigrated. 
 
Taylor’s work is philosophy in the most profound sense of a love of wisdom. It demonstrates how crucial philosophical understanding can be in sustaining the flourishing of individuals and communities.