Charles Taylor and the Modern Quest for Identity: Dialogue on a Great Mind
Dr. Gordon E. Carkner & Dr. Marvin McDonald
4:00 pm, Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Henry Angus Room 241, UBC
Sauder Business School
Pre-eminent McGill University Emeritus Philosopher Charles Taylor is an iconic international scholar in the field of the late modern self. His critical thinking bridges Continental and Anglo-American thought. Millennials are currently facing a significant existential identity struggle and Taylor’s work can help.
Dr. Carkner will trace the contribution of Charles Taylor on the question of identity, drawing on his three major tomes: Sources of the Self(1989); A Secular Age (2007); The Language Animal (2016). Throughout his work, Taylor offers a highly sophisticated approach; he helps the individual to develop a strong consciousness that avoids identity crisis and collapse of meaning, with its accompanying anxiety (angst). For the reflective person, he believes that identity, morality and spirituality are inescapably interwoven. But the quest for identity also involves a quest to recover lost or repressed human language capacity—in particular, constitutive language. This recovery can open whole new worlds for Millennials and others as they wrestle with identity and purpose. In The Language Animal, Taylor reveals the various contours of language necessary for this recovery of a robust identity. Significant to this perspective are the moral sources within one’s moral framework that are discovered through building a relationship to the good. The best account of life makes sense of these moral sources of metabiological (human) meaning. Taylor notes that as we grow morally, our maturing meanings involve us in “seeing better, believing better and ultimately living better”. Dr. Carkner will apply these insights to one current existential dilemma in the West, the crisis of affirmation.
Dr. McDonald will focus on the application of Taylor’s idea of moral footing and its implications for dialogue across difference within the celebrated Canadian cultural mosaic. He will show how this insight applies, with special reference to the Gerard Bouchard-Charles Taylor Commission Report of 2008 called “Building the Future: a Time for Reconciliation.” https://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/public-record/episodes/14595692/ Taylor gives us deep insight into this dynamic identity question. It is critical for fruitful dialogue and bridging between groups who represent diversity to each other. Discernment is required for mature integration. What is the respect and dignity that is due others? What will it cost us and how will it benefit all concerned? Taylor’s astute understanding increases our ability to reframe this important discussion.
Gordon E. Carkner holds a PhD in philosophy of late modern culture from University of Wales, UK (2006). His dissertation is entitled “A Critical Examination of Michel Foucault’s Concept of Moral Self-Constitution in Dialogue with Charles Taylor.” He has been invested in the work of Charles Taylor for over two decades. His own writing and research interacts regularly with the Taylor’s thought including the 2016 publication, The Great Escape from Nihilism: Rediscovering Our Passion in Late Modernity, a critique of Western culture which analyses the quest for identity. In the context of the UBC’s Graduate Christian Union and The Forum, Gordon is passionate about questions of meaning and identity, faith and culture, science and religion. His work as a chaplain and meta-educator helps to shape young leaders for a strong future contribution. He offers graduate students extracurricular space to reflect on their work and their lives at UBC, feeding them targeted resources and faculty support. His research interests are in the area of freedom, identity and the moral good, secularity and philosophical anthropology.
Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, Associate Professor of Counselling Psychology, and is involved in thesis supervision in the Gender Studies Program at Trinity Western University. He directed the MA in Counselling Psychology during 2001-2017. He is a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight. https://www.twu.ca/profile/marvin-mcdonald
- Able to pursue ideas amidst diversity and think for yourself.
- Champion a continual search for the truth, and disagreement with lies and deception, propaganda, poor scholarship.
- Beware: too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.
- Don’t buy into relativism or subjectivism (unfortunately, 70% of Canadians do just that). It cannot be lived well—definitely notgood for human flourishing.
- Remember that your personal opinion might be poorly examined and ill-informed, weak empirically, bigoted or seriously biased.
- Celebrate high values/virtues/ideals: honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, decency, respect for life, good environmental stewardship, taking responsibility for your behaviour and for others (inclusive humanism).
- Shun dishonesty, cheating, abuse, exploitation, theft, fraud, plagiarism, things causing emotional pain and suffering to others, the not-so-good or dark side of human character.
- Ask yourself what leads to a truly good life?
- Learn to distinguish between good, better, best decisions. Not all theories or worldviews are of equal value. There is a hierarchy among the moral goods.
- Think about the consequences of your actions and decisions, including the unintended ones.
See also CBC Ideas Series on Charles Taylor and the Myth of the Secular https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-myth-of-the-secular-part-1-1.3135538
Charles Taylor on Democracy, Diversity, Religion