The Canadian philosopher talks to Prospect about religion, multiculturalism and the future of the leftby Ben Rogers / February 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
1. BACKGROUND/EARLY LIFE
BEN ROGERS What drew you to philosophy?
CHARLES TAYLOR I guess I just got angry. I studied history at McGill University, in Montreal, and then I came to Balliol, Oxford, to do PPE and I thought it was going to be mainly politics. But it was the fag end of a kind of post-positivist era in which—unluckily for me—there were two very tired dons who were fed up with the subject, and who gave lectures sub-sub-sub-Hume in a bored tone of voice. I thought: this can’t be what it’s all about, so I began to move around and get into other reading. I read Merleau-Ponty, and I took off from there. It was kind of reactive.
BR Did you come from a family of intellectuals?
CT My family was very involved in politics but there was nobody who would have thought of themselves as an intellectual. Even when I was very small, people around me were always talking politics. Of course, in the 1930s [Taylor was born in 1931] politics was Europe, Munich; and my family was fiercely anti-appeasement. But there were deep divisions across the francophone side of the family. My grandfather was, unlike most Quebec francophones, tremendously pro-French and therefore pro-involvement in the war and pro-conscription. But others disagreed and so there was tension.
CATHERINE FIESCHI It’s interesting that your grandfather was pro-French.
CT It was a rare thing for a Quebecois to have this complete love affair with France. For him, Paris was the centre of the universe. This was an axiom of my childhood. I thought everybody believed this. Even now, I’m surprised when others disagree. Is there anywhere else? (laughter)
2. FAITH AND RELIGION
DAVID GOODHART How did religion come into your life? Was it always there?
CT No, it wasn’t always there. At a certain moment, I got interested in God. My background is very varied: my mother’s family was Catholic, so we went to mass; my father was Anglican; and my grandfather was kind of Voltairian, anti-clerical and so on. So there was no single model to cleave to. Our parish was St Viateur d’Outremont—a very special parish. I was very impressed by the tremendous oratorical quotes of the sermons. So I learned my rhetoric from that. But no, I didn’t have a faith that came from the Bible.