A Secular Age
TAYLOR’S PREVIOUS WORK
The publication of Taylor’s new book is in itself an event of immense im-portance for intellectual historians, philosophers, and social theorists, asit represents a culmination to more than forty years’ philosophical labor.Beginning with his
The Explanation of Behavior
in 1964, he has developeda theory of practice rooted in the phenomenological tradition of Husserl,Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty that emphasizes the sense-directedness orintentionality of human action.
Drawn most of all to German canons of hermeneutic and historicist philosophy, Taylor has grown ever bolder in hisarguments against behavioralist and rational-choice models of explanation,insofar as these presuppose what he considers a formalistic and culturallyimpoverished model of selfhood he calls ‘‘disengaged agency.’’
Taylor’s classic 1975 text,
Hegel, An Exposition
, broke through dec-ades of anti-Hegelian prejudice in the English-speaking world by providingan historically faithful yet rationally intelligible reconstruction of Hegel’sphilosophy.
The animating claim of the book was that Hegel’s model of Spirit, borrowing upon concepts from Herder and the
Sturm und Drang
movement, exhibiteda certain dynamicof self-realizationthrough external-ization which Taylor termed ‘‘expressivism’’ (a phrase he took from histeacher Isaiah Berlin). The expressivist self was not fully formed and onto-logically independent of its surroundings, it was rather dependent upon itsactions and articulations to realize what it was. The subject, individual orcollective, was of necessity embodied in certain historical and cultural con-texts, and it achieved self-consciousness and self-satisfaction as a freeagency only insofar as it came to recognize itself in a world after its ownimage.
Taylor’s model of subjectivity in the Hegel-book drew upon a vari-ety of resources, especially the cardinal insight of existential phenomenolo-gists such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty that the essence of selfhood is apractical and historically situated
: perceptual knowl-edge cannot be understood within the conﬁnes of the post-Cartesian tradi-
Samuel Moyn, Judith Surkis, and Eugene Sheppard. My comments here are of coursewholly my own, and this applies most of all to any misunderstandings of Taylor’s book.
See, for example, the remarks on Merleau-Ponty in Charles Taylor,
The Explanation of Behavior
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), 69.
Charles Taylor, ‘‘Engaged Agency and Background in Heidegger,’’ in
The CambridgeCompanion to Heidegger
, ed. Charles Guignon (New York: Cambridge University Press,1993), 317–36.
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975).
For a critical response to Berlin and Taylor’s use of the category of expressivism, seeRobert Norton, ‘‘The Myth of the Counter-Enlightenment,’’
68 (2007): 635–65.