On the occasion of Charles Taylor winning the Templeton Prize, we've reprinted below a toast given to Professor Taylor by his editor Lindsay Waters at a dinner in Taylor's honor the night before the announcement.
I knew about the genius of Mr Templeton because of my interest in international business thanks to my father-in-law, an American who greatly admired Mr Templeton and who worked in Canada mining all his life, living there half a dozen years. Thanks to him I understood how great the fractures were dividing Canada, and it is thanks to Charles that I have come to appreciate the drive to preserve the Canadian union. When things fall apart, how can we possibly find that which will motivate people to set their sights higher and not let the drive to chaos that somehow rages in us all to take command? I met Charles and in 1989 published the second of his three great treatises, Sources of the Self, through the kind offices of one of his very best personal and professional friends, the late Sir Bernard Williams. The first of the three great treatises was his Hegel, and the third is the book we will publish this fall at Harvard University Press, A Secular Age.
Bernard and Charles had formed a lasting friendship in the 1950s, I believe, that survived their not agreeing on a good number of things taken to be true by modern philosophers. Charles won the esteem of Bernard and almost all modern English-language philosophers because of his talent for argument, but his way of understanding what the good life is was very different from theirs. It is bigger than theirs. Where they sought to break everything down to its smallest component and focus on that, he has sought to see the connection between the tiniest element of human living and the whole. Already in Montreal with an Anglophone father and Francophone mother, Charles had developed his talent for "reconciling the solitudes" (to use the title of one of his books about Canada). How can we find a way what might link people together?
I publish Charles's books at one place, Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I have enjoyed working with Charles in a great variety of places--Montreal, Chicago, even at All Souls in Oxford once I am sure, but one of the most telling stories for me about Charles has to do with Vienna, where we have both worked to preserve and develop the work of the Institute for Human Sciences. Indeed, Charles gave one early taste of Secular Age in lectures for the Institute at Vienna entitled Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited that I had the honor to publish in 2002. Vienna is famously a place of intrigue, featuring people working at cross-purposes like crazy. Cross-purposes is too bland for what I mean. You can get a touch of evil there. After we'd been working for several years on several different sorts of things having to do with the Institute, I asked Charles "why are you so committed to working here in Vienna?" Then he told me what first brought him there was the rebellion in 1956 of the Hungarians against the Soviets. He was in Oxford studying, and as soon as he heard about the conflict, his instinct was to go right to it and offer his help. He was not able to cross the border from Austria in to Hungary and did the aidwork he could in Vienna for some months. Taylor says that Willliam James is "our great philosopher of the cusp," and I think that description fits him too, beautifully, to describe how his passionate philosophy allows him to zero in on the most distinctively human issues of our time and not be afraid. It is a daring thing he did rushing off to Budapest. It is a daring thing he does not trying to make peace between the religionists and the secularists. My firm belief is that his magnanimity (in the Aristotelian sense of that word) will win over many hearts and minds in the struggle ahead that we are already in the midst of. I praise the Templeton Foundation for lending its support to Taylor's big-hearted call for the secularists to understand the call of religion and for the religious to understand the appeal of reason that these two conflicting approaches to life might be reconciled and our human future made much, much better. It is a great honor to publish the writings of Charles Taylor. It is a great honor to have you listen to my words.