Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor

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In The Politics of Recognition Charles Taylor explores the possibility that in order to affirm individuals' equal dignity, we must acknowledge their cultures. He claims that individual identities are socially and dialogically constructed. That is why recognition is important. It shows how the study of identity and its politics is very important in the effort to understand control and somehow reduce the occurrence of group conflicts. The views of others may not be the last word concerning our identities, but they are the first word. If so, misrecognition can damage and can be the basis of oppression and domination (p 25).
     Charles Taylor argues that human identity is constituted by cultural group membership, and an individual's sense of self worth is thus deeply tied to the value that others attach to his or her cultural group. As a result of this "new understanding of the human social condition," cultural recognition can be construed as a necessary component of individual recognition, and misrecognition can reasonably be considered a form of oppression (Taylor, 1994: 25-26). If cultural group attachment is a feature of the human social condition, liberal theory had better deal with cultural group rights if it is to be relevant.
     Such observations form the basis of several criticisms of what Taylor terms procedural liberalism. Taylor sees this form of liberalism as rooted in a Kantian view of the self in which the essential feature of the self is autonomy; procedural liberalism requires, in order to respect human dignity, a polity in which each person is able to conceive and pursue his or her own vision of the good.
     Taylor argues that while procedural liberalism is committed to the view that different cultures are to be tolerated and respected, it also insists that we must live according to a common set of political rules uniformly applied. This kind of liberalism, he claims, is unable to vary basic rights in order to accommodate the survival requirements of minority cultures.

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It is, for example, unable to acquiesce to the language laws of Quebec even though these may be a condition of the survival of French language and culture in predominately English Canada.
     Nevertheless, Taylor claims, the politics of difference that resists this form of liberalism has not abandoned a commitment to universalism. Its resistance to domination and oppression presupposes a commitment to some ideal of equal dignity.
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