Canadian Charles Margrave Taylor wins inaugural Berggruen Prize for Philosophy

Canadian philosopher Charles Margrave Taylor is this year's winner of the inaugural Berggruen Prize for Philosophy.
(Horst Galuschka / picture-alliance)

Canadian philosopher Charles Margrave Taylor has been named winner of the first Berggruen Prize for Philosophy, the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute announced.

The award will be given annually to a thinker “whose ideas are of broad significance for shaping human self-understanding and the advancement of humanity,” the organization said.

Taylor, 84, is to receive the $1-million award at a Dec. 1 ceremony in New York.

“I’m very, very honored,” Taylor said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The aim of the [institute] means a lot to me. I think we really don’t understand each other in the world very well. I really think this is a very important goal. I’m very moved that somebody thought that I was someone who would represent that.”


Nicolas Berggruen, founder and chairman of the Berggruen Institute, said in a statement that the object of the prize is to support and foster the development of ideas that have a positive effect in the “increasingly fractured” world.

“Our first recipient has made extraordinary contributions to deepening mutual understanding and respect across the widest range of cultural identities,” Berggruen said.

An independent nine-person jury, including professors, philosophers and Nobel laureates, selected Taylor for the prize.

A professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, Taylor is widely considered to be one of the world’s foremost living philosophers.

His work links ethics, political philosophy and philosophical anthropology to address central questions of public and private life, according to the Berggruen Institute, whose mission is to deepen the understanding of humanity’s future.

“I’ve written on a number of different topics, but what they all have in common is that it’s not simply philosophy,” Taylor said. “I don’t think philosophy can help us solve real important problems in life, except in alliance with other disciplines. In some cases it will be history, in some cases sociology, in some cases theology, and so on…. And that’s the type of philosophy I believe in doing. Crossing boundaries to help solve problems.”

The Berggruen Institute said his work has influenced disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences, and had an effect on public affairs.

Taylor’s books include “Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity,” “The Malaise of Modernity,” and “Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a New York University professor and philosopher who chaired this year’s Berggruen Prize jury, praised the “breadth and depth” of Taylor’s intellectual contributions.

“His work truly exemplifies the importance of philosophy that reaches beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries and demonstrates how crucial philosophical understanding can be in sustaining the flourishing of individuals and communities,” Appiah said in a statement.

In an email to The Times, Berggruen Prize judge Antonio Damasio said that “at a time in which speed of communication, thought and action dominate our culture, Charles Taylor’s life work celebrates calm and persistent reflection on ideas that do matter to how we live ― for example, how is it that we behave morally, what are the mental mechanisms behind following a rule or not.”

“Taylor’s work reminds us that the influence of ideas requires serious and time-consuming consideration,” said Damasio, a professor of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy at USC.

Taylor’s previous awards include the 2007 Templeton Prize for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities; Japan’s prestigious Kyoto Prize in the arts and philosophy category in 2008; and the 2015 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, which he shared with German sociologist and philosopher Juergen Habermas.

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