Philosopher, author and professor



Thursday, November 11, 2004 & Friday, November 12, 2004 Trinity College, University of Toronto

George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place, Toronto 8 P.M.

In two consecutive lectures, Prof. Charles Taylor will speak on the modern epistemological tradition, its effect on our thought and culture, and how that relationship is changing today.

The first lecture will sketch the features and characteristics of the modern epistemological tradition, and describe its influence. The second lecture will explore how philosophy may offer alternatives to this tradition.

Prof. Charles Taylor is a leading thinker on politics and modernity and an active commentator on Canadian politics. He taught philosophy and polititcal science for more than 40 years at McGill University and is the author of dozens of books, including Hegel and Modern Society, The Malaise of Modernity, and Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition.

*Both lectures are free, but a ticket is required to attend each lecture as space is limited.*

The Larkin-Stuart Lectures are presented jointly by Trinity College and St. Thomas's Anglican Church


Notes and webmarkup, Timothy Comeau, Dec 2004
Courtesy of


Related links:
Charles Taylor by Ruth Abbey
The Malaise Of Modernity
(The 1991 Massey Lectures)
Sources Of The Self

Other lecture notes:
Religion and Violence

Charles Taylor speaking on Religion and Violence on CBC Radio 1's, The Sunday Edition, with host Michael Enright, Sunday November 28 2004: Real Audio File 48.53 minutes

Lecture Notes - PART 1, 11 November 2004

My comments and thoughts are marked by the double slashes (//) and are italicized - Timothy


// Taylor began the lecture explaining what the title, "mediational epistemology' means. 'Epistemology' is a word that even I have trouble with, not because I don't understand it, but because it is only ever used among philosophers and I forget its definition, until I re-visit the dictionary. Epistemology is the technical word for the study of knowledge. 'What is it we know, how do we know it, how can we know it'? In essence, this is question is at the heart of philosophy, since the various answers to those questions have produced the various schools and methods. The epistemology of science, for example, is based on empiricism - what we can know through our senses - which we can summarize as "we believe what we see". Skepticism questions even this, asking, "how can we believe what we see? What if you hallucinate?" But this is essentially what Decartes introduced with his work. Empiricism and skepticism were new ways of approaching our experience of life and the subjectivity of our minds, because until then it had all been 'you are an embodied soul which has to be nice otherwise you will burn in hell forever after you die'.

What's going on?

// that is, our use of sentences is dependent on our internal understanding of the language

materialist shift Wittgenstein Decartes thought the method would match reality other than mediational? Today we are cultural-social agents, in ways that break up the mediational; breaks dualism Cartesianism creates a sense of self-responsibility Others (Heidegger) see Cartesianism as an imposition and why?

To conclude: So, the common sense of our age is made over and is divided by Cartesianism - mention of The Matrix - and those who agreed and those who didn't, which shows a division in common sense

End of Part 1

// Commentary: This first lecture was an overview of the Cartesian bias in our popular culture. He noted how the first exercises of the method, Decartes asks that one consider this for a good month, because it seemed so counter-intuitive to a 17th Century audience. Today, we grow up within the Cartesian worldview, as is best exemplified by the popularity of The Matrix. Taylor mentioned that at the end of this lecture, saying he watched it because his students had seen it, hated it, and mentioned that not everyone agreed with its ideas. However, tonight's lecture was about establishing that even the disciplines which consider themselves post-Cartesian, post-dualist, use language inherited from the popularity of this philosophy.


Part 2, 12 November 2004

Humeian impressions

(A running joke during the lectures was that there was provision in the UN Charter of Human Rights preventing a lecturer from talking beyond an hour - at this point he checked his watch and brought up the joke.)

Kant Heidegger

// the basic introduction to Heidegger's thinking always makes the point that we use our environment in terms of tools - we take for granted the use value of everything. The example always given is that of a hammer - we don't think too much about it when we use it to drive a nail, but if the hammer was broken, and was then useless, we are very much aware of how useful it would be - it's use-value is brought to our consciousness. Of course, this reminds me of something else, a saying: 'if your only tool is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail'. Our tools also begin to define the way we look at the world, which is a useful metaphor but a limited one. We aren't really that unimaginative - instead of looking at everything as nails, we actually go about inventing new tools.

Wittgenstein Robert Brandom Heidegger The error is reading the method, the Cartesian method, back into reality, which leads to a heroism of "checking for ourselves" The Cartesian method implies Heidegger

What has been lost with the 'Cartesian hegemony'?

modern ethical philosophy

// The Cartesian hegemony as resulted in the favoring of the mental and the rational. The distrust of the body as merely a vehicle results in a our distrust of emotional motivation. Taylor suggests that ethics should incorporate our gut reactions. Because these lectures are at Trinity College, and are supposed to be somewhat connected to spirituality, he raised the example of the Good Samaritan

// In the question and answer period, the following notes where made:

End of Part 2


// Commentary: today's world is one of the Cartesian hegemony, and everyone thinks of themselves as minds who think therefore they are. The 2nd lecture argued that Cartesianism isn't accurate, because it puts all the responsibility on the individual, neglecting how much of our understanding is dependent on our interactions with one another. It is not simply the case where an individual can heroically manufacture reality in their mind, and think for themselves. In fact, those among us who do that are often diagnosed with schizophrenia. No, instead we come to agree through our 'dialogic' interactions (that is, through dialogue, through talking with one another) on reality. We agree that the meanings of words are what they are, we agree and understand that we have things in common.

So, 'an end to mediational epistemology' means: an end to knowledge through the senses, and our own heroic interpretation of the knowledge, in favour of interpretation through dialogue, which properly grounds knowledge in appropriate context.