2019-03Forum
Charles Taylor on Ethics and Liberty

Abstract:

My argument in this paper is that Charles Taylor’s view of liberty and ethics unites Isaiah Berlin’s liberal pluralism with Elizabeth Anscombe’s virtue ethics. Berlin identifies, in “Two Concepts of Liberty,” a tradition of negative liberty advocated by figures like Locke and Mill. He maintains that this concept of liberty is unique to modernity, and it is the form of liberty best suited to the political sphere. The much older concept of positive liberty, which is found in ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, as well as modern thinkers like Hegel, Berlin regards as ill-suited to the political sphere. Anscombe, in “Modern Moral Philosophy,” specifically identifies and criticizes the Anglo-Saxon tradition of moral philosophy. Utilitarian thinkers like Mill are, for Anscombe, consequentialists. The virtue ethics of Aristotle gives a basis for the intrinsic goodness and badness of actions not in sentiment but reason. Charles Taylor draws upon the views of both thinkers. He advocates a liberal pluralism in a manner comparable to Berlin. However, Taylor strongly emphasizes, with Anscombe, that the most complete conception of ethical and political life must be rooted in virtue ethics and positive liberty. Thus, Taylor’s views constitute a synthesis of the approaches of his two mentors.

Keywords:

positive liberty, negative liberty, virtue ethics, political philosophy, history of philosophy

How to cite:

Barry, Conor. “Charles Taylor on Ethics and Liberty.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 3, no. 3(9) (2019): 83-102. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2019.0032.

Author:

Conor Barry
St. Thomas University
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0827-79477

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