There are very few contemporary philosophers who rival Charles Taylor in the range of their interests or the fertility of their mind. He took his doctorate at Oxford under the team of Isaiah Berlin and Elizabeth Anscombe. That is reamrkable enough; what is even more remarkable is that he manages to combine the virtues of both thinkers while retaining few if any of their vices. Like Anscombe, he combines analytical gifts, a deep understanding of classical and Catholic thought, and a nuanced analysis of human thought and action. Like Berlin, he is at home in a variety of cultures and philosophical approaches. However, he also avoids these thinkers vices( or at least, what this writer considers to be their vices. Their was often a certain hard, dogmatic, sharp edged quality about Anscombe's Catholicism, which is missing from Taylor 's variety. As for Berlin- and this may sound like lese' majestie- I always found a certain liberal glibness in much of his writing, combined with a certain spiritual tone deafness. There is almost none of that in Charles Taylor. While clearly a man of the left, he is aware of the limitations of Berlin's much vaunted "negative liberty",and capable of sympathetic engagement with non liberals like Alasdair Macintyre and his fellow Canadian George Parkin Grant( And, needless to say, Anscombe herself)
This remarkable collection contains much to ponder. There are first rate essays on Iris Murdoch, Gadamer(in honor of that worthy's hunderedth birthday!),Robert Brandom, and Paul Celan. All of these essays contain much for philosophers of morality and language to learn from.There are also aselection of texts on social and political philosophy, including learned essays on eastern religions and their relation to human rights and on "religious mobilizations". The collection ends with an extended selection of essays inspired by or folloiwing up the themes of Taylor's magnum opus, A Secular Age. Thse essays show a knowledge of-ad understanding of the history of religion that any so-called 'new atheist " can only envy. The essays on violence and on 'the perils of moralism" will prove especially rewarding for any ethicist not enslaved by utilitarian assumptions.
Then why do I call this collection "frustrating". For one thing, Taylor has written much more than this, including essays that deserved to be included. I am thinking in particular of his essay on Macintyre, "Justice After Virtue", his essay on Bernard Williams, "A Most Peculiar Instittuion", and his long essay on the "immanent counter-enlightenment". Yet another problem with the collecion is that Taylor continues to be reluctant to offer extended reflections on the philosophy of religion as such. He seems content with "indirect communications" in Kierkegaard's sense. I have it on good authority that Taylor has delivered a remarkable lecture on Dostoevsky; one wishes it would see the light of day.
In short, Taylor still has a lot to write about in the time remaining to him. One fervently hopes that it a long time, indeed.