Ethics and ontology. The moral phenomenology of Charles Taylor

Date: 10 - 11 June 2016

Venue: University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, Room B.003 - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerpen

Short description: Conference

Two-day conference on the thought of Charles Taylor, including keynote presentations by Ruth Abbey (University of Notre Dame), Nicholas Smith (Macquarie University) and Arto Laitinen (University of Tampere). 8th Annual Meeting of the Center for European Philosophy.


This conference centers on Charles Taylor’s paper 'Ethics and Ontology' (2003) and its central theme of the relationship between ethical beliefs and ontological views.

One of the most striking features of Taylor’s philosophy is his consistent phenomenological approach to ethics in avoiding and criticizing reductive scientistic accounts of moral experience. This approach can be found in many of his writings, but it is most explicit in “Ethics and Ontology”. This paper raises the issue of scientific naturalism by arguing that it sets us the following challenge: either we correct our (implicit) naturalist ontology or we must revise the most salient features of our moral experience.

Taylor’s moral phenomenology defends our commonsense moral reactions against reductionist views that attempt to dismiss these reactions altogether as mere projection on a neutral physical world. His criticism is that this naturalist ontology annihilates our very sense of morality, that is, the sense that moral values are in some way different from, higher than, or incommensurable with natural desires.

Against this background, the central question of the conference is: what do our ethical views commit us to ontologically? Exploring this question, both Taylor’s article “Ethics and Ontology” and related topics of his moral phenomenology will be discussed, such as: the tensions between philosophical anthropology, phenomenology, ethics, and ontology in Taylor’s writings, his critique of reductionist naturalism, his conceptions of strong evaluation, narrative ethics, Best Account, subtle language, ordinary life, and the importance of Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, William James, and Max Scheler for understanding Taylor’s thought. In this way, this conference aims to discuss Taylor’s moral phenomenology in order to open up the question of the implicit ontological commitments behind our ethical beliefs.  


Friday 10th June 2016

09:30 – 10:00              Registration

10:00 – 10:05              Opening

10:05 – 10:50              Michiel Meijer: Strong evaluation and ontological gaps

10:50 – 11:05              Coffee break

11:05 – 11:50              Ruth Abbey:  TBA

11:50 – 13:30              Lunch break

13:30 – 14:00              Angela Roothaan: William James and Max Scheler: Taylor’s predecessors in moral phenomenology

14:00 – 14:30              Allessandra Gerolin: Taylor’s critique of reductionist naturalism: a dialogue with Bernard Williams

14:30 – 15:00              Silvia Pierosara: Which ontology behind narrative ethics?

15:00 – 15:15              Coffee break

15:15 – 16:00              Arto Laitinen: What if the Best Account is too good to be true?

Saturday 11th June 2016

10:00 – 10:05              Opening

10:05 – 10:50              Guy Vanheeswijck: Taylor’s Hegel: an ambiguous legacy

10:50 – 11:05              Coffee break

11:05 – 11:35              Simon Lee: Taylor’s Hegelian critique of McDowell

11:35 – 12:05              Martha Claeys: Subtle language: how Taylor’s notion of modern literature and poetry can help define the language of the engaged perspective

12:05 – 13:30              Lunch break

13:30 – 14:00              Farid Zahnoun: A moral outlook on human cognition

14:00 – 14:30              Dave Ward: Ethics, ontology, and embodied expression: Taylor and Merleau-Ponty on phenomenology and naturalism

14:30 – 15:00              Coffee break

15:00 – 15:45              Nicholas Smith: Ordinary life between ethics and ontology

Further information, including the abstracts of the talks, is available on the conference website.

Organizing committee

  • Guy Vanheeswijck
  • Katrien Schaubroeck
  • Willem Lemmens
  • Michiel Meijer

Supported by

  • Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO)
  • Center for European Philosophy (University of Antwerp)
  • Center for Ethics (University of Antwerp)

Entrance fee: Participation is free

Registration: Please register before May 27 on

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