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Between empiricism and intellectualism : Charles Taylor's answer to the 'media wars'.

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When the Media Wars broke out in Australian universities in the mid-1990s, journalism educator Keith Winschuttle accused cultural studies of teaching theory that contradicted the realist and empirical worldview of journalism practice. He labeled cultural studies as a form of linguistic idealism. His own worldview is decidedly empiricist.The thesis brings to Windschuttle's empiricist-idealist dualism a type of transcendental argument that uses Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's understanding of modernity as a paradox between the Enlightenment and Romantic traditions. Taylor was an instrumental member of the New Left movement (beginning in 1956) while he was a student at Oxford. Together with Stuart Hall, he edited a journal that became a precursor to New Left Review. While at Oxford, Taylor went to Paris to study with Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Upon his return he brought back a copy of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts, which he translated into English for his colleagues. Taylor was instrumental in introducing Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology there. Hall mentions in recent interviews his debt to Taylor for their discussions on Marx and Hegel. Taylor's approach to post-Marxism and his critique of positivist social science derives significantly from his reading of Merleau-Ponty, whose Phenomenology of Perception (1962) rejects both empiricism and intellectualism (idealism) for their sharing a Cartesian model of subjectivity. British Cultural Studies began (Hall says in 1956) with a rejection of the economism of classical Marxism, and sought a more plausible theory of agency than what Marxism offered at that time. The correspondence between the debates in early cultural studies and Taylor's extensive writing on this matter, together with his overall critique of modernity, appear too close to be coincidental. Furthermore, these debates were driven by an attempt to steer between the Enlightenment and Romantic traditions, thus embracing in their own intellectual practices Marx's (and Hegel's) dialectical method. Drawing upon the correspondences between Taylor's and cultural studies' attempts to resolve the paradoxes of modernity, it becomes clear that Windschuttle's dualism can be absorbed within the problematic of cultural studies. Furthermore, drawing on Taylor's use of the humanist Marx, Hegel and Merleau-Ponty, Windschuttle's empiricist paradigm can be shown to fail to provide a plausible (and therefore ethical) model of agency. A study of TayIor's philosophical anthropology provides the basis by which this failure can be addressed. Taylor's philosophy is equally useful in addressing this lacuna in postmodern cultural studies.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2008.


Theses--Culture, communication and media studies., Mass media--Philosophy.