Any examples of how these two different approaches might lead to different policy recommendations ?

  • I have restored your original wording. Unless you specify the two approaches, the question is unanswerable. But I note and have kept the perfectly reasonable addition about examples. Only trying to help. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 27, 2019 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


Welcome to PSE, Cygni P.

Stating the difference

The following passage may help to make clear such difference as there is between Taylor's 'politics and recognition' and traditional liberal ideas :

Taylor tells us that the politics of recognition - itself a distinctively modern phenomenon - has come to mean two rather different things: on the one hand, a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of all individuals and, on the other hand, a politics of difference that, too, has a universalist thrust: everyone is to be recognized for his or her unique identity (p. 38) Nonetheless, whereas the politics of equal dignity focuses on what all human beings share in common, the politics of (equal) difference focuses on each person's (or group's) distinctness from every other. The former is based on the idea that all human beings are worthy of respect, whereby the basis for respect is a universal human potential such as human beings' status as rational agents who are capable of directing their own lives. The latter, Taylor claims, picks out an alternative universal human potential: the potential for forming and defining one's own identity (p. 42). This is Taylor's initial (weaker) specification of the politics of difference. He soon argues, however, that the politics of difference has recently been given a stronger formulation that takes it beyond the demand for recognition of a universal human potential (p. 42). Taylor suggests that the politics of difference, at least in the intercultural context, now demands not merely that the potential equal value of all human beings be recognized, but that the equal value of what they have in fact made of this potential be acknowledged. (Maeve Cooke, 'Authenticity and Autonomy: Taylor, Habermas, and the Politics of Recognition', Political Theory, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 258-288: 259.)

In other words the politics of recognition includes the traditional liberal universalism of equal respect and dignity which focuses on what what we have in common but it also embraces the politics of (equal) difference which focuses on each person's (or group's) distinctness from every other.

Examples of what the difference means in practice

The politics of universalism is blind to the differences between persons or groups. So, for instance, the right of free speech or the right to vote or the right to adequate levels of nutrition, are (regarded as) entitlements of all persons. Subject, that is, to conditions which are equally universal : three-year olds are not entitled to vote, but that applies to all three-year olds.

The politics of difference recognises differences between persons or groups as relevant to their specific entitlements. For instance, an ethnic group that has migrated to a society whose customs and traditions are radically different from their own would, or at least might, have an entitlement to maintain their distinctive style of dress wholly or within certain limits. The group's dignity is respected in this way. To deny this entitlement would be to undermine or destroy the group's sense of identity, of its rootedness in certain traditions of behaviour. The group retains its universal entitlements, those it shares with everyone else, but has such specific, differentiating entitlements recognised as well.

Examples could be multiplied indefinitely but maybe these cases convey a sense of the 'different policies' to which the two approaches might lead.


The Taylor citations are from Charles Taylor, "The Politics of Recognition," in Multiculturalism and the "Politics of Recognition", ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .