Isaiah Berlin
   HOME

TheInfoList



OR:

Sir Isaiah Berlin (6 June 1909 – 5 November 1997) was a Russian-British social and political theorist,
philosopher A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Suc ...
, and historian of ideas. Although he became increasingly averse to writing for publication, his improvised lectures and talks were sometimes recorded and transcribed, and many of his spoken words were converted into published essays and books, both by himself and by others, especially his principal editor from 1974, Henry Hardy. Born in
Riga Riga (; lv, Rīga , liv, Rīgõ) is the capital and largest city of Latvia and is home to 605,802 inhabitants which is a third of Latvia's population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava (river), Daugava river where ...
(now the capital of
Latvia Latvia ( or ; lv, Latvija ; ltg, Latveja; liv, Leţmō), officially the Republic of Latvia ( lv, Latvijas Republika, links=no, ltg, Latvejas Republika, links=no, liv, Leţmō Vabāmō, links=no), is a country in the Baltic region of ...
, then a part of the
Russian Empire The Russian Empire was an empire and the final period of the List of Russian monarchs, Russian monarchy from 1721 to 1917, ruling across large parts of Eurasia. It succeeded the Tsardom of Russia following the Treaty of Nystad, which ended th ...
) in 1909, he moved to
Petrograd Saint Petersburg ( rus, links=no, Санкт-Петербург, a=Ru-Sankt Peterburg Leningrad Petrograd Piter.ogg, r=Sankt-Peterburg, p=ˈsankt pʲɪtʲɪrˈburk), formerly known as Petrograd (1914–1924) and later Leningrad (1924–1991), i ...
, Russia, at the age of six, where he witnessed the revolutions of 1917. In 1921 his family moved to the UK, and he was educated at
St Paul's School, London St Paul's School is a Selective school, selective Independent school (United Kingdom), independent Day school, day and boarding school for boys aged 13–18, founded in 1509 by John Colet and located on a 43-acre site by River Thames, the Thames i ...
, and
Corpus Christi College, Oxford Corpus Christi College (formally, Corpus Christi College in the University of Oxford; informally abbreviated as Corpus or CCC) is one of the Colleges of the University of Oxford, constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Ki ...
. In 1932, at the age of twenty-three, Berlin was elected to a prize fellowship at
All Souls College, Oxford All Souls College (official name: College of the Souls of All the Faithful Departed) is a Colleges of the University of Oxford, constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Unique to All Souls, all of its members automatically b ...
. In addition to his own prolific output, he translated works by
Ivan Turgenev Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (; rus, links=no, Ива́н Серге́евич Турге́невIn Turgenev's day, his name was written ., p=ɪˈvan sʲɪrˈɡʲe(j)ɪvʲɪtɕ tʊrˈɡʲenʲɪf; 9 November 1818 – 3 September 1883 (Old Style and ...
from Russian into English and, during World War II, worked for the British Diplomatic Service. From 1957 to 1967 he was Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford. He was president of the
Aristotelian Society The Aristotelian Society for the Systematic Study of Philosophy, more generally known as the Aristotelian Society, is a philosophical society in London. History Aristotelian Society was founded at a meeting on 19 April 1880, at 17 Bloomsbury Squar ...
from 1963 to 1964. In 1966, he played a critical role in creating Wolfson College, Oxford, and became its founding President. Berlin was appointed a CBE in 1946, knighted in 1957, and appointed to the
Order of Merit The Order of Merit (french: link=no, Ordre du Mérite) is an order of merit for the Commonwealth realms, recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture. Established in 1902 by Ki ...
in 1971. He was President of the
British Academy The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and the social sciences. It was established in 1902 and received its royal charter in the same year. It is now a fellowship of more than 1,000 leading scholars span ...
from 1974 to 1978. He also received the 1979
Jerusalem Prize The Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society is a biennial literary award given to writers whose works have dealt with themes of human freedom in society. It is awarded at the Jerusalem International Book Forum (previously kno ...
for his lifelong defence of civil liberties, and on 25 November 1994 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws at the
University of Toronto The University of Toronto (UToronto or U of T) is a public university, public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, located on the grounds that surround Queen's Park (Toronto), Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 ...
, for which occasion he prepared a "short credo" (as he called it in a letter to a friend), now known as "A Message to the Twenty-First Century", to be read on his behalf at the ceremony. An annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture is held at the Hampstead Synagogue, at Wolfson College, Oxford, at the British Academy, and in Riga. Berlin's work on liberal theory and on
value pluralism In ethics, value pluralism (also known as ethical pluralism or moral pluralism) is the idea that there are several values which may be equally correct and fundamental, and yet in conflict with each other. In addition, value-pluralism postulates th ...
, as well as his opposition to
Marxism Marxism is a Left-wing politics, left-wing to Far-left politics, far-left method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a Materialism, materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand S ...
and
communism Communism (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around ...
, has had a lasting influence.


Early life

Berlin was born on 6 June 1909 into a wealthy
Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים, , ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation A nation is a community of people formed on the basis of a combination of shared features such as language, history, ethnicity, culture and/or ...
family, the only son of Mendel Berlin, a timber trader (and a direct descendant of Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Hasidism), and his wife Marie, ''née'' Volshonok.''Isaiah Berlin: In Conversation with Steven Lukes'', Salmagundi, No. 120 (Fall 1998), pp. 52–134 His family owned a timber company, one of the largest in the Baltics, as well as forests in Russia, from where the timber was floated down the
Daugava river The Daugava ( ltg, Daugova; german: Düna) or Western Dvina (russian: Западная Двина, translit=Západnaya Dviná; be, Заходняя Дзвіна; et, Väina; fi, Väinäjoki) is a large river rising in the Valdai Hills of Russia ...
to its sawmills in Riga. As his father, who was the head of the Riga Association of Timber Merchants, worked for the company in its dealings with Western companies, he was fluent not only in Yiddish, Russian and German, but also French and English. His Russian-speaking mother, Marie (Musya) Volshonok, was also fluent in Yiddish and Latvian. Isaiah Berlin spent his first six years in Riga, and later lived in Andreapol (a small timber town near
Pskov Pskov ( rus, Псков, a=pskov-ru.ogg, p=pskof; see also names in other languages) is a city A city is a human settlement of notable size.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kupe ...
, effectively owned by the family business) and
Petrograd Saint Petersburg ( rus, links=no, Санкт-Петербург, a=Ru-Sankt Peterburg Leningrad Petrograd Piter.ogg, r=Sankt-Peterburg, p=ˈsankt pʲɪtʲɪrˈburk), formerly known as Petrograd (1914–1924) and later Leningrad (1924–1991), i ...
(now St Petersburg). In Petrograd, the family lived first on
Vasilevsky Island Vasilyevsky Island (russian: Васи́льевский о́стров, Vasilyevsky Ostrov, V.O.) is an island in Saint Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Russia, bordered by the Bolshaya Neva River, Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva Rivers (in the de ...
and then on Angliiskii Prospekt on the mainland. On Angliiskii Prospekt, they shared their building with other tenants, including Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter, an assistant Minister of Finnish affairs and Princess Emeretinsky. With the onset of the October Revolution of 1917, the fortunes of the building's tenants were rapidly reversed, with both the Princess Emeretinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter soon being made to stoke the building's stoves and sweep the yards. Berlin witnessed the
February February is the second month of the year in the Julian calendar, Julian and Gregorian calendars. The month has 28 days in common years or 29 in leap years, with the 29th day being called the ''leap day''. It is the first of five months not to ...
and
October Revolution The October Revolution,. officially known as the Great October Socialist Revolution. in the Soviet Union, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution, was a revolution in Russia led by the Bolsheviks, Bolshevik Party of Vladimir Lenin that was ...
s both from his apartment windows and from walks in the city with his governess, where he recalled the crowds of protesters marching on the Winter Palace Square. One particular childhood memory of the February Revolution marked his life-long opposition to violence, with Berlin saying: Feeling increasingly oppressed by life under
Bolshevik The Bolsheviks (russian: Большевики́, from большинство́ ''bol'shinstvó'', 'majority'),; derived from ''bol'shinstvó'' (большинство́), "majority", literally meaning "one of the majority". also known in English ...
rule where the family was identified as bourgeoisie, the family left Petrograd, on 5 October 1920, for Riga, but encounters with anti-Semitism and difficulties with the Latvian authorities convinced them to leave, and they moved to Britain in early 1921 (Mendel in January, Isaiah and Marie at the beginning of February), when Berlin was eleven. In London, the family first stayed in
Surbiton Surbiton is a suburban neighbourhood in South West London, within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK). It is next to the River Thames, southwest of Charing Cross. Surbiton was in the Historic counties of England, historic county of ...
where he was sent to Arundel House for preparatory school, then within the year they bought a house in
Kensington Kensington is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in the West End of London, West of Central London. The district's commercial heart is Kensington High Street, running on an east–west axis. The north-east is taken up b ...
, and six years later in
Hampstead Hampstead () is an area in London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-ea ...
. Berlin's native language was Russian, and his English was virtually nonexistent at first, but he reached proficiency in English within a year at around the age of 12. In addition to Russian and English, Berlin was fluent in French, German and Italian, and knew Hebrew, Latin, and Ancient Greek. Despite his fluency in English, however, in later life Berlin's Oxford English accent would sound increasingly Russian in its vowel sounds. Whenever he was described as an English philosopher, Berlin always insisted that he was not an English philosopher, but would forever be a Russian Jew: "I am a Russian Jew from Riga, and all my years in England cannot change this. I love England, I have been well treated here, and I cherish many things about English life, but I am a Russian Jew; that is how I was born and that is who I will be to the end of my life."


Education

Berlin was educated at St Paul's School in London. According to Michael Bonavia, a British author who was at school with him, he After leaving St Paul's, Berlin applied to
Balliol College, Oxford Balliol College () is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. One of University of Oxford, Oxford's oldest colleges, it was founded around 1263 by John I de Balliol, a landowner from Barnard Castle in County Durh ...
, but was denied admission after a chaotic interview. Berlin decided to apply again, only to a different college:
Corpus Christi College, Oxford Corpus Christi College (formally, Corpus Christi College in the University of Oxford; informally abbreviated as Corpus or CCC) is one of the Colleges of the University of Oxford, constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Ki ...
. Berlin was admitted and commenced his '' literae humaniores'' ''degree''. He graduated in 1928, taking first-class honours in his final examinations and winning the John Locke Prize for his performance in the philosophy papers, in which he outscored A. J. Ayer. He subsequently took another degree at Oxford in philosophy, politics and economics, again taking first-class honours after less than a year on the course. He was appointed a tutor in philosophy at
New College, Oxford New College is one of the Colleges of the University of Oxford, constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham in conjunction with Winchester College as its feeder school, New Colle ...
, and soon afterwards was elected to a prize fellowship at
All Souls College, Oxford All Souls College (official name: College of the Souls of All the Faithful Departed) is a Colleges of the University of Oxford, constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Unique to All Souls, all of its members automatically b ...
, the first unconverted Jew to achieve this fellowship at All Souls. While still a student, he befriended Ayer (with whom he was to share a lifelong amicable rivalry), Stuart Hampshire, Richard Wollheim,
Maurice Bowra Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra, (; 8 April 1898 – 4 July 1971) was an English classical scholar, literary critic and academic, known for his wit. He was Warden (college), Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, from 1938 to 1970, and served as Vice-Chancel ...
, Roy Beddington, Stephen Spender, Inez Pearn, J. L. Austin and Nicolas Nabokov. In 1940, he presented a philosophical paper on other minds to a meeting attended by
Ludwig Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrians, Austrian-British people, British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy o ...
at Cambridge University. Wittgenstein rejected the argument of his paper in discussion but praised Berlin for his intellectual honesty and integrity. Berlin was to remain at Oxford for the rest of his life, apart from a period working for British Information Services (BIS) in New York from 1940 to 1942 and for the British embassies in Washington, DC, and Moscow from then until 1946. Before crossing the Atlantic in 1940, Berlin took rest in Portugal for a few days. He stayed in
Estoril Estoril () is a town in the Cascais, Municipality of Cascais, Portugal, on the Portuguese Riviera. It is a tourist destination, with luxury hotels, beaches, and the Casino Estoril. It has been home to numerous royal families and celebrities, and ...
, at the Hotel Palácio, between 19 and 24 October 1940. Prior to this service, however, Berlin was barred from participation in the British war effort as a result of his being born in Latvia, and because his left arm had been damaged at birth. In April 1943 he wrote a confidential analysis of members of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is a Standing committee (United States Congress), standing committee of the United States Senate, U.S. Senate charged with leading Foreign policy of the United States, foreign-policy legis ...
for the
Foreign Office Foreign may refer to: Government * Foreign policy A State (polity), state's foreign policy or external policy (as opposed to internal or domestic policy) is its objectives and activities in relation to its interactions with other states, unio ...
; he described Senator Arthur Capper from Kansas as ''a solid, stolid, 78-year-old reactionary from the corn belt, who is the very voice of Mid-Western "grass root" isolationism''. For his services, he was appointed a CBE in the 1946 New Year Honours. Meetings with
Anna Akhmatova Anna Andreyevna Gorenko rus, А́нна Андре́евна Горе́нко, p=ˈanːə ɐnˈdrʲe(j)ɪvnə ɡɐˈrʲɛnkə, a=Anna Andreyevna Gorenko.ru.oga, links=yes; uk, А́нна Андрі́ївна Горе́нко, Ánna Andríyivn ...
in Leningrad in November 1945 and January 1946 had a powerful effect on both of them, and serious repercussions for Akhmatova (who immortalised the meetings in her poetry).


Personal life

In 1956 Berlin married Aline Elisabeth Yvonne Halban, ''née'' de Gunzbourg (1915–2014), the former wife of nuclear physicist Hans Halban, and a former winner of the ladies' golf championship of France. She was from an exiled half Russian-aristocratic and half ennobled-Jewish banking and petroleum family (her mother was Yvonne Deutsch de la Meurthe, granddaughter of Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe) based in Paris. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (abbreviation: AAA&S) is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is ...
in 1959, and a member of the
American Philosophical Society The American Philosophical Society (APS), founded in 1743 in Philadelphia, is a scholarly organization that promotes knowledge in the sciences and humanities through research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and communi ...
in 1975. He was instrumental in the founding, in 1966, of a new graduate college at Oxford University: Wolfson College. The college was founded to be a centre of academic excellence which, unlike many other colleges at Oxford, would also be based on a strong egalitarian and democratic ethos. Berlin was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute at
Oxford University Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...
. As later revealed, when he was asked to evaluate the academic credentials of
Isaac Deutscher Isaac; grc, Ἰσαάκ, Isaák; ar, إسحٰق/إسحاق, Isḥāq; am, ይስሐቅ is one of the three patriarchs (Bible), patriarchs of the Israelites and an important figure in the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, a ...
, Isaiah Berlin argued against a promotion, because of the profoundly pro-communist militancy of the candidate. Berlin died in Oxford on 5 November 1997, aged 88. He is buried there in Wolvercote Cemetery. On his death, the obituarist of ''
The Independent ''The Independent'' is a British online newspaper. It was established in 1986 as a national morning printed paper. Nicknamed the ''Indy'', it began as a broadsheet and changed to Tabloid (newspaper format), tabloid format in 2003. The last p ...
'' wrote: "he was a man of formidable intellectual power with a rare gift for understanding a wide range of human motives, hopes and fears, and a prodigiously energetic capacity for enjoyment – of life, of people in all their variety, of their ideas and idiosyncrasies, of literature, of music, of art". The same publication reported: "Isaiah Berlin was often described, especially in his old age, by means of superlatives: the world's greatest talker, the century's most inspired reader, one of the finest minds of our time. There is no doubt that he showed in more than one direction the unexpectedly large possibilities open to us at the top end of the range of human potential." The front page of ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''the Times'', ''NYT'', or the Gray Lady) is a daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership reported in 2020 to comprise a declining 840,000 paid print subscribers, and a growing 6 million paid d ...
'' concluded: "His was an exuberant life crowded with joys – the joy of thought, the joy of music, the joy of good friends. ... The theme that runs throughout his work is his concern with liberty and the dignity of human beings .... Sir Isaiah radiated well-being."


Thought


Lecturing and composition

Berlin did not enjoy writing, and his published work (including both his essays and books) was produced by means of conversational dictation to a tape-recorder, or through the transcription of his improvised lectures and talks from recorded tapes. The work of transcribing his spoken word often placed a strain on his secretaries. This method of dictation even extended to his letters, which were produced by speaking to a
Grundig Grundig (; ) is a German consumer electronics manufacturer owned by the Turkish Arçelik, Arçelik A.Ş., the Major appliance, white goods (major appliance) manufacturer of Turkish conglomerate Koç Holding. The company made domestic appliances ...
tape recorder, often while simultaneously in conversation with his friends, and then transcribed with difficulty by his secretary, who at times would inadvertently include his jokes and laughter into the transcribed text itself. The results are a darting and leaping style of thought, which literally reflected his own conversation, and the ornate grammar and punctuation which was contained in his everyday speech.


"Two Concepts of Liberty"

Berlin is known for his inaugural lecture, "Two Concepts of Liberty," delivered in 1958 as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. The lecture, later published as an essay, reintroduced the study of political philosophy to the methods of
analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a Academic discipline, branch and Philosophical tradition, tradition of philosophy using philosophical analysis, analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 2 ...
. Berlin defined 'negative liberty' as absence of coercion or interference of private actions by an external political body, which Berlin derived from the Hobbesian definition of liberty. 'Positive liberty' Berlin maintained, could be thought of as self-mastery, which asks not what we are free from, but what we are free to do. Berlin contended that modern political thinkers often conflated positive liberty with rational action, based upon a rational knowledge to which, it is argued, only a certain elite or social group has access. This rationalist conflation was open to political abuses, which encroached on negative liberty, when such interpretations of positive liberty were, in the nineteenth century, used to defend nationalism, paternalism, social engineering, historicism, and collective rational control over human destiny.


Counter-Enlightenment

Berlin's lectures on
the Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment; german: Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie, "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, La Ilustración, "Enlightenment" was an intel ...
and its critics (especially
Giambattista Vico Giambattista Vico (born Giovan Battista Vico ; ; 23 June 1668 – 23 January 1744) was an Italian people, Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist during the Italian enlightenment, Italian Enlightenment. He criticized the expansion ...
,
Johann Gottfried Herder Johann Gottfried von Herder ( , ; 25 August 174418 December 1803) was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. He is associated with the Age of Enlightenment, Enlightenment, ''Sturm und Drang'', and Weimar Classicism. Biogr ...
,
Joseph de Maistre Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre (; 1 April 1753 – 26 February 1821) was a Duchy of Savoy, Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat who advocated social hierarchy and monarchy in the period immediately following the French Revolution. D ...
and
Johann Georg Hamann Johann Georg Hamann (; ; 27 August 1730 – 21 June 1788) was a German Lutheranism, Lutheran philosopher from Königsberg known as "the Wizard of the North" who was one of the leader figures of German idealism, post-Kantian philosophy. His work w ...
, to whose views Berlin referred as the Counter-Enlightenment) contributed to his advocacy of an irreducibly pluralist ethical
ontology In metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about ...
. In ''Three Critics of the Enlightenment'', Berlin argues that Hamann was one of the first thinkers to conceive of human cognition as language – the articulation and use of symbols. Berlin saw Hamann as having recognised as the rationalist's Cartesian fallacy the notion that there are "clear and distinct" ideas "which can be contemplated by a kind of inner eye", without the use of language – a recognition greatly sharpened in the 20th century by Wittgenstein's
private language argument The private language argument argues that a language understandable by only a single individual is incoherent, and was introduced by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his later work, especially in the ''Philosophical Investigations''. The argument was cent ...
.


Value pluralism

For Berlin, values are creations of mankind, rather than products of nature waiting to be discovered. He argued, on the basis of the epistemic and empathetic access we have to other cultures across history, that the nature of mankind is such that certain values – the importance of individual liberty, for instance – will hold true across cultures, and this is what he meant by objective pluralism. Berlin's argument was partly grounded in
Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrians, Austrian-British people, British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy o ...
's later theory of language, which argued that inter-translatability was supervenient on a similarity in forms of life, with the inverse implication that our epistemic access to other cultures entails an ontologically contiguous value-structure. With his account of value pluralism, he proposed the view that moral values may be equally, or rather incommensurably, valid and yet incompatible, and may, therefore, come into conflict with one another in a way that admits of no resolution without reference to particular contexts of a decision. When values clash, it may not be that one is more important than the other: keeping a promise may conflict with the pursuit of truth; liberty may clash with
social justice Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, Equal opportunity, opportunities, and Social privilege, privileges within a society. In Western Civilization, Western and Culture of Asia, Asian cultures, the concept of social ...
. Moral conflicts are "an intrinsic, irremovable element in human life". "These collisions of values are of the essence of what they are and what we are." For Berlin, this clashing of incommensurate values within, no less than between, individuals, constitutes the tragedy of human life. Alan Brown suggests, however, that Berlin ignores the fact that values are commensurable in the extent to which they contribute to the human good.


"The Hedgehog and the Fox"

"The Hedgehog and the Fox", a title referring to a fragment of the ancient Greek poet
Archilochus Archilochus (; grc-gre, Ἀρχίλοχος ''Arkhilokhos''; c. 680 – c. 645 BC) was a Greek lyric poet of the Archaic Greece, Archaic period from the island of Paros. He is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters ...
, was one of Berlin's most popular essays with the general public, reprinted in numerous editions. Of the classification that gives the essay its title, Berlin once said "I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously." Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greeks, Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thou ...
), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's nation ...
: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". Hamlet 1.5 167–168).


Positive liberty

Berlin promoted the notion of "
positive liberty Positive liberty is the possession of the power and resources to act in the context of the structural limitations of the broader society which impacts a person's ability to act, as opposed to negative liberty, which is freedom from external restra ...
" in the sense of an intrinsic link between positive freedom and participatory, Athenian-style, democracy. There is a contrast with "negative liberty." Liberals in the English-speaking tradition call for negative liberty, meaning a realm of private autonomy from which the state is legally excluded. In contrast French liberals ever since the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, ...
more often promote "positive liberty"that is, liberty insofar as it is tethered to collectively defined ends. They praise the state as an essential tool to emancipate the people.


Other work

Berlin's lecture "Historical Inevitability" (1954) focused on a controversy in the
philosophy of history Philosophy of history is the philosophy, philosophical study of history and its academic discipline, discipline. The term was coined by French philosopher Voltaire. In contemporary philosophy a distinction has developed between ''speculative'' p ...
. Given the choice, whether one believes that "the lives of entire peoples and societies have been decisively influenced by exceptional individuals" or, conversely, that whatever happens occurs as a result of impersonal forces oblivious to human intentions, Berlin rejected both options and the choice itself as nonsensical. Berlin is also well known for his writings on Russian intellectual history, most of which are collected in ''Russian Thinkers'' (1978; 2nd ed. 2008) and edited, as most of Berlin's work, by Henry Hardy (in the case of this volume, jointly with Aileen Kelly). Berlin also contributed a number of essays on leading intellectuals and political figures of his time, including
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman, soldier, and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1940 to 1945 Winston Churchill in the Second World War, dur ...
,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (; ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician and attorney who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. As the ...
, and
Chaim Weizmann Chaim Azriel Weizmann ( he, חיים עזריאל ויצמן ', russian: Хаим Евзорович Вейцман, ''Khaim Evzorovich Veytsman''; 27 November 1874 – 9 November 1952) was a Russian-born biochemist, Zionism, Zionist leader a ...
. Eighteen of these character sketches were published together as "Personal Impressions" (1980; 2nd ed., with four additional essays, 1998; 3rd ed., with a further ten essays, 2014).


Commemoration

A number of commemorative events for Isaiah Berlin are held at Oxford University, as well as scholarships given out in his name, including the Wolfson Isaiah Berlin Clarendon Scholarship, The Isaiah Berlin Visiting Professorship, and the annual Isaiah Berlin Lectures. The Berlin Quadrangle of Wolfson College, Oxford, is named after him. The Isaiah Berlin Association of Latvia was founded in 2011 to promote the ideas and values of Sir Isaiah Berlin, in particular by organising an annual Isaiah Berlin day and lectures in his memory. At the
British Academy The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and the social sciences. It was established in 1902 and received its royal charter in the same year. It is now a fellowship of more than 1,000 leading scholars span ...
, the Isaiah Berlin lecture series has been held since 2001. Many volumes from Berlin's personal library were donated to
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) ( he, אוניברסיטת בן-גוריון בנגב, ''Universitat Ben-Guriyon baNegev'') is a public university, public research university in Beersheba, Israel. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has ...
in
Beer Sheva Beersheba or Beer Sheva, officially Be'er-Sheva ( he, בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע, ''Bəʾēr Ševaʿ'', ; ar, بئر السبع, Biʾr as-Sabʿ, Well of the Oath or Well of the Seven), is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. ...
and form part of the Aranne Library collection. The Isaiah Berlin Room, on the third floor of the library, is a replica of his study at the University of Oxford. There is also the Isaiah Berlin Society which takes place at his alma mater of St Paul's School. The society invites world famous academics to share their research into the answers to life's great concerns and to respond to students' questions. In the last few years they have hosted: A.C. Grayling, Brad Hooker, Jonathan Dancy, John Cottingham, Tim Crane, Arif Ahmed, Hugh Mellor and David Papineau.


Published works

Apart from ''Unfinished Dialogue'', all books/editions listed from 1978 onwards are edited (or, where stated, co-edited) by Henry Hardy, and all but ''Karl Marx'' are compilations or transcripts of lectures, essays, and letters. Details given are of first and latest UK editions, and current US editions. Most titles are also available as e-books. The twelve titles marked with a '+' are available in the US market in revised editions from
Princeton University Press Princeton University Press is an independent Academic publishing, publisher with close connections to Princeton University. Its mission is to disseminate scholarship within academia and society at large. The press was founded by Whitney Darrow, ...
, with additional material by Berlin, and (except in the case of ''Karl Marx'') new forewords by contemporary authors; the 5th edition of ''Karl Marx'' is also available in the UK. * +'' Karl Marx: His Life and Environment'', Thornton Butterworth, 1939. 5th ed., ''Karl Marx'', 2013, Princeton University Press. . * '' The Age of Enlightenment: The Eighteenth-Century Philosophers'', New American Library, 1956. Out of print. Second edition (2017) available online only. * +'' The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History'', Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1953. 2nd ed., 2014, Phoenix. . 2nd US ed., Princeton University Press, 2013. . * ''Four Essays on Liberty'', Oxford University Press, 1969. Superseded by ''Liberty''. * ''Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas'', Chatto and Windus, 1976. Superseded by ''Three Critics of the Enlightenment''. * ''Russian Thinkers'' (edited by Henry Hardy and Aileen Kelly), Hogarth Press, 1978. 2nd ed. (revised by Henry Hardy), Penguin, 2008. . * +''Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays'', Hogarth Press, 1978. Pimlico. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. . * +'' Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas'', Hogarth Press, 1979. Pimlico. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. * +''Personal Impressions'', Hogarth Press, 1980. 2nd ed., Pimlico, 1998. . 3rd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. . * +''The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas'', John Murray, 1990. 2nd ed., Pimlico, 2013. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. . * ''The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism'', John Murray, 1993. Superseded by ''Three Critics of the Enlightenment''. * +''The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History'', Chatto & Windus, 1996. Pimlico. . 2nd ed., 2019, Princeton University Press. . * ''The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays'' (edited by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer) one-volume selection from the whole of Berlin's work Chatto & Windus, 1997. 2nd ed., Vintage, 2013. . * +''The Roots of Romanticism'' (lectures delivered in 1965), Chatto & Windus, 1999. mlico. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. . * +''Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder'', Pimlico, 2000. 2nd ed., 2013. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. . * +''The Power of Ideas'', Chatto & Windus, 2000. Pimlico. . 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. . * +''Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty'' (lectures delivered in 1952), Chatto & Windus, 2002. Pimlico. . 2nd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. . * ''Liberty'' [revised and expanded edition of ''Four Essays on Liberty''], Oxford University Press, 2002. . * ''The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism'', Brookings Institution Press, 2004. . 2nd ed., Brookings Classics, 2016. . * ''Flourishing: Letters 1928–1946'', Chatto & Windus, 2004. Pimlico. . * +''Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought'' (1952), Chatto & Windus, 2006. . Pimlico, . 2nd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. . * (with Beata Polanowska-Sygulska) ''Unfinished Dialogue'', Prometheus, 2006. . * ''Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960'' (edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes), Chatto & Windus, 2009. . Pimlico, . * ''Building: Letters 1960–1975'' (edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle), Chatto & Windus, 2013. . * ''Affirming: Letters 1975–1997'' (edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle), Chatto & Windus, 2015. .


See also

* Gerald C. MacCallum Jr.


References


Sources

* Authorised biography.


Further reading


Books

* Baum, Bruce and Robert Nichols, eds. ''Isaiah Berlin and the Politics of Freedom: 'Two Concepts of Liberty' 50 Years Later,'' (Routledge, 2013). * Benhabib, Seyla. ''Exile, Statelessness, and Migration: Playing Chess with History from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin'' (Princeton University Press, 2018) * Blattberg, Charles. ''From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First'', Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. . A critique of Berlin's value pluralism
Blattberg has also criticised Berlin for taking politics "too seriously."
* Brockliss, Laurence and Ritchie Robertson (eds.), ''Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment'', Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. * Caute, David, ''Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic'' (Yale University Press, 2013) * Cherniss, Joshua, and Steven Smith, eds. ''The Cambridge Companion to Isaiah Berlin'' (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
excerpt
* Crowder, George. ''Isaiah Berlin: Liberty and Pluralism'', Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004. . * Crowder, George. ''The Problem of Value Pluralism: Isaiah Berlin and Beyond'' (Routledge, 2019) * Dubnov, Arie M. ''Isaiah Berlin: The Journey of a Jewish Liberal'' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). * Galipeau, Claude. ''Isaiah Berlin's Liberalism'', Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. . * Gray, John. ''Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought'', (Princeton University Press, 1996). . * Hardy, Henry, ed
''The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin''
(The Boydell Press, 2009). * Ignatieff, Michael. ''Isaiah Berlin: A Life'' (Chatto and Windus, 1998) * Lyons, Johnny. ''The Philosophy of Isaiah Berlin'' (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020)
excerpt
* Müller, Jan-Werner, ed. ''Isaiah Berlin’s Cold War Liberalism'' (Springer, 2019). * Walicki, Andrzej. ''Encounters with Isaiah Berlin: Story of an Intellectual Friendship'' (Peter Lang, 2011).


Tributes, obituaries, articles and profiles







on The Philosopher's Zone, ABC, 6 & 13 June 2009.


The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library
Wolfson College, Oxford.


A recording of the last of Berlin's Mellon Lectures
Wolfson College, Oxford.
Biographical information on Sir Isaiah Berlin.


* Ned O'Gorman, 'My dinners with Isaiah: the music of a philosopher's life – Sir Isaiah Berlin' – includes related article on Isaiah Berlin's commitment to ideals of genuine understanding over intellectual mastery
''Commonweal'', 14 August 1998




fro
Wolfson College's tribute page




23 October 1997. * Assaf Inbari
"The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin"
'' Azure'' (Spring 2006).
Obituary by Henry Hardy
* Joshua Cherniss
'Isaiah Berlin: A Defence'
in the '' Oxonian Review'' * Joshua Cherniss
'Freedom and Philosophers'
review of ''Freedom and its Betrayal'' in the '' Oxonian Review''
Isaiah Berlin, Beyond the Wit
Evan R. Goldstein.
Berlin archive and author page
from ''
The New York Review of Books ''The New York Review of Books'' (or ''NYREV'' or ''NYRB'') is a semi-monthly magazine with articles on literature, culture, economics, science and current affairs. Published in New York City, it is inspired by the idea that the discussion of i ...
''.


External links


Website and bibliography of Isaiah Berlin's writings

Full text of ''Concepts and Categories''

Entry on Isaiah Berlin in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics
*

at Wolfson College * , including a discussion with Michael Ignatieff, biographer, of the ideas of Berlin, a year after the latter's death


Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga


{{DEFAULTSORT:Berlin, Isaiah 1909 births 1997 deaths People from the Governorate of Livonia Latvian Jews Latvian emigrants to the United Kingdom Emigrants from the Russian Empire to the United Kingdom Alumni of Corpus Christi College, Oxford Analytic philosophers Social philosophers Historians of political thought British agnostics British political philosophers Fellows of All Souls College, Oxford Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellows of the British Academy Jewish agnostics Jewish historians Jewish philosophers Liberalism Knights Bachelor Members of the Order of Merit Commanders of the Order of the British Empire Naturalised citizens of the United Kingdom People educated at St Paul's School, London Presidents of the British Academy Presidents of Wolfson College, Oxford Refugees in the United Kingdom Scholars of Marxism Slavists British social liberals Chichele Professors of Social and Political Theory Jerusalem Prize recipients Presidents of the Aristotelian Society British Jews Giambattista Vico scholars 20th-century English historians British social commentators Critics of Marxism People from Headington Members of the American Philosophical Society Burials at Wolvercote Cemetery