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Berlin is popularly known for his essay "Two Concepts of Liberty", delivered in 1958 as his inaugural lecture as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. The essay, with its analytical approach to the definition of political concepts, reintroduced the methods of analytic philosophy to the study of political philosophy. Spurred by his background in philosophy of language, Berlin argued for a nuanced and subtle understanding of our political terminology, where what was superficially understood as a single concept could mask a plurality of different uses and therefore meanings. Berlin argued that these multiple and differing concepts, otherwise masked by rhetorical conflations, showed the plurality and incompatibility of human values, and the need for us to distinguish and trade off analytically between, rather than conflate, them if we are to avoid disguising underlying value-conflicts. The two concepts are 'negative freedom', or freedom from interference, which Berlin derived from the British tradition, and 'positive freedom', or freedom as self-mastery, which asks not what we are free from, but what we are free to do. Berlin points out that these two different conceptions of liberty can clash with each other.

Counter-Enlightenment

Berlin's lectures on the Enlightenment and its critics (especially Giambattista Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder, Joseph de Maistre and Johann Georg Hamann, to whose views Berlin referred as the Counter-Enlightenment) contributed to his advocacy of an irreducibly pluralist ethical ontology.[1] 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.[37]

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'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. 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."[38] 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.[39]

"The Hedgehog and the Fox"

"The Hedgehog and the Fox", a title referring to a fragment of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, 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."[40]

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), 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: "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" in the sense of an intrinsic link between positive freedom and participatory, Athenian-style, democracy.[41] 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 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.[42][43]

Other work

Berlin's lecture "Historical Inevitability" (1954) focused on a controversy in the philosophy of history. 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, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Chaim Weizmann. 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).[44]

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.[45] At the British Academy, the Isaiah Berlin lecture series has been held since 2001.[46] Many volumes from Berlin's personal library were donated to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva 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.[47] 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.[48]

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, 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. ISBN 978-0-691-15650-7.
  • The Age of Enlightenment: The Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, New American Library, 1956. Out of print. Second edition (2017) available online only.[49]
  • +The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1953. 2nd ed., 2014, Phoenix. ISBN 978-1-7802-2843-3. 2nd US ed., Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4008-4663-4.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-14-144220-4.
  • +Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays, Hogarth Press, 1978. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6552-0. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15749-8.
  • +Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, Hogarth Press, 1979. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6690-9. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press.
  • +Personal Impressions, Hogarth Press, 1980. 2nd ed., Pimlico, 1998. ISBN 978-0-7126-6601-5. 3rd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15770-2.
  • +The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, John Murray, 1990. 2nd ed., Pimlico, 2013. ISBN 978-1-8459-5208-2. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15593-7.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-7126-7367-9. 2nd ed., 2019, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-18287-2.
  • The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays (edited by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer) [a one-volume selection from the whole of Berlin's work], Chatto & Windus, 1997. 2nd ed., Vintage, 2013. ISBN 978-0-0995-8276-2.
  • +The Roots of Romanticism (lectures delivered in 1965), Chatto & Windus, 1999. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6544-5. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15620-0.
  • +Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, Pimlico, 2000. 2nd ed., 2013. ISBN 978-1-8459-5213-6. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15765-8.
  • +The Power of Ideas, Chatto & Windus, 2000. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6554-4. 2nd ed., 2013, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15760-3.
  • +Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty (lectures delivered in 1952), Chatto & Windus, 2002. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6842-2. 2nd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-11499-6.
  • Liberty [revised and expanded edition of Four Essays on Liberty], Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-924989-3.
  • The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism, Brookings Institution Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8157-2155-0. 2nd ed., Brookings Classics, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8157-2887-0.
  • Flourishing: Letters 1928–1946, Chatto & Windus, 2004. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-3565-3.
  • +Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought (1952), Chatto & Windus, 2006. ISBN 0-7011-7909-0. Pimlico, ISBN 978-1-84413-926-2. 2nd ed., 2014, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12695-1.
  • (with Beata Polanowska-Sygulska) Unfinished Dialogue, Prometheus, 2006. ISBN 978-1-59102-376-0.
  • Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960 (edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes), Chatto & Windus, 2009. 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.[36] This method of dictation even extended to his letters, which were produced by speaking to a Grundig 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.[36] 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.[36]

    "Two Concepts of Liberty"

    Berlin's lectures on the Enlightenment and its critics (especially Giambattista Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder, Joseph de Maistre and Johann Georg Hamann, to whose views Berlin referred as the Counter-Enlightenment) contributed to his advocacy of an irreducibly pluralist ethical ontology.[1] 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.[37]

    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

    Berlin's lectures on the Enlightenment and its critics (especially Giambattista Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder, Joseph de Maistre and Johann Georg Hamann, to whose views Berlin referred as the Counter-Enlightenment) contributed to his advocacy of an irreducibly pluralist ethical ontology.[1] 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.[37]

    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 certa

    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'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. 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."[38] 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.[39]

    "The Hedgehog and the Fox"