By Isaiah Berlin
During this notable number of essays, Isaiah Berlin, one of many nice thinkers of the 20 th century, discusses the significance of dissenters within the historical past of ideas--among them Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Herzen, and Sorel. together with his strange powers of ingenious new edition, Berlin brings to existence unique minds that swam opposed to the present in their times--and nonetheless problem traditional wisdom.
In a brand new foreword to this corrected variation, which additionally incorporates a new appendix of letters within which Berlin discusses and additional illuminates a few of its themes, famous essayist Mark Lilla argues that Berlin's selection to renounce a philosophy fellowship and turn into a historian of principles represented no longer an abandonment of philosophy yet a call to do philosophy by means of different, might be greater, potential. "His intuition instructed him," Lilla writes, "that you research extra approximately an idea as an idea if you recognize anything approximately its genesis and comprehend why definite humans stumbled on it compelling and have been spurred to motion by way of it." This number of interesting highbrow photos is a wealthy demonstration of that trust.
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Additional resources for Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (2nd Edition)
Yet none of these had sufficed to bring the structure crashing down. In this respect, Berlin’s treatment of Montesquieu is particularly valuable. He does not deny that the great French thinker is quite rightly thought of as one of the true fathers of the French Enlightenment. Despite Montesquieu’s use of metaphysical concepts such as natural law and natural purpose, his approach was essentially empirical and naturalistic; he believed, above all, in the direct evidence yielded by observation. His central doctrines were absorbed into the texture of nineteenth-century liberal thought and practice, what had once seemed novel and arresting became commonplace, and successive social and political thinkers looked back on him as a distinguished predecessor with nothing new to say to them.
There was something essentially subversive of Enlightenment dogma in this attitude, and his distrust of rapid, simple, sweeping solutions to complex problems, managed by rationalistic philosophers in the light of universalistic theories, brings Montesquieu closer to Vico and Herder than to Voltaire and the Encyclopédie. And indeed, as Berlin brings out so clearly, there is a contradiction at the heart of his social and political thought: although he is a pluralist rather than a monist and is not obsessed by some single ruling principle, and although he is indeed unique in his time for his inexhaustible awareness of the varieties of forms of life and society, he nevertheless believes that, no matter how much the means and secondary ends of l • Roger Hausheer men may vary, their ultimate, fundamental ends are the same: satisfaction of basic material needs, security, justice, peace and so forth.
II At the heart of all Berlin’s writings there is a cluster of perennial philosophical problems. The nature of self, will, freedom, human identity, personality and dignity; the manner and degree in which these can be abused, offended against, insulted, and their proper boundaries (whatever these may be) transgressed; the consequences, both probable and actual, of failing to understand them for what they are, and above all of torturing them into conformity with conceptual systems and models which deny too much of their essential nature; the distinction between ‘inner’ human nature as opposed to ‘external’ physical nature, and between the basic categories and methods proper to their investigation –all these problems are touched upon, and our understanding of them enlarged and deepened, by the essays in this volume.
Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (2nd Edition) by Isaiah Berlin