"The goal of philosophy is always the same, to assist men to understand themselves and thus to operate in the open, not wildly in the dark."--Isaiah Berlin
This volume of Isaiah Berlin's essays presents the sweep of his contributions to philosophy from his early participation in the debates surrounding logical positivism to his later work, which more evidently reflects his life-long interest in political theory, the history of ideas, and the philosophy of history. Here Berlin describes his view of the nature of philosophy, and of its main task: to uncover the various models and presuppositions--the concepts and categories--that men bring to their existence and that help form that existence. Throughout, his writing is informed by his intense consciousness of the plurality of values, the nature of historical understanding, and of the fragility of human freedom in the face of rigid dogma.
This new edition adds a number of previously uncollected pieces that throw further light on Berlin's central philosophical concerns, and a revealing exchange of letters with the editor and Bernard Williams about the genesis of the book.
Philosopher, political theorist, and essayist, Isaiah Berlin was born in 1909 to Russian-speaking Jewish parents in Latvia. Reared in Latvia and later in Russia, Berlin developed a strong Russian-Jewish identity, having witnessed both the Social-Democratic and the Bolshevik Revolutions. At the age of 12, Berlin moved with his family to England, where he attended prep school and then St. Paul's. In 1928, he went up as a scholar to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. After an unsuccessful attempt at the Manchester Guardian, Berlin was offered a position as lecturer in philosophy at New College. Almost immediately, he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls. During this time at All Souls, Berlin wrote his brilliant biographical study of Marx, titled Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939), for the Home University Library. Berlin continued to teach through early World War II, and was then sent to New York by the Ministry of Information, and subsequently to the Foreign Office in Washington, D.C. It was during these years that he drafted several fine works regarding the changing political mood of the United States, collected in Washington Despatches 1941-1945 (1981). By the end of the war, Berlin had shifted his focus from philosophy to the history of ideas, and in 1950 he returned to All Souls. In 1957, he was elected to the Chichele Chair of Social and Political Theory, delivering his influential and best-known inaugural lecture, Two Concepts of Liberty. Some of his works include Liberty, The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism, Flourishing: Selected Letters 1928 - 1946, Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought, and Unfinished Dialogue, Prometheus. Berlin died in Oxford on November 5, 1997.