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This view is certainly consistent with all that Berlin wrote from onwards. Berlin does sometimes offer more starkly dramatic accounts of incommensurability, which make it hard to rule out a more radical interpretation of the concept, according to which incommensurability is more or less synonymous with incomparability.
As a result, choices among values cannot be based on objectively valid evaluative comparisons, but only on personal preference, or on an act of radical, arbitrary choice.
A related question concerns the role of reason in moral deliberation. If values are incommensurable, must all choices between conflicting values be ultimately subjective or irrational?
If so, how does pluralism differ from radical relativism and subjectivism? If not, how, exactly, does moral reasoning work? How can we rationally make choices between values when there is no system or unit of measurement that can be used in making such deliberations?
One possible answer to the last question is to offer an account of practical, situational reasoning that is not quantitative or rule-based.
This is what Berlin suggests; but, once again, he does not offer a systematic explanation of the nature of non-systematic reason.
On incommensurability see Chang and Crowder In the area of political philosophy, the most widespread controversy over pluralism concerns its relationship to liberalism.
However, there are some who maintain that, while pluralism is distinct from, and preferable to, relativism, it is nevertheless too radical and subversive to be reconciled to liberalism or, conversely, that liberalism is too universalistic or absolutist to be compatible with pluralism.
The main proponent of this view, who is more responsible than any other thinker for the emergence and wide discussion of this issue, is John Gray see, especially, Gray Gray asserts that pluralism is true, that pluralism undermines liberalism, and that therefore liberalism, at least as it has traditionally been conceived, should be abandoned.
Some theorists have agreed with Gray Kekes, , ; others have sought to show that pluralism and liberalism are reconcilable, although this reconciliation may require modifications to both liberalism and pluralism—modifications that are, however, justifiable, and indeed inherently desirable.
The most extensive discussions to date are those by George Crowder and William Galston Crowder , , Galston , Berlin himself was devoted both to pluralism and to liberalism, which he saw not as related by logical entailment, but as interconnected and harmonious.
The version of pluralism he advanced was distinctly liberal in its assumptions, aims and conclusions, just as his liberalism was distinctly pluralist.
Berlin addressed the former subject both directly and through his writings on individual statesmen who embodied models of different sorts of successful political judgement for these, see the portraits collected in Berlin , and Hanley Berlin disputed the idea that political judgement was a body of knowledge which could be reduced to rules.
In the realm of political action, laws are few and skill is all , Like the study of history, political judgement involves reaching an understanding of the unique set of characteristics that constitute a particular individual, atmosphere, state of affairs or event , Such a sense is qualitative rather than quantitative, specific rather than general.
This sense is distinct from any sort of ethical sense; it could be possessed or lacked by both virtuous and villainous politicians.
Recognition of the importance of this sense of political reality should not discourage the spirit of scientific enquiry or serve as an excuse for obscurantism.
But it should discourage the attempt to transform political action into the application of scientific principles, and government into technocratic administration.
Berlin intended his writings on political judgement as a warning to political theorists not to overreach themselves.
Political theory can do much good in helping us to think through politics. But political action is a practical matter, which should not, and cannot, be founded on, or dictated by, general principles established through abstract theorising.
While he acknowledged that it was impossible to think without the use of analogies and metaphors, that thought necessarily involves generalisation and comparison, he warned that it was important to be cautious, self-conscious and critical in the use of general models and analogies see b, Rationality consists of the application, not of a single technique or set of rules, but of those methods that have proven to work best in each particular field or situation.
While Berlin emphasised the place of questions about the proper ends of political action in the subject-matter of political theory, he also recognised the importance of discussions of the proper means to employ, and the relationship between these and the ends at which they aim.
Berlin did not treat this question—the question of political ethics—directly in his work; nor did he offer simple or confident answers to the perennial questions of the morality of political action.
Nevertheless, he did advance some theses about this branch of morality; and these were among his most heartfelt pronouncements.
To this Berlin added a caution evocative as much of Max Weber as of Herzen about the unpredictability of the future.
This led Berlin, on the one hand, to stress the need for caution and moderation; and, on the other, to insist that uncertainty is inescapable, so that all action, however carefully undertaken, involves the risk of error and disastrous, or at least unexpected and troubling, consequences.
Berlin often noted the dangers of Utopianism, and stressed the need for a measure of political pragmatism. He may therefore appear to have been staunchly in the tradition of political realism.
Yet this was not quite the case: Berlin sought to warn against the dangers of idealism, and chasten it, so as to save it from itself and better defend it against cynicism.
Berlin, characteristically, warned both against an insistence on total political purity—for, when values conflict and consequences are often unexpected, purity is an impossible ideal—and against a disregard for the ethical niceties of political means.
Berlin regarded such an attitude as not only morally ugly, but foolish: for good ends have a tendency to be corrupted and undermined by being pursued through unscrupulous means.
But the ideal for which they die remains unrealised. Berlin was thoroughly anti-absolutist; but he did insist that there were certain actions that were, except in the most drastic of situations, unacceptable.
Berlin also warned particularly against the use of violence. He acknowledged that the use of force was sometimes necessary and justified; but he also reminded his readers that violence has particularly volatile and unpredictable consequences, and tends to spiral out of control, leading to terrible destruction and suffering, and undermining the noble goals it seeks to achieve.
He also stressed the dangers of paternalistic, or otherwise humiliating and disempowering, attempts to institute reform or achieve improvement, which had a tendency to inspire a backlash of hatred and resistance.
For Berlin the acceptance of uncertainty was a call not only to cultivate humility, but to foster liberty. In Two Concepts of Liberty Berlin sought to explain the difference between two not, he acknowledged, the only two different ways of thinking about political liberty which had run through modern thought, and which, he believed, were central to the ideological struggles of his day.
Berlin called these two conceptions of liberty negative and positive. Negative liberty Berlin initially defined as freedom from , that is, the absence of constraints on the agent imposed by other people.
Positive liberty he defined both as freedom to , that is, the ability not just the opportunity to pursue and achieve willed goals; and also as autonomy or self-rule, as opposed to dependence on others.
He associated negative liberty with the classical liberal tradition as it had emerged and developed in Britain and France from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.
Berlin later regretted that he had not made more of the evils that negative liberty had been used to justify, such as exploitation under laissez-faire capitalism; in Two Concepts itself, however, negative liberty is portrayed favourably, and briefly.
It is on positive liberty that Berlin focused, since it was, he claimed, both a more ambiguous concept, and one which had been subject to greater and more sinister transformation, and ultimately perversion.
Berlin traced positive liberty back to theories that focus on the autonomy, or capacity for self-rule, of the agent.
By this, Berlin alleged, Rousseau meant, essentially, the common or public interest—that is, what was best for all citizens qua citizens.
The general will was quite independent of, and would often be at odds with, the selfish wills of individuals, who, Rousseau charged, were often deluded as to their own interests.
Second, it rested on a bogus transformation of the concept of the self. In his doctrine of the general will Rousseau moved from the conventional and, Berlin insisted, correct view of the self as individual to the self as citizen—which for Rousseau meant the individual as member of a larger community.
Fichte began as a radically individualist liberal. But he came to reject his earlier political outlook, and ultimately became an ardent, even hysterical, nationalist—an intellectual forefather of Fascism and even Nazism.
In this view, the individual achieves freedom only through renunciation of his or her desires and beliefs as an individual and submersion in a larger group.
Berlin traced this sinister transformation of the idea of freedom to the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, both Communist and Fascist-Nazi, which claimed to liberate people by subjecting—and often sacrificing—them to larger groups or principles.
As we have seen, to do this was for Berlin the greatest of political evils; and to do so in the name of freedom, a political principle that Berlin, as a genuine liberal, especially cherished, struck him as a particularly monstrous deception.
This account is subject to serious and plausible objections, on both historical and conceptual grounds.
Berlin has often been interpreted, not unreasonably, as a staunch enemy of the concept of positive liberty. But this was never wholly the case.
Berlin regarded both concepts of liberty as centring on valid claims about what is necessary and good for human beings; both negative and positive liberty were for him genuine values, which might in some cases clash, but in other cases could be combined and might even be mutually interdependent.
What Berlin attacked was the many ways in which positive liberty had been used to justify the denial, betrayal or abandonment of both negative liberty and the truest forms of positive liberty itself.
The conflicts between values and ways of life that are the matter of pluralism require people to make choices.
These choices are of the utmost importance, because they involve the most basic and essential questions of human life—what one is to be and do.
Those who have to make such choices are therefore likely to care about them, and to want some say in making them.
Why might one deny individuals the opportunity to make choices for themselves? One answer though not the only possible one is that individuals may make the wrong choices, so that it is necessary to coerce or manipulate them to choose correctly.
But pluralism holds that in cases where there are conflicts between genuine values, there may be no single right choice—more than one choice though not necessarily all possible choices may equally serve genuine human values and interests, even if they also involve the sacrifice or violation of other values or interests that are no more or less true and important.
Similarly, there is no single ideal life, no single model of how to think or behave or be, to which people should attempt, or be brought, to conform as far as possible.
Pluralism, then, for Berlin, represents an argument that both undermines one of the main rationales for violating freedom of choice, and vindicates the importance and value of being able to make choices freely.
Negative and positive liberty are both genuine values which must be balanced against each other; and liberty of any sort is one value among many, with which it may conflict, and against which it needs to be balanced.
Therefore Berlin was more sensitive than many classical liberal or libertarian thinkers to the possibility that genuine liberty may conflict with genuine equality, or justice, or public order, or security, or efficiency, or happiness, and therefore must be balanced with, and sometimes sacrificed in favour of, other values.
Nevertheless Berlin remains a liberal in maintaining that preserving a certain minimum of individual liberty is a primary political priority.
To deprive human beings of certain basic rights is to dehumanise them. While liberty should not be the only good pursued by society, and while it should not always trump other values, ethical pluralism lends it a special importance: for people must be free in order to allow for the recognition and pursuit of all genuine human values.
The first of these was the sense of belonging, of collective identity, of which Herder had written. Berlin was sympathetic to the former, critical of the latter; but he recognised the relationship of the two, and was thus aware of the power and allure of nationalism.
Berlin credited Herder with the insight that belonging, and the sense of self-expression that membership bestows, are basic human needs; but it seems unlikely that he would have had to learn this lesson from Herder—it is more probable that it was his own appreciation of these needs that attracted him to that author in the first place.
He was sharply aware of the pain of humiliation and dependency, the hatefulness and hurtfulness of paternalistic rule. However, even as the ideological battles of the Cold War recede into the past, Berlin remains the object of varying interpretations and evaluations.
This may appear odd in a thinker who wrote clearly, and without any attempt at secrecy or obscurity.
These qualities make it difficult not only to evaluate Berlin, but also to situate him in the history of ideas; for he appears at once typical and atypical of the period in which he lived, and also both ahead of his time and extremely old-fashioned.
Berlin was, for much of his life, an intellectually lonely figure, pursuing the history of ideas in an academic setting that was unreceptive to it, and advocating a moderate liberalism in a time dominated by ideological extremism.
And yet this plea for moderation and advocacy of liberalism was shared and taken up by many others at the time.
His attack on monism, on the quest for certainty and the project of systematic knowledge, has led him to be embraced by some proponents of anti-foundationalism such as Richard Rorty.
Nor is Berlin easy to identify seamlessly with those intellectual positions that he explicitly propounded—liberalism and pluralism.
He appears as an important, and indeed emblematic, exponent of liberalism—along with Rawls, the most important liberal theorist of his century—whose ideas may nevertheless in the end undermine, or at least be difficult to reconcile with, liberalism.
It can also be employed more broadly, to capture something of his vision of reality, the universe and human nature—that is, the view that all of these things are complexes made up of separate and conflicting parts: that the self is protean and open-ended, that the universe is not a harmonious cosmos, that reality presents many separate aspects, which can and should be viewed from different perspectives.
Concordances that enable readers to find the relevant passages in later editions are available via links provided here.
The authors would like to thank George Crowder, who read a draft of this entry and whose comments were most helpful. Life 1. Philosophy of Knowledge and the Human Sciences 2.
The History of Ideas 4. Ethical Thought and Value Pluralism 4. Political Thought 5. Nationalism 6.
Conclusion Bibliography A. Works by Berlin B. Books about Berlin C. To say anything about the world requires bringing in something other than immediate experience: Most of the certainties on which our lives are founded […] the vast majority of the types of reasoning on which our beliefs rest, or by which we should seek to justify them […] are not reducible to formal deductive or inductive schemata, or a combination of them […] The web is too complex, the elements too many and not, to say the least, easily isolated and tested one by one […] we accept the total texture, compounded as it is out of literally countless strands […] without the possibility, even in principle, of any test for it in its totality.
For the total texture is what we begin and end with. There is no Archimedean point outside it whence we can survey the whole and pronounce upon it […] the sense of the general texture of experience […] is itself not open to inductive or deductive reasoning: for both these methods rest upon it b, — His definition of monism may be summarised as follows: All genuine questions must have a true answer, and one only; all other responses are errors.
There must be a dependable path to discovering the true answers, which is in principle knowable, even if currently unknown.
The true answers, when found, will be compatible with one another, forming a single whole; for one truth cannot be incompatible with another.
This, in turn, is based on the assumption that the universe is harmonious and coherent. At least we can try to discover what others […] require, by […] making it possible for ourselves to know men as they truly are, by listening to them carefully and sympathetically, and understanding them and their lives and their needs, one by one individually.
Let us try to provide them with what they ask for, and leave them as free as possible , Combination Displays Coming soon.
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