Berlin, Sir Isaiah

Berlin, Sir Isaiah
born June 9, 1909, Riga, Latvia
died Nov. 5, 1997, Oxford, Eng.

Latvian-born British political philosopher and historian of ideas.

His family immigrated to Britain in 1920. Educated at the University of Oxford, Berlin taught there from 1950 to 1967, serving as president of Wolfson College from 1966 to 1975 and thereafter teaching at All Souls College. His writings on political philosophy are chiefly concerned with the problem of free will in increasingly totalitarian and mechanistic societies. His most important works include Karl Marx (1939), The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), Historical Inevitability (1955), The Age of Enlightenment (1956), and Four Essays on Liberty (1969).

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▪ 1998

      British lecturer and essayist (b. June 6, 1909, Riga, Latvia [then part of the Russian Empire]—d. Nov. 5, 1997, Oxford, Eng.), produced essays on historical, philosophical, political, and cultural topics; was noted for his support of traditional liberalism; and was credited with founding the discipline of intellectual history. In 1915 his family moved from his birthplace to Russia; they resided in St. Petersburg during the 1917 Revolution and in 1920 settled in England. Berlin studied philosophy at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and remained connected with Oxford for the remainder of his life. During World War II he worked for the British government in Washington, D.C., reporting on U.S. opinion. In 1956 he married the French golf champion Aline de Gunzbourg. Berlin's early years at Oxford were marked by the pursuit of analytic or "pure" philosophy, but after World War II his concerns shifted to political science, political theory, and what came to be classified as intellectual history. Rejecting determinism—the idea that events are determined by prior conditions—Berlin found some value in Carlyle's "great man" theory of history, which holds that the course of history is determined by a few individuals. Berlin's 1957 lecture "Two Concepts of Liberty" introduced his concepts of "negative liberty" (freedom from restraint) and "positive liberty" (freedom viewed as producing a positive good), arguing that society should restrict itself to the former and leave individuals free to pursue the latter on their own. A pluralist, he rejected the idea that there could be a "single solution" to the problem of organizing society. Berlin's best-known essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), compared "foxes" such as Aristotle and Shakespeare, who "knew many things," with "hedgehogs such as Plato and Dante, who "knew one big thing." Politically, he was an unwavering supporter of Israel and Zionism and was a doctrinaire anticommunist, and his book Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939) was one of the first attempts in the noncommunist world to treat the subject objectively. Besides numerous collections of essays, Berlin published such books as The Age of Enlightenment (1956), Four Essays on Liberty (1969), Vico and Herder (1976), and The Magus of the North: J.G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (1993). He was also celebrated as a brilliant raconteur and admired for his wide-ranging interests. He was honoured in his lifetime as few intellectuals had been, receiving countless awards and prizes, including 23 honorary doctorates.

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▪ British historian
born June 6, 1909, Riga, Latvia, Russian Empire [now in Latvia]
died November 5, 1997, Oxford, England

      British philosopher and historian of ideas who was noted for his writings on political philosophy and the concept of liberty. He is regarded as one of the founders of the discipline now known as intellectual history.

      Berlin and his family emigrated from the Soviet Union to England in 1920. He attended St. Paul's School and then, on scholarship, attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A brilliant student, he obtained an M.A. in 1935. In the meantime, Berlin had begun his career as a lecturer in philosophy at New College, Oxford (1932–38), where he later became a fellow (1938–50). He taught at All Souls College, Oxford, from 1950 to 1966, was Chichele professor (1957–67) there, served as president of Wolfson College (1966–75), and from 1975 was a professor at All Souls College.

      After World War II, Berlin's interest shifted from his early preoccupation with analytic philosophy to the fields of political science, political theory, and intellectual history. His first important book was Karl Marx; His Life and Environment (1939; rev. ed. 1959, 1963), an intellectual biography of Marx that was highly praised for its objectivity. Among his other noted works are Historical Inevitability (1955), which stands as a major critique of the doctrines of determinism; The Age of Enlightenment (1956), a discussion of 18th-century philosophers; and Four Essays on Liberty (1969). Berlin's political philosophy is generally concerned with the problem of liberty and free will in increasingly totalitarian and mechanistic societies. Perhaps his most influential book, however, was The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), in which he divides the world's thinkers into those (the foxes) who, like Aristotle and Shakespeare, “knew many things,” and those (the hedgehogs) who, like Plato and Dante, “knew one big thing.” Berlin's essays on various topics were collected in Russian Thinkers (1978), Concepts and Categories (1978), Against the Current (1979), and Personal Impressions (1980). Among his other works are Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (1976), The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas (1990), and The Magus of the North: J.G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (1993).

      Berlin was knighted in 1957 and was made a member of the Order of Merit in 1971.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • sir — /serr/, n. 1. a respectful or formal term of address used to a man: No, sir. 2. (cap.) the distinctive title of a knight or baronet: Sir Walter Scott. 3. (cap.) a title of respect for some notable personage of ancient times: Sir Pandarus of Troy …   Universalium

  • sir — (Voz inglesa.) ► sustantivo masculino Tratamiento honorífico empleado por los británicos. * * * sir (ingl.; pronunc. [ser]) m. *Tratamiento de respeto usado en Inglaterra delante de un nombre de hombre o para dirigirse a la persona de que se… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • berlin — /beuhr lin , berr lin/, n. 1. a large, four wheeled, closed carriage hung between two perches and having two interior seats. 2. Auto. berline. 3. (sometimes cap.) See Berlin wool. [1725 35; after BERLIN, Germany; the carriage was allegedly… …   Universalium

  • Berlin — /beuhr lin / for 1, 2; /berr lin/ for 3, 4; for 2 also Ger. /berdd leen /, n. 1. Irving, born 1888, U.S. songwriter. 2. the capital of Germany, in the NE part: constitutes a state. 3,121,000; 341 sq. mi. (883 sq. km.). Formerly (1948 90) divided… …   Universalium

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  • Isaiah Berlin — Infobox Philosopher region = Western Philosophy era = 20th century philosophy color = #B0C4DE name = Isaiah Berlin birth = 6 June 1909 death = death date and age|df=yes|1997|11|5|1909|6|6 school tradition = Analytic notable ideas = positive and… …   Wikipedia

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