By Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin. opposed to the present: Essays within the historical past of principles. Viking Press, 1980. 448. ISBN: 0-670-10944-4 pages
In this striking number of essays, Isaiah Berlin, one of many nice thinkers of the 20 th century, discusses the significance within the background of considered dissenters whose rules nonetheless problem traditional wisdom--among them Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Herzen, and Sorel. along with his strange powers of creative new edition, Berlin brings to existence unique minds that swam opposed to the present in their times.
Isaiah Berlin used to be the main esteemed highbrow determine within the English-speaking global. opposed to the present could be the such a lot consultant of [his] books. (Mark Feeney Boston Globe )
A historian of principles, [Berlin] has no equivalent; and what he has to assert is expressed in prose of outstanding lucidity and style. (Anthony Storr self sufficient on Sunday )
Berlin expounds the tips of half-forgotten thinkers with luminous readability and resourceful empathy.... exhilarating to learn. (Keith Thomas Observer )
A such a lot notable highbrow fulfillment. There are few books released in our time which extra dazzlingly remove darkness from probably the most the most important difficulties of western tradition and civilisation. (Goronwy Rees Encounter).
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Additional info for Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas
No man can love, or see his innermost nature expressed in, the web of lifeless categories spun by the rationalist Spinoza or the de-spiritualised play of cause and effect of the vast materialist machines constructed by Holbach or Helvétius. Poets, lovers and the devout alone are able to enter into and acquire full knowledge of the objects of their intense devotion. T h e data of immediate acquaintance are concrete and unique: any attempt to * reorganise' them into artificial patterns distorts them, and transforms them into something other and poorer than themselves.
Unlike such relativists, who maintained that one age or civilisation must be wholly opaque to another, Berlin believes that it is possible for men of learning and imagination to enter into and understand cultures and ages remote from their own. Nor is Berlin a subjectivist — he believes in the objective standards of judgement derived from understanding the life and activities of individual societies ; these values form part of objective historical structures, and their discovery and understanding require imagination controlled by exact scholarship; provided they fit the circumstances and suit the instincts of a given society, and are not selfdestructive or in conflict with some very small handful of fundamental values, failure to recognise which would entail denial that the relevant agents are human beings, then there is nothing to be said against them 5 above all, they cannot be appealed against from some single overarching standard of values.
In the absence of a set of overarching, universal, objective standards, is mere anarchy of values the result ? Is the door opened to the raising up of any and every conceivable form of human action or behaviour to the status of a moral end ? What safeguards, if any, can this general attitude offer against the kind of systematic bestiality and madness of, for example, the Third Reich? T o answer this question one must look more closely at Berlin's concept of human nature. What is the basic idea of human nature which, according to Berlin, always underlies and determines moral, political and social, and perhaps epistemological theories as well?