- Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance — these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.
- Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (1950).
- There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision … and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory … The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.
- The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953).
- Philosophers are adults who persist in asking childish questions.
- As quoted in The Listener (1978).
- Few new truths have ever won their way against the resistance of established ideas save by being overstated.
- As quoted in Heyer (1988)
Berkeley’s External World (1947)
- Everyone knows what made Berkeley notorious. He said that there were no material objects. He said the external world was in some sense immaterial, that nothing existed save ideas — ideas and their authors. His contemporaries thought him very ingenious and a little mad.
- What is Life?
- (1) Tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
- (2) Dictionary definition in biology (chemical process within organic entities involving metabolism etc.)
- (3) Mrs Woolf: ‘Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.’
- (4) Series of actual and hypothetical behavioural data which differ in certain assignable ways from data defining dead or inanimate entities.
- (5) That which the Lord infused into Adam. See Genesis 1. 4 [sc. 2. 7].
- Mental Cramp.
Five Essays on Liberty (1969)
- The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense, or else metaphor.
- Those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human.
- Those, no doubt, are in some way fortunate who have brought themselves, or have been brought by others, to obey some ultimate principle before the bar of which all problems can be brought. Single-minded monists, ruthless fanatics, men possessed by an all-embracing coherent vision do not know the doubts and agonies of those who cannot wholly blind themselves to reality.
- The simple point which I am concerned to make is that where ultimate values are irreconcilable, clear-cut solutions cannot, in principle, be found. To decide rationally in such situations is to decide in the light of general ideals, the overall pattern of life pursued by a man or a group or a society.
Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (1949)
- Historians of ideas, however scrupulous and minute they may feel it necessary to be, cannot avoid perceiving their material in terms of some kind of pattern.
Two Concepts of Liberty (1958)
- Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.
- But to manipulate men, to propel them towards goals which you — the social reformer — see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.
- All forms of tampering with human beings, getting at them, shaping them against their will to your own pattern, all thought control and conditioning is, therefore, a denial of that in men which makes them men and their values ultimate.
- The very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past.
- I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read because I am blind, or cannot understand the darker pages of Hegel, it would be eccentric to say that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act.
- If, as I believe, the ends of men are many, and not all of them are in principle compatible with each other, then the possibility of conflict — and of tragedy — can never wholly be eliminated from human life, either personal or social. The necessity of choosing between absolute claims is then an inescapable characteristic of the human condition. This gives its value to freedom as Acton conceived of it — as an end in itself, and not as a temporary need, arising out of our confused notions and irrational and disordered lives, a predicament which a panacea could one day put right.
A Special Supplement: The Question of Machiavelli (1971)
- While there may exist no more than the normal extent of disagreement about the meaning of particular terms or theses contained in these works, there is a startling degree of divergence about the central view, the basic political attitude of Machiavelli.
- What has been shown by Machiavelli, who is often (like Nietzsche) congratulated for tearing off hypocritical masks, brutally revealing the truth, and so on, is not that men profess one thing and do another (although no doubt he shows this too) but that when they assume that the two ideals are compatible, or perhaps are even one and the same ideal, and do not allow this assumption to be questioned, they are guilty of bad faith (as the existentialists call it, or of “false consciousness,” to use a Marxist formula) which their actual behavior exhibits. Machiavelli calls the bluff not just of official morality—the hypocrisies of ordinary life—but of one of the foundations of the central Western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all genuine values. His own withers are unwrung. He has made his choice. He seems wholly unworried by, indeed scarcely aware of, parting company with traditional Western morality.
Quotes about Berlin
- I am a great admirer of Isaiah Berlin, whose essays in the history of ideas provide one model for what I do here; nonetheless, there are moments in his work that make the reader wonder whether it is Montesquieu speaking or Berlin, or whether Machiavelli would have recognized the causes for which Berlin recruited him.
- Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Introduction: Thinking about Politics.
- BBC obituary.
- Biographical information on Sir Isaiah Berlin
- A tribute to Isaiah Berlin & "A conversation with Isaiah Berlin" on The Philosopher's Zone, ABC (6 & 14 June 2009)
- The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin (2009) edited by Henry Hardy
- Isaiah Berlin and the history of ideas
- The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library
- A podcast interview with Henry Hardy on Berlin's pluralism.
- A recording of the last of Berlin's Mellon Lectures
- A section from the last essay written by Isaiah Berlin, the New York Review of Books, Vol. XLV, Number 8 (1998).
- Tribute from the Chief Rabbi at his funeral.
- Anecdote from Wolfson College's tribute page
- "An English liberal stooge" by Hywel Williams in The Guardian
- Letter to Berlin from Tony Blair (23 October 1997)
- "The Spectacles of Isaiah Berlin" by Assaf Inbari in Azure (Spring 2006)
- Obituary by Henry Hardy.
- "Isaiah Berlin, Beyond the Wit" by Evan R. Goldstein
- Berlin archive and author page from The New York Review of Books
- "In Our Time" programme on BBC Radio Four — a discussion with Michael Ignatieff, biographer, of the ideas of Isaiah Berlin
- Heyer, Paul (1988). Communications and History: Theories of Knowledge, Media and Civilisation. New York: Greenwood. ISBN : 978-0313-26157-2.