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Episode #140 ... Isaiah Berlin part one - Pluralism

2020-03-11 | 🔗

Today we begin discussing the work of Isaiah Berlin. 

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm Stephen West. This is philosophize. This want to give a sizeable. Thank you. This episode of the people support the show unpatriotic make it possible for everyone else who benefits from the show people. Like me, today's episodes on a philosopher, I say a Berlin and its reaction to the political climate in the twentieth century. I hope you love the show today, so we multiple times on the show about this ongoing debate between twentieth century political philosophers. This spectre that always seems to be looming of nature versus culture, sock, he's versus protagonists rationalism versus relativism. These thinkers so often seem to be faced with a choice between the essential ism of the enlightenment, the nihilism of later modernity, but nonetheless After having this conversation so many times there always still seems to be hoped for us, because something, no doubt every person listen to this- has already considered by this point is
What is it be to be? One of the other seems like a really easy problem to solve. Why can't you be a little bit of both? Why can it be nature and culture now? Something it's important to understand is that it's one thing just to say that you have to offer up that theory when you're having coffee with their friends into get nods of approve. Well because it sounds so delightfully tolerant, but it's quite another to be a philosopher sticking your entire career and reputation on it and then beyond that, trying to find a way to justify where exactly we should draw the line between nature and culture. What is it about human experience? That's determined by the intrinsic structure of the universe, nature, and what can we say is a cultural construction. What criteria do we even used to determine that sea over the years has been hard enough for a philosopher to make a case for even one side of this, let alone both sides for different reasons.
But that said the philosopher we're gonna talk about today tried to do just that. His name was, I say, a Berlin and understand how he tried to find a middle ground between nature and culture will take the rest of the next who episodes to explain, and I highly recommend sticking with his ideas for both episodes, because even more so than some other things we discussed in the series, he had some hunting Lee relevant insights about the way we treat each other in the recent political landscape and, like any nuanced idea, these insight require a bit a set up because they build off as other ideas. I just couldn't
to the mental episode to. But anyway, I say a Berlin began his career as an academic philosopher than transformed into more Bay historian of ideas and unfinished out his career, making contributions twentieth century political philosophy that ended a changing the world and one of these subject matters within twentieth century political philosophy that need some serious reevaluation to Berlin was the typical way the philosophers casually throw around the concept of freedom or liberty without ever Billy, clearly defining what it is there. Even talking about Berlin would say the practically every moral philosopher that's ever produced anything. A significance in western philosophy has talked about freedom in these glowing terms as some sort of universal good and an unquestionably valuable thing that we should strive to have as much as possible. They ve talked about freedom in this way, and yet no one is seriously tried to get to the bottom of what exactly is meant when philosophers talk about this stuff just assume. We know what they mean when they say freedom at a certain level, but in Rio
Letty Berlin would say when you actually look at the history of ideas, there are over two hundred different definitions of freedom that I've been laid out by thinkers over the years. Maybe it's time we consolidate these into an understanding of freedom that deals with. What's common among all these different individual takes when I say a Berlin sets out to describe his concepts of net Dave and positive freedom he's not looking to provide the end all be all definition of freedom. He's trying to simplify thousands of years of philosophical discourse about freedom, and is something it's a little bit more manageable and useful to us, not least thinkers throughout history and all other two hundred plus definitions have described to very distinct types of freedom. Berlin calls these once again negative freedom and positive freedom, and the most basic shorthand way that these concepts are sometimes described is to say that negative freedom is freedom from and positive freedom is. Freedom, too, should be said. This is, without a doubt, over simplification of both concepts,
but thinking about it as freedom from and freedom to can be useful when it comes to remembering the actual line in the sand. Isaiah Berlin was trying to draw between these two types of freedom. Negative freedom for negative liberty is simply put freedom from interference by outside entities, but that's the government, whether that's a hateful group with a that's a bully at school negative liberty is described by Berlin is quite simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. End quote when philosophers of the years have talked about freedom. One common thread among them has been freedom from outside entities controlling aspects of a person's life. Not positive freedom, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult to classify for Berlin because, while negative freedom can be seen, as the possibilities that are open for you to explore freedom from obstruction by outside entities. You still need the freedom to actually be able to act on any one of those options. Positive freedom is that freedom to
and the important distinction to make here is that it does not just mean you have the opportunity to do something. True, positive freedom means you have the ability to do it, for example, to Berlin. If your addicted to assume since or behaviour the prevents you from being able to function effectively, doesn't really matter how many options are available to you within negative freedom. Your freedom too. Act on any one of them is non existent and you could say the same thing about procrastination or a lack of motivation, chronic injury disease. The point is regardless of how many options we have at our disposal. Sometimes we become sleep to our mental or physical shortcomings. This is why, in another part of his work, Berlin offers a clarification of positive freedom and refers to it as a sort of self rule. But what does it really mean to be autonomous like that order self rule and what exactly are we supposed to be self ruling towards these questions and more instantly bothered Isaiah
and because he knew right away just how ambiguous the idea of positive liberty was and how, because of that fact, it could easily become coercion, by governments narrowing the definition of freedom trying to control people Berlin was worried about this, because it was something he thought he had seen play out. Historically, Jean Jacques Rousseau had already defined freedom as a type of self rule, but then he defined self rule as adherence to the general will or whatever was best for all the citizens. The significance of this is that it doesn't matter what the individual citizen thinks they want, because our often enslaved their passions or mental shortcomings, true freedom and self rule, two Rousseau was to act in your own best interests and it just so happens your best
Trust is to act in accordance with what's best for everyone, because after all, you are just one member of society that needs everyone else is cooperation so based on this type of positive freedom. It really doesn't matter if you think you want to take the weak, often just watch tv all day. That's not in your best interest, that's not in the best interests of society and ultimately to Turizo you're, not self ruling or free, because you are enslaved, we lower version of yourself, but this leads to another question who or what decides what's best for all the citizens? What the time, so we could use rationality in the political process to determine that and later totalitarian societies. Maybe a dictator. And this is ultimately why Berlin thinks we're so is setting a dangerous precedent here, he's promoting the idea that not only is there a single best way for a citizen to act, that's best for everyone, but also that anything you want to do that runs contrary to the single standard that we ve come
with really is just do not controlling your ability to self rule vigilantly enough. So, as you can see, this is just one example of how positive freedom can become hijacked and used for the purpose of controlling people and to Berlin It was particularly dangerous in the hands of thinkers from the enlightenment. Reason being is like many other thinkers from this time. He thought the enlightenment was characterized by an overall attitude of monolithic thinking that can lead to totalitarianism. Berlin lays out Three primary assumptions that thinkers from the amendment brought to practically every theory they ever produced when asking questions about human experience for the world we live in. The first assumptions of thinkers of the enlightenment made is that every question has a single.
Correct answer that can be arrived at? We may have no idea what the answer even looks like. There are, of course, many different wrong answers. Thinkers may arrive at, but every question we can ask ultimately has a single, correct answer. The second assumption is that, when looking for that single correct answer, there was a clear methodology, We can use to be able to get to that answer. The question may be enormously difficult. Finding the answer to the question may take years, but no matter how long it takes. We have a clear method we can use to get to that answer during the enlightenment. This method was known as reason. The third and final assumption that lightning thinkers brought to bear was it when we use this method to arrive at these single answers that we ve come up with that these answers will inevitably fit between neat cohesive picture the universe and will correspond well with all the other single correct answers we ve arrived at so far. Berlin says that these thinkers came to work every day.
The assumption that these answers would give us the quote solution to the cosmic jigsaw puzzle. End quote so these three enlightenment assumptions that there's a single answer to every question that there is a clear method to get those answers and that those, answers will all fit together into a neat, cohesive, worldview. Berlin thought that all three of these things were totally false and he thought that people, assuming they were true, was emblematic of the proceedings. Pro mathematics attitude. That dominated enlightenment thought, because these assumptions, if you think about it, are exactly the way it works in things like math and science, when you're mathematician in somebody gives you difficult problem to solve it's within the realm of no mad max. You can proceed with the same level of confidence about these three assumptions. As these enlightenment thinkers. There is a single correct answer to this math problem. This problem may take you years.
Solve, but rest assured there is a clear method. You can use that you know is getting you closer and closer to solving this problem. When you finally arrive at the solution, you can feel confident that this answer is gonna, be consistent with answers from other mathematicians. But I say: Berlin, say that philosophy is different. Not only do we not know if there's a single, correct answer to the questions that are asked, we don't even know the price. We're methodology Ology too used to arrive at the correct answer. If there was one not to mention once we arrive at an answer? There's no guarantee its going to fit together. Well with all the other answers like a cosmic jigsaw puzzle. Finding answers to the questions of philosophers. Ask specifically the questions of moral and political philosophy. Liquid been document on the show for awhile is a much different process than solving a math problem. Political philosophy to Isaiah Berlin was a type of moral philosophy. Applied to the poor,
what will this was the part of society where your answers to these questions about human values would actually go on to affect large groups of people. The problem with the enlightenment was it so many philosophers article use rationality to arrive at a single correct answer to these questions of moral and political philosophy. Cedar Berlin, because these specific types of questions have to take into the complexity of the experience a billions of individuals. The absolute best answer philosophers can ever come up with are what he calls blurry their layered multi faceted. They overlap and weird places they conflict with each other, but the thing is that the enlightenment believe they could solve. These
questions like math problems? Berlin, writes about this monolithic attitude of many enlightenment thinkers here quote despite profound differences about look, there was a wide area of agreement about fundamental points: the reality of natural law of eternal principles by following which alone men could become wise, happy virtuous and free thinkers might differ about what these laws were or how to discover them or who are qualified to expound them that these laws were real and could be known whether with certainty or only probability remained. Central dogma of the entire enlightenment end quote this dogma of the enlightenment and previously a dogma of much of the philosophical and scientific thinking that came before the enlightenment. Berlin sometimes refers to it as monism the reference there being to the type of thinking of people like the pre Socratic, who sometimes believed in everything being reducible to a single substance mechanism. But the reference to monism is actually making a much larger claim here, because so often
The history of thought when talking about moral or political philosophy, thinkers will try to find some sort of ultimate virtue, that all other virtues ultimately rely on take the virtue of temperance, for example, will call it general abstinence from things that are bad for you. The move that sometimes done by thinkers throughout history Is that, yes, you can name a bunch of different virtues of philosophers, of talk about dozens of them, but couldn't someone make a case that another virtue like patients is really just temperance? It's really just abstinence from something: that's bad for you any particular isolated setting. Courage is a virtue. Could that be just another specific set of circumstances? We are exercising a slightly different type of temperance justice wisdom. You I'm at if you wanted badly enough to make a case that there was a hierarchy of values that all lesser virtues fall out of. You could do it this time, of moral monism? If we want to call it that has been undeniable
present in the work of earlier think you're trying to make sense of reality. Now, even these two things might be enough for us to take a closer look at monism throughout history, but it just so happens. Berlin is making an even bigger claim here. Think of how this mechanism applies to that dogma of the enlightenment within moral or political philosophy, that a reference to the idea, rationality that, if only we think about things clear The indistinctly enough, we can come up with a single, correct answer for how to live as human beings and that answer we're, going to fit perfectly into a single, cohesive worldview, completing the cosmic jigsaw puzzle. This is just another exam, all of this mechanism, has existed all throughout the history of thought. It is monolithic, its overly ambitious given what we know about the complexities of human existence and ultimately leads to the totality.
Hearing this some of the political landscape in the twentieth century, because if you can believe that rationality will provide us with scientific like certainty or probability when answering questions about what it's like to live for people with numbers in the billions, then you end up with things like Marxism. You end up with national socialism. You end up with late stage. Capitalism This attempt to use reason derive at something that's supposed to work well, for everyone in the world is an outdated concept. What happens is Berlin realises this and transformed into or of a historian of ideas. He wants to go back and figure out whether there were any thinkers in the beginning of the enlightenment. That saw something like this coming, what he comes across as a group of thinkers that are often referred to as the counter enlightenment and simply put I say, a Berlin thinks this group of thinkers where some of the most underrated thinkers and history the world scene, when the enlightenment start to get into full swing, and there were these dramatic changes in the way that people are thinking about stuff what it was to live your.
If, as a human being, was also undergoing some pretty dramatic changes, for example, during the unlikely There is a new level of enthusiasm towards framing the world in terms of universals meaning. There is a real effort by thinkers at the time to use reason to arrive at conclusions that give us universal answers to things that can be applied. Generally. Eight universal view of the way that things are to use reason to arrive at things like an understanding of human nature across the board, common humanity that exists regardless of culture, but that's not all. At the time there was so much optimism, ports, reason and science and all the good it was doing. People were soon were excited to try to apply it to moral and political philosophy. As Berlin puts it, they wanted to arrive at a quote scientific approach to things like a universal good or a universal best way that society should be structured during the same time period people started thinking of themselves, much more in terms of being an individual rather than
Part of the community that they're just one aspect of this focus on the individual being one of the most classic examples of enlightenment thought. The enlightenment also used reason to analyze the efficiency of economic systems, giving rise to things like the industrial revolution and with it the real possibility that much of your life as a human being could be spent working in a factory. This was a new type of modern existence that people would have to come to terms with soap. The fingers of the counter and light represent the initial opposition to all these new ways of looking at world in human life. They were the thinkers that looked at all these dramatic changes that were going on and that no matter how excited and optimistic thinkers are about. This brave new world were about to create with reason. Maybe these changes are going to lead to some you'll problems down the road towards no one,
Why Isaiah Berlin living two hundred years in the future, the thinkers of his time looking around them, trying to solve the problems they think are largely related to enlightenment, thought, no wonder why he would see the counter enlightenment as a potential source of real foresight and wisdom when, enlightenment focused on universals and an eternal understanding of things. The counter enlightenment called for a focus on particular examples and the historical or cultural influence on our understanding of things. When the enlightenment focused on the individual, the counter enlightenment focused on community and identities as members of a tribe when the enlightenment, this is the possibility of modern factory life, there's a counter enlightenment revival of romanticism and a call frustrated, to an earlier time when human life was more connected to nature Isaiah Berlin living in the middle, the twentieth, we looked around him and sees totalitarianism in mass claims. Have a universal understanding of human nature or how to structure society. He sees people viewing themselves as total individuals complete
the alienated from people around them starving presents a community here the reality of modern work and how only the most privileged can ever go outside and try to connect with the natural world around them. Most of all, though he sees within the politics of his time, the ever presence of this moral monism that was so popular in our thinking for twenty five hundred years. The idea, then, when it comes to my moral or political views, there is one single answer to be arrived at, that I've discovered that right answer and that my political views deeply and form a single, cohesive world view that I have. That is correct. The thinkers of the counter enlightenment represent to Berlin and increase double missed opportunity. We were in such a state of delirium. Thinking about how great science and reason more that we have. Lord one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of human thought, the call by these thinkers of the counter enlightenment, for us to move away from Monism ISM and towards what I say: Berlin called Pluralism,
there's a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin titled, a hedgehog in the fox. Now in this essay. He provides a sort of spirit Animal for these two very different kinds of thinking. The classic line from the essay as at the hedgehog, sees one big thing. While the fox sees many things, the hedgehog, obviously representing the thinking of a typical most the fox, representing the approach of a pluralist twice in Berlin, the Hedgehog or the most is operating from a very limited vantage point where they can really we see in one single direction and are assuming that's all there is they think of understanding the world, always in relation to how it fits into some sort of overarching structure, seemingly just for the sake of having a cohesive worldview which they assume as possible. So what have whenever you do this, is it the value of anything in the world? Becomes its position within that organizing structure and how it relates to everything else. Quick example to illustrate this: let's see
to come up with one of these systems of monism and from your limited vantage point, it seems clear to you that the government's out to get you and constantly trying to get more and more control and eventually turn you into a slave will. From that single limited vantage point, it's not crazy to think that the paramount virtue you would want to strive for its freedom. You might want a small of a government as possible. You may be in favour of sacrifice. A pretty large amount of security for the sake of freedom, in other words, the value that freedom and security both have in that particular cohesive, singular worldview was determined by their position within that overarching structure that single historical narrative that gives value to everything the Hedgehog Seas, but the fire on the other hand, doesn't look at the world in the same way as the Hedgehog Berlin says, the fox understands that the range and complexity of everyone's human experiences so massive the way different language,
orient people what the world the way our different personalities weren't us, the different preferences feelings experiences. What it is to be a human being is far too complex to ever have a single spokesperson now. Your first question here may be well what isn't that just make the fox or the list, a covert relativism. I mean, if you just citing everyone's individual preferences about things as what gives their views value. So we're gonna talk a lot more next episode about why Berlin is not a relativism member. He ultimately wants to find a middle ground between nature and culture, but to the initial charge that the pluralist is actually just a relativism eyes, Aber Lynn might reply, but the famous quote from his work quote: I prefer coffee, you prefer champagne. We have different tastes, there's nothing more to be said, that is relativism but herders view in vetoes. Thinkers of the counter. Enlightenment is not that it is what I should describe as pluralism. That is the conception that there are
many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational and quote two different people using the exact same process of rationality could arrive at very different. Conclude genes about moral or political values simply because of the complexity of human experience and here's the kicker that will make us have such an impact on political thought. Both of those conclusions are intelligible and rational, theirs ultimate organizing principle. There's no logical conclusion: we're Bergen arrive at there's, no mathematical or scientific answer to questions about values. Only human rationality and the vast array of experiences and tools. We have to pull from that will determine these blurry answers were capable of coming up with, while that and when everything that's common among all human beings, regardless of culture, but that, I would say, is for next episode, along with it, the answers to so many other questions. How does a pluralist ever determine? Which value should manner? How should we behave in the political realm? If all this is true, but what I say: Berlin
say to someone like Carl Schmidt, fiercely Berlin, just a relative. This check out episode to to find out. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time,
Transcript generated on 2020-03-23.