By Isaiah Berlin, Henry Hardy, Roger Hausheer, Mark Lilla
In this notable choice of essays, Isaiah Berlin, one of many nice thinkers of the 20th century, discusses the significance of dissenters within the historical past of ideas--among them Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Herzen, and Sorel. along with his strange powers of resourceful new version, Berlin brings to lifestyles unique minds that swam opposed to the present in their times--and nonetheless problem traditional wisdom.
In a brand new foreword to this corrected version, which additionally incorporates a new appendix of letters during which Berlin discusses and extra illuminates a few of its themes, famous essayist Mark Lilla argues that Berlin's determination to renounce a philosophy fellowship and develop into a historian of rules represented no longer an abandonment of philosophy yet a choice to do philosophy by way of different, might be greater, skill. "His intuition informed him," Lilla writes, "that you study extra approximately an idea as an concept in the event you comprehend anything approximately its genesis and comprehend why yes humans chanced on it compelling and have been spurred to motion through it." This choice of attention-grabbing highbrow snap shots is a wealthy demonstration of that belief.
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Extra 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. The 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.
What the history of ideas is able to offer as a branch of phil osophy, and as a relatively new source of genuine knowledge and enlightenment, is insight into the origins of, and literally world-transforming shifts in, the basic conceptual patterns in terms of which we understand ourselves and acquire our identity as human beings. These underlying, ubiquitous presuppositions, precisely because they are of a high degree of generality and themselves serve as the means whereby we order a very large part –the human part –of our experience, have usually remained submerged and unexamined: the task of the historian of ideas is to try to get outside them, to make them the objects of reflection and systematic study, thereby bringing them out into the light, where they can be openly criticised and evaluated.
The criteria applied in such critical discussion must themselves in turn be subjected to scrutiny, and what exactly they are for Berlin is a question to which we will turn later. In one sense, then, Berlin’s entire oeuvre is a long and sustained rejection of a view of philosophy and truth, and of the methods of enquiry into man’s true capacities and condition, which, in the Western tradition at least, has been central for more than two thousand years; a view the shortcomings of which struck him early on in life, and which he has continued to expose with resourcefulness and vigour, under a wide variety of aspects and with a wealth of concrete historical detail, thereby shedding light from many unexpected angles upon some of the most pressing problems of our own time.
Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas by Isaiah Berlin, Henry Hardy, Roger Hausheer, Mark Lilla