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Although Isaiah Berlin liked to say that he left philosophy for the history of ideas after the Second World War, there is a decided continuity between his more purely philosophical writings, most of which are collected in this volume, and the more historical work for which he is better known. Included here are Berlin's early arguments against logical positivism and later essays which more evidently reflect his life-long interest in political theory, intellectual history and the philosophy of history. In two related pieces he gives his view on the philosopher's task, to uncover the various models - the concepts and categories - that we bring to our experience, and that help to form it. In his own words 'The goal of philosophy is always the same, to assist men to understand themselves and thus operate in the open, and not wildly, in the dark.'

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780712665520
ISBN-10: 0712665528
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 152mm x 19mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Pimlico
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Mar-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » Although known for his essays on the history of ideas after World War II, Berlin continued to practise a strain of pure philosophy throughout his life. Many of his greatest essays are here, including works on equality, logical positivism and political theory as well as one of the most illuminating of all from a biographical point of view, The Purpose of Philosophy, which gives us a key to understanding his life's work. In many ways this collection shows Berlin at his best: humane, sceptical, poised and erudite. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » For those whose acquaintance with Oxford's Isaiah Berlin rests primarily on Russian Thinkers (1978), this, the second of four volumes of his essays, may be a surprise. Best known as a historian of ideas, Berlin began his career as a philosopher, and, as he himself notes in a preface, these philosophical essays bear the stamp of the debates within British philosophy current 30 years ago. In essays entitled "Verification" (1939), "Empirical Propositions and Hypothetical Statements" (1950), and "Logical Translation" (1950), Berlin took his stand against empiricism, and particularly against the effort to render philosophical statements "scientific." These are heavy going, written in the curiously simple language of British philosophy - "what exists but is not here exists and is not here in exactly the same sense of 'exists' as what is - does exist - here" - with its talk of tables, chairs, and Napoleon's three-cornered hat. But even if these essays are relics, they are also documents in Berlin's intellectual development, and on a closer look they do connect with his more famous work. Other essays here provide a bridge, In "The Purpose of Philosophy" (1962), "The Concept of Scientific History" (1960), "Does Political Theory Still Exist?" (1961), and "'From Hope and Fear Set Free'" (1964) he stresses the importance of the historical element - manifested in language and invisible to empiricism - in the way people see themselves and the world. The task of the humanist intellect is not to make scientific statements, but to reveal the pluralism of world views while stripping away the accumulated veneers of myth and dogma. We therefore see Berlin, an essayist born, traveling from empiricism to Tolstoy. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Isaiah Berlin

Sir Isaiah Berlin, O.M., was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1909. He came to England in 1919 and was educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. At Oxford, he was a a Fellow of All Souls College (1932-8, 1950-67), a Fellow of New College (1938-50), Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory (1957-67), first President of Wolfson College (1966-75), and President of the British Academy from 1974 to 1978. His achievements as a historian and expositor of ideas earned him the Erasmus, Lippincott, and Agnelli Prizes, and his lifelong defence of civil liberties earned him the Jerusalem Prize. He died in 1997.

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