Isaiah Berlin: A Value Pluralist and Humanist View of Human Nature and the Meaning of Life

Isaiah Berlin: A Value Pluralist and Humanist View of Human Nature and the Meaning of Life

Isaiah Berlin: A Value Pluralist and Humanist View of Human Nature and the Meaning of Life

Isaiah Berlin: A Value Pluralist and Humanist View of Human Nature and the Meaning of Life

Synopsis

"This study describes the anthropology of Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), value pluralism's founding father. Berlin wants to protect both moral and cultural diversity against monist tendencies but at the same time struggles to avoid moral relativism. This study follows Berlin critically in this dilemma, thereby giving insight into how value pluralism differs from contemporary postmodernist and conventionalist positions."

Excerpt

The historical and philosophical insights that Isaiah Berlin provided both his academic and other interested readers (and BBC listeners) are many. No doubt, his greatest contribution has been to supply a new philosophical perspective, namely value pluralism. Berlin is now regarded as the founding father of this perspective, an important stream within contemporary moral and political philosophy that has influenced a number of contemporary thinkers to varying degrees. Value pluralist thinkers share the idea that there is a diversity of values and ends in our moral world and that there can be conflicts among these values. The values and ends that we pursue in our lives and that we, within our particular moral frameworks, consider as precious or ultimate, cannot always be combined into one harmonious whole. Even among people who think and act reasonably and have the best intentions there will always be disagreement about which of the good values and ends should have priority. We will begin this study on Berlin’s view of human nature by describing the moral universe in which human beings have to live, which in his view is not harmonious and sometimes even tragic.

1.1 THE BASICS OF VALUE PLURALISM

Value pluralism is a term that Berlin himself hardly used; he simply called it “pluralism.” The term value pluralism was developed later by others who were inspired by Berlin’s new insights and wanted to distinguish their views from types of pluralism that are less aware of the possibility of conflicts within the idea itself of the good. In his famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958) Berlin describes his philosophical position as follows:

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—

William Galston (1999: 769) lists the following thinkers who have been
(partly) influenced by the principles of value pluralism: John Gray, Stuart
Hampshire, John Kekes, Charles Larmore, Steven Lukes, Thomas Nagel,
Martha Nussbaum, Joseph Raz, Michael Stocker, Charles Taylor and Bernard
Williams.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.