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Isaiah Berlin quotes (showing 1-30 of 64)

“Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.”
Isaiah Berlin
“We are doomed to choose and every choice may entail irreparable loss.”
Isaiah Berlin
“Both liberty and equality are among the primary goals pursued by human beings throughout many centuries; but total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and the less gifted.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
“To understand is to perceive patterns.”
Isaiah Berlin
“Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.”
Isaiah Berlin
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Isaiah Berlin
“Science cannot destroy the consciousness of freedom, without which there is no morality and no art, but it can refute it.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History
“The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution in which all good things coexist, seems to me not merely unobtainable--that is a truism--but conceptually incoherent. ......Some among the great goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind
“[People] cannot live without seeking to describe and explain the universe to themselves. The models they use in doing this must deeply affect their lives, not least when they are unconscious; much of [their] misery and frustration…is due to the mechanical and unconscious, as well as deliberate, application of models where they do not work…The goal of philosophy is always the same, to assist [people] to understand themselves and thus operate in the open and not wildly, in the dark.”
Isaiah Berlin
“All central beliefs on human matters spring from a personal predicament.”
Isaiah Berlin
“If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.”
Isaiah Berlin
“The underlying assumption that human nature is basically the same at all times, everywhere, and obeys eternal laws beyond human control, is a conception that only a handful of bold thinkers have dared to question.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing completely straight was ever made”
Isaiah Berlin
“I can see how, with enough false education, enough widespread illusion and error, men can, while remaining men, believe this and commit the most unspeakable crimes.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Power of Ideas
“I have said that one of the distinguishing characteristics of a great man is that his active intervention makes what seemed highly improbable in fact happen.”
Isaiah Berlin, Personal Impressions
“Romanticism embodied "a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism
“But to manipulate men, to propel them toward goals which you—the social reformers—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.”
Isaiah Berlin
“......philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization....but if professors can truly wield this fatal power, may it not be that only other professors, or, at least, other thinkers can alone disarm them?”
Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty
“The world that we encounter in ordinary experience is one in which we are faced by choices equally absolute, the realisation of some of which must inevitably mean the sacrifice of others.”
Isaiah Berlin, Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty
“Men would no longer be victims of nature or of their own largely irrational societies: reason would triumph; universal harmonious cooperation, true history, would at last begin.
For if this was not so, do the ideas of progress, of history, have any meaning? Is there not a movement, however tortuous, from ignorance to knowledge, from mythical thought and childish fantasies to perception of reality face to face, to knowledge of true goals, true values as well as truths of fact? Can history be a mere purposeless succession of events, caused by a mixture of material factors and the play of random selection, a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing? This was unthinkable. The day would dawn when men and women would take their lives in their own hands and not be self-seeking beings or the playthings of blind forces that they did not understand. It was, at the very least, not impossible to conceive that such an earthly paradise could be; and if conceivable we could, at any rate, try to march towards it. That has been at the centre of ethical thought from the Greeks to the Christian visionaries of the Middle Ages, from the Renaissance to progressive thought in the last century; and indeed, is believed by many to this day.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
“La parola "libertà" è uno degli indici più sicuri per individuare l'ideale di vita ultimativo e generale abbracciato dall'uomo che la usa, per capire ciò che vuole e che non vuole, e se quell'ideale egli lo sta perseguendo consciamente o inconsciamente.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
“The view that the truth is one and undivided, and the same for all men everywhere at all times, whether one finds it in the pronouncements of sacred books, traditional wisdom, the authority of churches, democratic majorities, observation and experiment conducted by qualified experts, or the convictions of simple folks uncorrupted by civilisation---this view, in one form or another, is central to western thought, which stems from Plato and his disciples.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
Fontenelle was the most civilized man of his time, and indeed of most times.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism
“True pluralism, as Berlin understands it, is much more tough-minded and intellectually bold: it rejects the view that all conflicts of values can be finally resolved by synthesis and that all desirable goals may be reconciled. It recognises that human nature generates values which, though equally sacred, equally ultimate, exclude one another, without there being any possibility of establishing an objective hierarchical relation among them. Moral conduct may therefore involve making agonising choices, without the help of universal criteria, between incompatible but equally desirable values.”
Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers
“Understanding men or ideas or movements, or the outlooks of individuals or groups, is not reducible to a sociological classification into types of behaviour with predictions based on scientific experiment and carefully tabulated statistics of observations.”
Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers
“Louis XIV was a very proud and self-confident man. He had such and such mistresses, and such and such ministers, and he governed France badly. The heirs of Louis XIV were also weak men, and also governed France badly. They also had such and such favourites and such and such mistresses. Besides which, certain persons were at this time writing books. By the end of the eighteenth century there gathered in Paris two dozen or so persons who started saying that all men were free and equal. Because of this in the whole of France people began to slaughter and drown each other. These people killed the king and a good many others. At this time there was a man of genius in France – Napoleon. He conquered everyone everywhere, i.e. killed a great many people because he was a great genius; and, for some reason, he went off to kill Africans, and killed them so well, and was so clever and cunning, that, having arrived in France, he ordered everyone to obey him, which they did. Having made himself Emperor he again went to kill masses of people in Italy, Austria and Prussia. And there too he killed a great many. Now in Russia there was the Emperor Alexander, who decided to reestablish order in Europe, and therefore fought wars with Napoleon. But in the year ’07 he suddenly made friends with him, and in the year ’11 quarrelled with him again, and they both again began to kill a great many people. And Napoleon brought six hundred thousand men to Russia and conquered Moscow. But then he suddenly ran away from Moscow, and then the Emperor Alexander, aided by the advice of Stein and others, united Europe to raise an army against the disturber of her peace. All Napoleon’s allies suddenly became his enemies; and this army marched against Napoleon, who had gathered new forces. The allies conquered Napoleon, entered Paris, forced Napoleon to renounce the throne, and sent him to the island of Elba, without, however, depriving him of the title of Emperor, and showing him all respect, in spite of the fact that five years before, and a year after, everyone considered him a brigand and beyond the law. Thereupon Louis XVIII, who until then had been an object of mere ridicule to both Frenchmen and the allies, began to reign. As for Napoleon, after shedding tears before the Old Guard, he gave up his throne, and went into exile. Then astute statesmen and diplomats, in particular Talleyrand, who had managed to sit down before anyone else in the famous armchair1 and thereby to extend the frontiers of France, talked in Vienna, and by means of such talk made peoples happy or unhappy. Suddenly the diplomats and monarchs almost came to blows. They were almost ready to order their troops once again to kill each other; but at this moment Napoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who hated him, all immediately submitted to him. But this annoyed the allied monarchs very much and they again went to war with the French. And the genius Napoleon was defeated and taken to the island of St Helena, having suddenly been discovered to be an outlaw. Whereupon the exile, parted from his dear ones and his beloved France, died a slow death on a rock, and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. As for Europe, a reaction occurred there, and all the princes began to treat their peoples badly once again.”
Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers
“he makes a vast contrast between nature, which is this elemental, capricious, perhaps causal, perhaps chance-directed entity, and man, who has morality, who distinguishes between desire and will, duty and interest, the right and the wrong, and acts accordingly, if need be against nature.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Roots Of Romanticism
“Of course, like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous: like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting-point for genuine investigation.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History
“لكل مجتمع إنساني، لكل الناس، بل لكل عصر وحضارة، مثُله المتفردة ومعاييره، سبل عيشه وتفكيره وسلوكه. ليست هناك قواعد او معايير للحكم تعد كلية وثابتة وخالدة يمكن وفقها ترتيب مواضيع ثقافات وأمم مختلفة من حيث امتيازها.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
“The only thing which can be regarded as properly tragic is resistance, resistance on the part of a man to whatever it is that oppresses him.”
Isaiah Berlin, The Roots Of Romanticism

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