Theses on Berlin

Albert, Simon, ‘The Wartime “Special Relationship”, 1941–45: Isaiah Berlin, Freya Stark and Mandate Palestine’, MSc thesis, Theory and History of International Relations, LSE, 2013

Ben-Artzi, Amir, ‘Anthropological Dimensions in Isaiah Berlin’s Approach to Ideas’ (in Hebrew), MA thesis, Tel Aviv University, 2001

This study examines the possible resemblances between Isaiah Berlin’s approach to ideas, and a spirit of inquiry which is exhibited by anthropology, especially cultural anthropology. The term ‘anthropological’ will be used as a code name for a spirit of inquiry which is focused on the empirical and concrete human being, trying to understand her in her own terms, as a part of a larger culture. This holistic spirit deeply recognises the huge diversity of human beings, cultures, ways of life and values over the ages – a recognition that breeds pluralistic and tolerant tendencies.

In this sense, Isaiah Berlin’s approach as an historian of ideas and in some ways also as a political philosopher was cultural–anthropological. Since the beginning of his intellectual path, and most prominently after his reading in Vico and in Herder, Berlin’s ‘sense of reality’ exhibited holistic tendencies and deep sensitivities towards the diversity and the concreteness of the human existence. Berlin often approached ideas descriptively, through empirical–anthropological reflections on the concrete ways in which models and concepts functioned in human lives across the ages and in different cultures. The study firstly maps Berlin’s connections with the anthropological world and concludes that his spirit is close to cultural anthropology in Clifford Geertz’s hermeneutical version and in the tradition of Ruth Benedict. 

Berlin resisted any attempt to approach the human and social sciences through a  formalistic search for general rules, and offered instead a Vichian–Herderian approach, which is largely anthropological. Berlin was strongly sympathetic to the Vichian attempt to understand any culture by identifying with its own point of view and by grasping the totality of its way of life, including its unique myths, rituals, rites, symbols and idioms. This emphasis on cultural specificity and the fact the Berlin termed both Vico’s and Herder’s approach ‘anthropological’, show why Berlin can be called an anthropological historian of ideas. 

The study examines the anthropological dimensions in Berlin’s liberalism, while presenting John Gray’s discussion of Berlin and commenting on it. As a political philosopher, Berlin’s anthropological tendencies support his liberalism: his holistic approach drives him to examine political ideas in relation to the total ways of life in which they are embedded; his empirical–anthropological recognition of cultural pluralism is associated with his view of the liberal culture; his defense of liberalism is not only theoretical, but it is rather based on a descriptive–empirical approach towards human beings and societies; his use of Vichian empathetic imagination serves as a drive for tolerance; and finally, Berlin’s liberalism sees the recognition of the need to belong to a cultural community as essential for the liberal order. 

Blattberg, Charles, ‘Putting Practices First: From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics’, D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1997

Boxill, J. B., ‘Positive and Negative Freedom in Classical and Radical Liberalism’, doctoral thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1981

Butin, Alexis, ‘Les Questions du libéralisme et du pluralisme dans et à partir de l’œuvre d’Isaiah Berlin’, doctoral thesis, l’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, 2007

Castello Branco, José Tomaz, ‘Liberdade versus pluralismo: O pensamente político de Isaiah Berlin na génese de um novo concieto de liberdade’, Master’s thesis, Catholic University of Portugal

Bode, Mark, ‘Isaiah Berlin and the Problem of Counter-Enlightenment Liberalism’, Adelaide D.Phil. thesis, January 2011

Castello Branco, José Tomaz de Gambôa Pinto de, ‘Pluralismo, Liberdade e Tolerâcia: O Tecido Moral das Democracias Contemporâneas’, Ph.D. thesis, Catholic University of Portugal, March 2009

Chappel, James, ‘Dignity is Everything: Isaiah Berlin and his Jewish Identity’, Haverford College senior thesis, 25 April 2005

Cherniss, Joshua, ‘A Mind and its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought 1928–1953’, D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2009

Curtis, Jenefer A., ‘Reconsidering Positive and Negative Liberty’, MA thesis, University of Western Ontario, 1987

Della Casa, Alessandro, ‘Monismo, Pluralismo, Libertà in Isaiah Berlin’, MA thesis, Tuscia University, 2012

The aim of this thesis is to analyse the work of Isaiah Berlin as historian of ideas and as political philosopher, especially on the issues of monism, pluralism and liberty. The method adopted is that of philological interpretation of Berlin’s thought and historical reconstruction of the intellectual context in which he formulated and developed it.

The first chapter focuses on the analysis of monism (particularly its Enlightenment version), the second on the emergence of pluralism through three great transvaluations of values: Hellenistic philosophy, Machiavellian thought, and Romanticism, the latter preceded by the break made by such Counter-Enlightenment thinkers as Vico, Hamann and Herder.

The third chapter examines Berlin’s interpretation of twentieth-century totalitarianism. The first section treats the evolution of his interpretation of Marx’s thought, showing that Berlin’s early interpretation underwent a change after he visited Russia in 1945 and 1956. The second section describes his interpretation of right-wing totalitarianism, arguing that Berlin not only affirms a link between Fascism and Maistrean or Romantic irrationalism, but also dwells on the monistic (even rationalistic) roots of Fascism.

Criticisms (in particular those of Zeev Sternhell) of Berlin’s work as a historian of ideas are described and challenged in the fourth chapter. Some points of convergence between Berlin and other contemporary philosophers, such as Friedrich von Hayek and Jacob L. Talmon, are recognised. Yet considering Berlin as merely a Cold War liberal is a limited outlook, for it prevents us noticing many important aspects of his philosophy, such as the condemnation of certain technocratic aspects of the Western world.

The fifth chapter is dedicated to the two main features of Berlin’s philosophy: the distinction between positive and negative liberty, and the formulation of value pluralism. The second section in particular analyses the principles according to which Berlin distinguishes between relativism and pluralism, the latter primarily based on empirical knowledge and influenced by a Meineckean historicist stress on historical awareness.

The last chapter focuses on the definition of Berlinian liberalism, and on its connection with value pluralism. Though his non-foundational, empirical approach towards human reality makes Berlin’s liberalism unsystematic, it allows him to understand and safeguard the different and conflicting human values. Hence, through his ability to understand and uphold otherness, Berlin shows his ‘inner consistency’. His rejection as misconceived and dangerous of any attempt to create a perfect society also makes his pluralistic liberalism particularly relevant in today’s re-emerging technocratic liberalism.

Dewiel, Boris Cedric, ‘Democracy As Diversity: Civil Society, Pluralism and the Limits of the State’, Ph.D. thesis, University Of Calgary, 1998

Democracy is a bifurcated notion. George Sabine pointed out that we have inherited two democratic traditions, one beginning with the English and the other with the French Revolution. The current study into the meaning of democracy weighs the merits of the two conceptions by tracing the history of a few political ideas. Inspired by Isaiah Berlin, the result is a theory of democracy as diversity among an identifiable core of conflicting values, each of which belongs to the culture of modern democracy. Politics at its best may be described in terms of the irresolvable contest between these ideals. This contest has become institutionalised in modern democratic practices, so modern democracy may be defined as the permanent institutionalised contest among a definable range of ideals. This theory is tested using international survey data. If democracy is the rule of the people, what do we mean by the people as a single entity? The study begins with the history of the idea of civil society as distinct from the state. In reaction to the universalism of the eighteenth century, there arose a pluralistic belief that each nation is home to a unique people. In turn, the idea of pluralism must be understood in terms of changes in the language of morality. In a reaction to the rediscovery of Aristotle, divine command morality asserted God’s will as the source of value – the good was what God actively valued – and this idea became secularised. The new central term of morality remained a verb as well as a noun, but the source of value became the human will. The fact of competing conceptions of the good could now be expressed as value pluralism. The histories of the values of positive and negative liberty in their most important guises are next compared. The conflicts among these values in their individualistic and communal forms are hypothesised to be common among democratic nations. The theory is summarised in a model of ideological diversity. A preliminary empirical test suggests that diversity in this form is inherent to democracy.

Díaz-Urmeneta Muñoz, Juan Bosco, ‘Racionalidad moderna e individualidad en la obra de Isaiah Berlin’, doctoral thesis, University of Seville, 1992

Drolet, Michael, ‘Discourse and Liberty: Tocqueville and the Post-Revolutionary Debate’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Kent, 1990, c.380 pp.

Drugge, Oskar Daniel, ‘Moral Conflict, Tragedy and Political Action in Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought’, Ph.D. thesis, University of British Columbia, 2013

English, John Douglas, ‘Rethinking the Political: Political Ontologies of Modernity’, Ph.D. thesis, The Johns Hopkins University, 1997

In this dissertation I demonstrate the importance of ontology to political theory. I do so by engaging two dominant voices of modernity, Kant and Hegel, and contemporary pluralists who draw substantially on their thought, including Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, John Rawls, and Isaiah Berlin, many of whom deny the necessity of ontological inquiry. I then consider their thought in relation to two expressions of countermodernity, Carl Schmitt and Nietzsche. I draw on these two thinkers to expose and to contest political ontologies in these recent theories of pluralism. These pluralisms manifest monistic political ontologies that cannot support the articulations of political pluralism they propose. Therefore, under scrutiny, their theorizations of politics fail to escape or transcend singular logics of the political exemplified by Schmitt’s anti-pluralism. I argue that without sensitivity to political ontology, contemporary political thought will continue to present concepts of pluralism inadequate to the complexities of global life. In response to this shortcoming, I appeal to Nietzsche, who, in contrast with Schmitt, suggests an ontology that is pluralistic and productive. I turn then to two contemporary theorists sensitive to these considerations, Michel Foucault and Michael Oakeshott, broadly sketching what a concept of political pluralism might look like informed by a Nietzschean appreciation of ontological diversity.

Ferrell, Jason, ‘Isaiah Berlin and the Politics of Pluralism’, Ph.D. thesis, McGill University, 2002

Galipeau, C. J., ‘Isaiah Berlin’s Liberalism: An Exposition and Defense’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1990

García Guitián, Elena, ‘Libertad y pluralismo en la obra de I. Berlin’, doctoral thesis, Departamento de Derecho Público, Filosofía Jurídica y Ciencia Política y de la Administración, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, July 1997

Groß, Steffen, ‘Kulturwissenschaften: Leidenschaft und Temperament – Sir Isaiah Berlin un die Leidenschaft mit der Kultur’, Beitrag zur Ringvorlesung ‘Kultur und Technik I’ des Lehrstuhls Philosophie der BTU Cottbus in Wintersemester 2005/06, gehalten am 9 November 2005 

Gustavsson, Gina, ‘Treacherous Liberties: Isaiah Berlin’s Theory of Positive and Negative Freedom in Contemporary Political Culture’, doctoral thesis, Uppsala University (summary also available)

Hao Yeh, ‘History, Method and Pluralism: A Re-interpretation of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought’, Ph.D. thesis, LSE, 2006 *Halberstam, Michael, ‘Totalitarianism, Liberalism and the Aesthetic: An Investigation into the Modern Conception of Politics’, Ph.D. thesis in Philosophy, Yale University, 1995

Hogg, Jonathan, ‘Locating Isaiah Berlin in the Cultural Cold War Context: Text and Ontology, 1945–1989’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, 2007

Kocis, Robert, ‘Rationalism and Romanticism Redux: The Political Philosophy of Sir Isaiah Berlin’, Ph.D. thesis, Bowling Green State University, 1978, 290 pp.

Lamey, Andy, ‘Value Pluralism as a Support to Liberalism: Rebuilding Berlin’s Bridge’, MA thesis, University Of Ottawa, 1999

Isaiah Berlin’s notion of value pluralism has traditionally been seen as supportive to liberal political theory. In recent years, however, the idea of an implicit link between pluralism and liberalism has come into question, with some commentators arguing that pluralism in fact presents obstacles to liberalism. In the wake of such criticisms, this thesis proposes a new version of value pluralism, and argues that it is supportive of liberalism. In chapter one, the different strands of pluralism in Berlin’s thought are discussed. In chapter two the case is made for ‘internal pluralism’ (the notion that values can come into incommensurable conflict within the self, but not, as Berlin and others believed, on a social level), and how it can support liberalism. Chapter three engages Berlin’s critics and arguing that internal pluralism does not suffer from the failings that the traditional notion of value pluralism does.

Martins, Ana Vasconcelos, ‘Pluralism v. Relativism: An Appraisal of Isaiah Berlin’s Defence of Pluralism’, MA thesis in Governance, Leadership and Democracy Studies, Institute of Political Studies, Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon

Mori, Tatsuya, ‘Liberaru Maindo: Isaiah Berlin no seiji sisou’ [‘The Liberal Mind: A Study of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought’], Ph.D. thesis, Waseda University, 2015

Table of Contents
1 Berlin’s Philosophical Outlook
2 Value Pluralism
3 Freedom and Responsibility in Value Pluralism
4 The Liberal Conception of the Good
5 The Counter-Enlightenment
6 Nationalism and Zionism
7 Modern Zionism and the Question of Palestine
Appendix: A Life of Isaiah Berlin

Nathan, Christopher, ‘Isaiah Berlin, Pluralism, Liberalism and Truth’, M.Phil. thesis in politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford, 2006; highly recommended

Pacheco Amitesarove, Antonio José Francisco, ‘La aporía del binomio libertad: igualdad en el pluralismo liberal de Isaiah Berlin’, doctoral thesis, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Venezuela, June 2012

Pankovskij, Anatolij, ‘The Problem of Liberty in Isaiah Berlin’s Philosophy: Value Pluralism and Tolerable Society’ (in Russian; see also English summary), Ph.D. thesis, Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania, 2010

Plaw, Avery, ‘Isaiah Berlin’s Pluralist Thought and Liberalism’, Ph.D. thesis, McGill University, 2002; to be published by the University of Toronto Press as Precarious Equilibrium and Political Imagination: Isaiah Berlin and the Politics of Expressive Pluralism

Polanowska-Sygulska, Beata, ‘Contest over the Concept of Liberty in the Context of Isaiah Berlin’s Doctrine of Freedom’ (in Polish), doctoral thesis, Warsaw University, 1988

Reed, Jamie, ‘Imperfect Reason: A Study in the Thought of Isaiah Berlin’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham; engages with Berlin’s earlier (pre-1950) analytical work, and shows how his writings from this period provide a crucial foundation of ideas that continue in his later philosophy; places Berlin’s thought in the context of British intellectual life 

Semko, Jesse Joseph Paul, ‘Isaiah Berlin and Charles Taylor on Johann Gottfried Herder: A Comparative Study’, MA thesis, Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, 2004

Silva, Elisabete do Rosário Mendes, ‘Liberalismo e os preceitos da Ética Cosmopolita em Isaiah Berlin’, D.Phil. thesis, University of Lisbon, 2011

Spencer, Vicki Ann, ‘Herder, Culture and Community: The Political Implications of an Expressivist Theory of Language’, D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1995

Steinberg, Jonny, ‘Post-Enlightenment Philosophy and Liberal Universalism in the Political Thought of Isaiah Berlin and Richard Rorty’, D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1998

Thorsen, Dag Einar, ‘On Berlin’s Liberal Pluralism: An Examination of the Political Theories of Sir Isaiah Berlin, Concentrated around the Problem of Combining Value Pluralism and Liberalism’, Cand. Polit. thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, May 2004

Thorsen, Dag Einar, ‘The Politics of Freedom: A Study of the Political Thought of Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper, and of the Challenge of Neoliberalism’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Oslo, 2012

Vertova, Francesco Paolo, ‘Liberalismo e pluralismo dei valori nel pensiero di Isaiah Berlin’ [‘Liberalism and Pluralism of Values in Isaiah Berlin’s Thought’], Ph.D. thesis, Pisa, 1996

Zerilli, Linda, ‘Value Pluralism and the Problem of Political Judgment’, unpublished paper presented as a keynote speech at the Seventh Graduate Conference in Political Theory, University of Essex, 12 May 2006

Zhang, Lanbo, ‘The Intellectual as Warrior: Isaiah Berlin’s Cold War’, senior thesis, Department of History, Columbia University, 2014

Kuo, Po-hung, ‘Isaiah Berlin: Liberalism and Its Response to Marxism’, Master’s thesis in philosophy, National Sun Yat-sen University, 2014