J.S. Mill Essay, Research Paper
Essay One: John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life 2
Essay Two: Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century 7
Essay Three: Two Concepts of Liberty 11
Essay Four: Historical Inevitability 16
ssay One: John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life .
In this essay Berlin focuses his attention upon one concrete figure, J. S. Mill. Berlin supposes that Mill is one of the greatest theorists of liberty that has ever lived. Mill believed that it is neither rational thought, nor domination over nature, but freedom to choose and to experiment which distinguishes men from the rest of nature. He regarded liberty as more precious than life itself, because life without freedom seems to him like a miserable dwarf-man s existence. Like Nietzsche, he often used the word dwarf in order to show the consequences of human suppression.
Berlin s essay contains three parts: first comes Mill s biography, because it seems that some of his ideas are turned against his father s educational methods. The second part is dedicated to liberty and variety, the third – to such important topic as tolerance. Firstly, the story of John Stuart Mill s extraordinary education. His father, James Mill, like his teacher Bentham and the French philosophical materialists, admitted man as a natural object and considered that a systematic study of the human species could and should be established on firm empirical foundations. He believed that he had grasped the principles of the new science on man.
He was firmly convinced that any man educated in the light of it, brought up as a rational being by other rational beings would be preserved from ignorance and weakness. These are two sources of unreason in action and thought, that was alone responsible for the miseries and vices of mankind. James Mill decided to preserve his son from these ills and brought up little John Stuart in isolation from others – less rationally educated children. His only companions were his own brothers and sisters. The boy knew Greek by the age of five, algebra and Latin by the age of nine. He was fed on some special intellectual diet, which was prepared by his father. No religion, no metaphysics, little poetry were allowed to reach him, because Bentham called them accumulation of human idiocy and error. It was supposed that music could not so easily misrepresent the real world, therefore music was permitted to learn. The experiment was really successful, and at the age of twelve he already possessed the learning of an especially erudite man of thirty. But even with a little knowledge of psychology we may guess what happened. Actually his mind was over-developed and his emotions were violently suppressed. His father had no doubt of the value of this experiment. But in his early adolescence he went through an agonizing crisis. He felt a lack of purpose, a paralysis of will and a terrible despair. He asked himself a simple question: he had been taught to believe in the Benthamite ideal of universal happiness, but if this ideal were realized, would this in fact fulfil all his desires? With horror he acknowledged that it would not. What then was the true end of life? He saw no purpose in existence: everything in the world now seemed dry and bleak. He even thought that he was totally devoid of feeling – a monster with a large part of normal human nature atrophied. Why must he continue to live? He felt that he had no motives for continuing to live. One day he read the memoirs of one French writer and began to cry. This convinced him that he was capable of emotions and with this his recovery began. It took a form of slow revolt against the view of life inculcated by his father and the Benthamites. His views of the nature of man, his history and his destiny were transformed, but by temperament he was not rebellious. He loved and deeply admired his father, and was convinced of the validity of his main philosophical tenets. He stood with Bentham against dogmatism, transcendentalism, obscurantism and all that resisted the march of reason, analysis and empirical science. To those beliefs he held firmly all his life. He continued to admit that happiness was the sole end of human existence, but his conception of what concerned it was very different from Bentham s position, for what he came to value most was neither rationality, nor contentment, but diversity, versatility, fullness of life spontaneity of a man, a group, a civilization. He hated narrowness, uniformity, persecution, the crushing of individuals by the weight of authority or of public opinion. Perhaps this was natural compensation for his own drilled, emotionally shrivelled childhood and adolescence.
Let us pass over the next part of Berlin s essay – variety and liberty. I will try to investigate why men curtail the liberties of others.
Men want to limit the liberties of other men:
a) because they wish to impose their power on others,
b) because they want conformity they do not wish to think differently from others, or others to think differently from themselves,
c) because they believe that to the question of how one should live there can be only one true answer; we may discover this answer with intuition or direct revelation, or a form of life or unity of theory and practice
Mill denies the first two motives as being irrational, because they stake out no intellectually argued claim and therefore incapable of being answered by rational argument. He admitted that men are not infallible, they may have errors. Mill notes that a new experience, a new argument can in principle always alter our views, no matter how strongly held. To shut doors is to blind yourself to the truth deliberately .1 It may well be that without full freedom of discussion the truth cannot emerge, but he also believed that human knowledge was in principle never complete and therefore always fallible and there was no single universally visible truth. We can never tell where greater truth or happiness may lie. There are no limitations of the nature of men, for example there might be very high improbability of men s becoming immortal or growing as tall as Everest. Each man, each nation, each civilization might take its own road towards its own goal, not necessarily harmonious with those of others. Men are altered, and the truths in which they believed are altered, by new experiences and their own actions which he calls experiments of living . Mill believes that man is spontaneous, he has freedom of choice and he moulds his own character. Mill assumes that finality is impossible and that we need fair play to all sides of truth, but he gives bad argument to verify the need of variety that in an imperfect state of the human mind the interests of the truth require a diversity of opinions . He urges us to keep doors open to change.
Mill already perceived that in the name of philanthropy, democracy and equality a society was being created, the majority of men were being converted into industrious sheep . 2 Mill was against those, who for the sake of being left in peace to cultivate their gardens, were ready to sell their fundamental human right to self government. It seems that these characteristics of our lives today he could have recognized with horror. He avoids uniformity, when we read the same things, listen to the same things, see the same things, go to the same places, have our hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and liberties and the same means of asserting them. He remarks that it is the habit of our time to desire nothing strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked character, to maim by compression like a Chinese lady s foot. Mill predicts standardization of life as negative tendency of industrialization. To my mind the solution might be in admitting variety, tolerance and freedom to expand itself and perhaps then it will be the lesser harm for mankind. Interesting that one the one hand Mill advocates democracy, on the other hand he criticizes it. He wondered whether centralization of authority and inevitable dependence of each on all and surveillance of each by all would not end by grinding
1 I.Berlin J.S.Mill and the ends of life // Four essays on liberty p. 187.
2 Ibid., p.194.
all down into a tame uniformity of thought, dealings and actions, and produce automatons in human form and liberticide. Tocqueville had written pessimistically about the moral and intellectual effects of democracy in America. Mill agreed. He said that even if such power did not destroy, it prevented existence. It compressed, enervated, extinguished and stupified a people and turned them into a flock of timid and industrious animals of whom the government is a shepherd. The only cure for this is more democracy, which can alone educate a sufficient number of individuals to independence, resistance and strength. Without the right of protest and the capacity for it, there is for Mill no justice.
He believed if all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of a contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power would be justified in silencing mankind. He fought against all kinds of suppression both totalitarian and by public opinion. According to Mill, an individual is not accountable to society for his actions, insofar as these concern the interests of no person but himself. The only reason for which power can be rightfully exercised over any matter of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others. Mill insists upon that you can indeed stop bad men from perverting society with false or pernicious views, but only if you give men liberty to deny what you yourself call bad is such, otherwise your conviction is founded on mere dogma and it is not rational. He notes that mankind will be greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest. Mill supported the sexual freedom. He declared that what any person might freely do with respect to sexual relations should be deemed to be an unimportant and purely private matter which concerns no one but themselves. For him man differs from animals as a being capable of choice, one who is most himself in choosing and not being chosen, the rider and not the horse. Mill longed for the widest variety of human nature and character. He saw that this could not be obtained without protecting individuals from each other and above all from the terrible weight of social pressure, and this led to his demands for toleration. The variety is impossible without tolerance.
And so, thirdly, the tolerance. What was really amazing to me reading J.S. Mill, was the fact that toleration implies a certain disrespect. He declared that when we deeply care, we must dislike those who hold the opposite views. He asked us not necessarily to respect the views of others very far from it only to try to understand and tolerate them; only tolerate; for without conviction, without some antipathetic feeling, there was, he thought, no deep conviction; and without deep conviction there were no ends of life. Without tolerance the conditions for rational criticism are destroyed. He supports reason and toleration at all costs. To understand is not necessarily to forgive. We may argue, attack, reject, condemn with passion, but we can not suppress or stifle: for that is to destroy the bad and the good, and is tantamount to collective moral and intellectual suicide. Sceptical respect for the opinions of our opponents seems to him preferable to indifference. But even this attitude is less harmful than intolerance or an imposed orthodoxy, which kills rational discussion. But I might ask a simple question: where are the limits of tolerance? Is it limitless? I suppose not. But are demagogues and liars and blind fanatics always in liberal societies stopped in time, or refuted in the end? How high a price is it right to pay for the freedom of discussion? Very high, no doubt. Damage or probability of damage to the interests of others can alone justify the interference of society in the life of an individual. The actions of aforementioned demagogues and fanatics often involve damage, therefore they must be dealt with by society.
Mill believed that men are wise, enlightened and rational, if properly educated, they are capable of reasonable choice, but in fact it is merely an ideal. Approximately in the same time, but in quite different circumstances Dostoevsky had admitted that people by nature are weak, and only rare ones among them are capable of choice. Also Berlin maintained that the mass neurosis of our time is agoraphobia. Men are terrified of disintegration and of too little direction. They ask, like Hobbes s masterless men in a state of nature, for walls to keep out the raging ocean, for order, security, organization, clear and recognizable authority, and are alarmed by the prospect of too much freedom, which leaves them lost in a vast, friendless vacuum and desert.
J. S. Mill s theory is still one of the clearest, most candid and persuasive expositions of the point of view of those who desire an open and tolerant society. Reading Mill it seems that he is saying something true and important about some of the most fundamental characteristics and aspirations of human beings. Actually today the critics of Mill have on the whole exceeded the number of his defenders. Berlin claims that Mill had antiquated psychology and a lack talent to foresee anything of the future, but I believe that he perceived many contemporary tendencies like standardization, fear of freedom and conformity.
Essay Two: Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century
This essay was firstly published as an article in the American journal Foreign Affairs in 1949 during the last years of Stalin s regime. The politicians of Western Europe were interested in the ideology of the Soviet Union, therefore one part of this essay is dedicated to socialism as one of the main tendencies in the twentieth century. Even thirty years later Berlin claimed that general tendencies of this article are still actual and important. The creed of this essay is Trotsky s idea: Anyone desiring a quiet life has done badly to be born in the twentieth century. Indeed in the twentieth century the world has suffered two world wars, many revolutions and revolts. Not only particular individuals, but also whole generations have tragic destinies. Sometimes it seems that this is the age of violence, intolerance and cruelty. It seems to me significant that there were possible two totalitarian regimes – Fascism and Communism. I suppose we can not answer the question: why in the twentieth century totalitarianism was possible at all?
Berlin emphasizes that in the political thought there are two opposite tendencies: liberalism and socialism. They created two great liberating movements humanitarian individualism and romantic nationalism. Liberals believed in the unlimited power of education and the power of rational morality to prevail economic misery and inequality. Socialists, on the contrary, believed that without radical alterations in the control of economic resources and in society we cannot attain the sufficient solution. Conservatives and socialists believed in the power and influence of institutions and regarded them as a necessary safeguard against the chaos, injustice and cruelty caused by uncontrolled individualism. Anarchists, radicals and liberals looked upon institutions as such with suspicion. Berlin considers that on the one hand all movements in the twentieth century have origins, forerunners and imperceptible beginnings in the previous centuries, on the other hand there are sharp differences between the political movements of the twentieth century and, for example, the nineteenth century. But sometimes we can not realize where is a barrier which divides what is unmistakably past and done with from that which most characteristically belongs to our day. Many of the seeds planted in the nineteenth or eighteenth century have flowered only in the twentieth. In the nineteenth century there was a belief that the problems of individuals and of societies could be solved if only the forces of intelligence and of virtue could dominate over the ignorance and wickedness. They believed that human beings could solve all clearly understood questions with moral and intellectual resources at their disposal. No doubt different schools of thought gave different answers to these varying problems.
In the twentieth century there is a belief in non-rational solutions. Berlin stresses that one of the elements of the new outlook is the notion of unconscious and irrational influences, which conquer the forces of reason. Consequently the answers to problems exist not in rational solutions, but in the removal of the problems themselves by means other than thought and argument. The old tradition saw history as the battle – ground between the easily identifiable forces of light and darkness, reason and obscurantism, progress and reaction. Berlin acknowledges that Freud is the greatest healer and psychological theorist of our time. Freud has discovered that the solution to our problems we may seek not only in rational thought and consciousness, but also in irrational drives and the unconscious. Freud came to the conclusion that in the process of psychoanalytical therapy the problems that seem permanently important to the patient vanished altogether. They vanished because their psychological sources had been diverted or dried up. The problems which appeared at once overwhelmingly important vanish from the patient s consciousness like evil dreams and trouble him no more. It consists in altering the outlook that gave the problem an opportunity to originate. The person that doubts the validity of political institutions is thereby relieved of his burden and freed to pursue socially useful task. It means that the role of the reason or the intellect is not so powerful as we habitually think. Berlin considers that this change of attitude to the function and value of the intellect perhaps is the best indication of the great gap which divided the twentieth century from the nineteenth.
As another important tendency Berlin analyses the socialism in the Soviet Union. He claims that the works of Karl Marx certainly were not responsible for Communist and Fascist states. Marx was typical nineteenth century social theorist, in the same sense as Mill, Comte or Buckle. He believed that many of the questions of his predecessors were quite genuine, and thought that he had solved them. Any nineteenth century thinker with respect for the sciences would regard with genuine horror the practice of Communist states. Berlin points out that Russian communist Plekhanov has said that if the revolution demanded it, everything democracy, liberty, the rights of the individual, happiness or even life must be sacrificed to it. Lenin accepted it easily and without apparent qualms and then began the coercion, violence, executions, total suppression of individual differences in the name of the highest ideals. I agree with Dostoevsky who has said that revolution starting from unlimited liberty ends in unlimited despotism. In Dostoevsky s Brothers Karamazov the Grand Inquisitor has said that what men dreaded most was freedom of choice, to be left alone to grope their way in the dark; and the church by lifting their responsibility from their shoulders made them willing, grateful and happy slaves. The Grand Inquisitor stood for the dogmatic organization of the life of the spirit. It seems tantamount to elimination of all alternatives as it was in the Soviet Union.
What is genuinely typical of our time is a new concept of the society, the values of which are analysable from some factual hypothesis or metaphysical dogma about history or race or national character. There is one and only one direction in which the history that embody impersonal forces or class structure, can develop. The cosmic forces are conceived omnipotent and indestructible. Only some elite can canalize these forces and control them. The task of these experts is to adjust human beings to these forces and to develop in them an unshakeable faith in the new order. Communists believed that proletariat has this eternal force in the class struggle. Berlin emphasizes that no body of men which has tasted the power or is within a short distance of doing so, can avoid a certain degree of cynism which is generated by the sharp contact between the pure ideal and its realization in some unpredicted form which seldom conforms to the hopes or fears of earlier times.
According to Berlin, Lenin himself was in certain respects oddly utopian. Lenin started with the egalitarian belief that with education and the rational economic organization, almost anyone could be brought in the end to perform almost any task efficiently. But his practice was strangely like that of those irrationalist reactionaries who believed that man was everywhere wild, bad, stupid and unruly, he demands a powerful leader. Such terms as truth or honour or obligation or beauty, become transformed into purely offensive or defensive weapons, used by the state or party. It was the suppression of whatever in the individual may raise doubt or assert itself against the single, all-embracing, all-satisfying plan. What Lenin demanded was unlimited power for a small body of professional revolutionaries, trained exclusively for one purpose. Lenin believed that democratic methods are ineffective. A man s beliefs, if Marx and Engels were right, flowed from the situation of his class and could not alter. The proper task of a revolutionary therefore was to prepare the class for its historical mission to be a dominant class. Lenin thought that the mass of the proletarians themselves are too benighted to grasp the role which history had called on them to play. According to him men could be saved by being ruthlessly ordered by leaders who had acquired a capacity for knowing how to organize the liberated slaves into a rational planned system. Today as the result of such regimes there is a loss of faith in existing political activities and ideals, and a desperate desire to live in a universe which however dull or flat was at any rate secure against the repetition of such catastrophes. An element of this is a growing sense of the greater or lesser meaninglessness of such ancient battle-cries as liberty or equality, or civilization, or truth. All the ancient political principles begin to vanish, feeble symbols of creeds are no longer relevant to the new realities. It leads to a noticeable growing lack of interests in long-term political issues.
Every situation calls for its own specific policy, since out of the crooked timber of humanity, as Kant once remarked, no straight thing was ever made. Berlin supposes what the age calls for is no more faith, or stronger leadership, or more scientific organization. Rather it is the opposite less Messianic adour, more enlightened scepticism, more toleration, more room for the attainment their personal ends by individuals and by minorities whose tastes and beliefs find little response among the majority. Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual or collective. Since no solution can be guaranteed against error, no disposition is final. And therefore toleration of a minimum inefficiency may allow more spontaneous, individual variation and will always be worth more than the neatest and most delicately fashioned imposed pattern.
Essay Three: Two Concepts of Liberty
In the political and philosophical thought Sir Berlin became famous with his two concepts of liberty. This essay is of a great importance in the development of political philosophy during the late twentieth century. Actually sometimes the twentieth century is called Berlin s century, because he saw our century as the century of the triumph of democracy and liberalism and that of the fall of totalitarianism. The liberal tradition is connected with the sense of negative liberty that is involved in the answer of the question What is the area within which the subject – a person or group of persons is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons? Socialism and totalitarianism is deeply connected with the sense of positive liberty which is involved in the answer of the question What or who is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do or to be this rather than that?
Let us analyze these two concepts of freedom in the light of Berlin s conception. First will be the notion of negative liberty.
1. In the foundation of the negative liberty there is a strict distinction between private life and public authority. It is said that one is free to the degree to which none interferes with his activity. In this case political liberty is the area within which man can act unobstructed by others. Private life is the opposite of public life. But we may ask: where are the limits of the public/ private? I guess we can not get a single clear answer to this question, because in many cases my private life and the public authority overlap, for example the destiny of my country is of a deep regard to me, my life and activities. Men are largely interdependent, and no man s activity is so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in any way.
2. The theory of negative liberty supposes that there exists a certain minimum of personal freedom that could not be contracted. Sometimes this minimum is called the human natural rights that are written in the constitution, they are human rights to freedom, life and property. Sometimes this minimum is acknowledged as a utility, or happiness, or categorical imperative, or social contract. The wider is the area of non-interference, the wider is my freedom. English political philosophers disagreed about how wide the area could or should be. They believed that it could not be unlimited, but they were sure that men s minimum needs must be satisfied. Consequently, it is assumed that the area of men s free action must be limited by law.
3. We may ask: is there a certain maximum of personal freedom? I guess in the tradition of liberal democracy there is no consensus on this issue. English political philosophers supposed that freedom could not be unlimited, because if it were, there would be a state in which all men could boundlessly interfere with all other men. This kind of natural freedom would lead to social chaos in which men s minimum needs would not be satisfied. They believed, with good reason, that individual liberty is an ultimate goal for human beings, and none should be deprived of it by others. Philosophers with an optimistic view of human nature and a belief in the possibility of harmonizing human interests such as Locke or Adam Smith and Mill believed that social harmony and progress were compatible with reserving a large area for private life over which neither the state nor any other authority must be allowed to trespass. They claimed that in the future the area for private life will be larger than today and we would not feel the authority of the state at all, but I believe that this theory is only a utopia that will never come true.
Berlin insists upon that human goals are so discrepant and can not harmonize with one another. Therefore there exist only one solution: try to do lesser harm to others, which actually means: try to find some compromise how we could live together, making our lives more comfortable. It means: try to live according the golden rule not to treat others as I should not wish them to treat me. Justice in its simplest and most universal sense – this is the foundation of liberal morality. If the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of other human beings, then the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral. We must preserve a minimum area of personal freedom if we are not to degrade or deny our nature . We cannot remain absolutely free and must give up some of our liberty to preserve the rest. Hobbes and Locke would say: according to social treaty we must give up some part of our liberty in order to live in security and prosperity. What then must the minimum be? That which a man cannot give up without offending against the essence of his human nature. What is this essence? What are the standards which it entails? This has been and perhaps always will be a matter of infinite debate. Berlin declares that unless men are left to live as they wish, civilization cannot advance, the truth will not come to light and there will be no scope for spontaneity, originality, genius, for mental energy, for moral courage.
This is liberty as it has been conceived by liberals in the modern world from the days of Erasmus to our own. Every protest against exploitation and humiliation springs from this individualistic and much disputed conception of man. Berlin notices three facts about this position: a) All coercion is bad as such, although it may apply to prevent other, greater evils. Men seek to discover the truth and to develop a certain type of character critical, original, imaginative, independent and so on -, but truth can be found and such character can be bred only in condition of freedom.
b) The relationship between individual liberty and the religious faith is very complicated. Christian (and Jewish or Moslem) belief in the absolute authority of divine or natural laws, or in the equality of all men in the sight of God, is very different from belief in freedom to live as one prefers. The ideal of individual liberty is a recent phenomenon in the Western history, it has appeared only in the Renaissance or the Reformation.
c) Liberty is not incompatible with some kinds of autocracy. The extent of my freedom seems to depend on how many possibilities are open to me. Self-government may on the whole provide a better guarantee of the preservation of civil liberties than other regimes, and has been defended as such by libertarians. But there is no necessary connexion between individual liberty and democratic rule. The answer to the question Who governs me? is logically distinct from the question How far does the government interfere with me?
Let us further look upon the notion of positive freedom: not freedom from, but freedom to to lead one prescribed form of life.
1.The positive sense of the word liberty derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master. I wish my life and decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of whatever kind. I wish to be somebody, not nobody; a doer deciding, but not being decided for. This is at least part of what I mean when I say that I am rational. Positive freedom as a self-mastery, is reasonable claim for each normal individual. It seems to me that in this essay Berlin criticizes positive liberty too much. Actually I can understand him, because it seems to me that he avoids from being called totalitarian (socialist or marxist).
2. Berlin quickly shows us the negative side of self-mastery: I am my own master ; I am slave to no man , but may I not be a slave to nature? Or to my own passions? Are these not the species of the identical genus slave some political or legal, others moral or spiritual? This dominant self sometimes is identified with reason, with my higher nature , which is contrasted to uncontrolled desires, my lower nature. The real self may be conceived as something wider than individual, as a social whole: a tribe, a race, a church, a state. Berlin stresses that the perils of using organic metaphors to justify the coercion of some men by others in order to raise them to a higher level of freedom have often been pointed out. It seems strange and unnatural to me to coerce men in the name of some goal (for example, justice and public health) which they would themselves pursue, if they were be more enlightened. Here rises the area of totalitarianism as it were in the form of fascism and communism. This monstrous impersonation, which consists in equating what X would choose if he were something he is not, or at least not yet, with what X actually seeks and chooses, is at the heart of all political theories of self-realization. But it seems to me that Berlin exaggerates the evils of political theories of self-realization (such as marxism) to much. Berlin criticizes the liberal T.H.Green, who in 1881 said that the ideal of true freedom is the maximum power for all the members of human society alike to make the best of themselves. Berlin says that Green was a genuine liberal: but many a tyrant could use this formula to justify his worst acts of oppression. In the end of his essay Berlin comes to the conclusion that conceptions of freedom directly derive from views of what constitutes a self, a person, a man. Enough manipulation with the definition of man and freedom can be made to mean whatever the manipulator wishes. Berlin emphasizes that this thesis is not merely theoretical, our history has turned it to reality. Quoting Berlin, what I may seek to avoid is simply being ignored, or patronized, or despised in short, not being treated as an individual, having my uniqueness insufficiently recognized, being classed as a member of a statistical unit without identifiable, human features and purposes of my own. This is the degradation that I am fighting against not equality of legal rights, nor liberty to do as I wish (although I may want these too), but for a condition in which I can feel that I am, because I am taken to be, a responsible agent, whose will is taken into consideration, even if I am attacked and persecuted for being what I am or choosing as I do .1 Berlin s wish simply to be understood and tolerated, or to be taken into account, seems to me sympathetic as a wish of every normal individual to be understood and recognized. Each individual feels happy if he is a member of the society that can recognize, understand and tolerate him. It is a reasonable demand: please understand
1Isaiah Berlin Four Essays on Liberty p.155 156.
me, as I understand you. What I am, is largely determined by what I feel and think, and if you do not tolerate what I say to you, then you do not tolerate me. In this essay Berlin is against paternalism. He even claims that paternalism is despotic, and explains this sentence in the following way: paternalism is an insult to my conception of myself as a human being, determined to make my own life in accordance with my own purposes. Each man has his specific character, abilities, aspirations, ends. Berlin believes in the pluralism of values as in the one and only reasonable solution how to attain the ideal of a tolerant and open society. According to Berlin, if the ends of men are many, and not all of them are in principle compatible with each other, then the possibility of conflict and of tragedy can never wholly be eliminated from human life, either personal or social. Pluralism with the measure of negative liberty seems to him a truer and more humane ideal than the goals of those who seeks in the great, disciplined, authoritarian structures the ideal of positive self-mastery by classes, or peoples, or the whole of mankind. It is truer, because it, at least, recognize the fact that human goals are many, not all of them commensurable. To assume that all values can be graded on one scale seems to Berlin to falsify our knowledge that men are free agents, it is more humane because it does not deprive men, in the name of some remote ideal. I suppose that we will see whether the idea of pluralism of values is capable to live or are there some other alternatives to a single all-embracing system of values. I would like to conclude my report with Kant s idea that out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.
Essay Four: Historical Inevitability
This essay originally was Auguste Comte Memorial Trust Lecture that was first read on 12 May 1953 at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, and published by the Oxford University Press in the following year. Berlin acknowledges that Comte is indeed worthy of commemoration and praise. Comte s views have affected the categories of our thought more deeply than is commonly supposed. Our view of the natural sciences, of the material basis of cultural evolution, of all that we call progressive, rational, enlightened, Western; our view of the relationships of institutions and of public symbolism and ceremonial to the emotional life of individuals and societies, and consequently our view of history itself, owes a good deal to his teaching and his influence. Comte is often known as the father of sociology, he demanded evidence, he fought many metaphysical and theological mythologies, some of which might have been with us still; he provided weapons in the war against the enemies of reason. Comte believed in the application of scientific canons of explanations in all fields: and saw no reason why they should not apply to relations of human beings as well as relations of things. He did not say that history was a kind of physics, but his conception of sociology was pointed in the scientific direction of one complete and all-embracing pyramid of scientific knowledge, one method, one truth and one scale of rational values. Berlin stresses that this craving for unity and symmetry at the expense of experience is naive. Berlin agrees with Bernard Berenson who has set down his thoughts on what he called the Accidental View of History : I believe less and less in these more than doubtful and certainly dangerous dogmas, which tend to make us accept whatever happens as irresistible to oppose. 1
In this essay Berlin tries to answer the questions: Do there exist any historical rules that are unalterable and unlimited? Who or what is (or will be or could be) responsible for a war, a revolution, an economic collapse, a renaissance of arts, a discovery or a spiritual transformation altering the lives of men? He admits that there exist personal and impersonal theories of history. On the one hand there are theories according to which the lives of peoples and societies have been decisively influenced by exceptional individuals (it was thought that some men played a more decisive role in the course of history than others). Alternatively, there are doctrines according to which what happens occurs as a result not of the wishes and purposes of identifiable individuals, but of those of large numbers of unspecified persons. Either way, it becomes the business of historians to investigate who wanted what, and when and where, in what way; how many men avoided or pursued this or that goal, and with what intensity; and further to ask under what circumstances such wants or fears have proved effective.
Against this kind of interpretation there is a cluster of views according to which the behavior of men is in fact made what it is by causes largely beyond the control of individuals. According to these views the actions of individuals are formed by the influence of physical factors or of environment or of custom: or by the natural growth of some larger unit a race, a nation, a class, a biological species. Some writers believed that there exists some entity which can be characterized even in less empirical terms a spiritual organism, a religion, a civilization, a Hegelian World Spirit that governs the march of history. This kind of impersonal interpretation of historical changes sets down that impersonal or trans-personal or super-personal entities or forces, whose evolution is identified with human history, have the ultimate responsibility for what happens. But we may argue that with this set of believes in mind individuals might feel no responsibility for their actions, and this leads us to the total irresponsible actions in the name of some higher ideal. They cannot accept that individuals living side by side compose civilizations or races or spirits of nations. For Schelling or Hegel or Spengler individuals remain abstract precisely because they are mere elements or aspects, moments artificially abstracted and literally without reality. Marx s and Marxists views are more ambiguous. Berlin points that we cannot be quite sure what to make of such category as social class whose emergence and struggles, victories and defeats form the lives of individuals sometimes against and most often independently of their conscious or expressed purposes. But actually classes are never proclaimed to be independent entities: classes are constituted by individuals in their mainly economic interaction. Men do as they do, and think as they think and history and development of classes cannot be studied independently of the biographies of their component individuals. But Carlyle, quite contrary, believed that Tradition and History are wiser than we and the great society of the dead, of our ancestors and of generations yet unborn has larger purposes than any single creature, purposes of which our lives are a puny fragment. He like many conservators believed that we belong to this larger unit with the deepest and perhaps least conscious parts of ourselves. What all such views have in common is the fundamental distinction between, on the one hand, real and objective and, on the other, subjective and arbitrary judgments. They believe that history is greater entity than ourselves and this entity lives its life and dies for its richer self-realization and doubt whether we are or are worth, anything at all. For Bossuet, for Hegel, for Marx, for Spengler this reality takes on the form of an objective march of history. This process may be thought of as being in time and space or beyond them or as being cyclical or spiral or as occurring in the form of peculiar zigzag movement. Sometimes this process is called dialectic or continuous or uniform or irregular, broken by sudden leaps to a new level. It can be characterized as due to the changing forms of one single force or as the history of one deity or force or principle, or of several. But whatever version of the story is accepted the moral of it is always one and the same: that we must learn to distinguish the real course of things from the dreams and fancies. At the very least if we cannot swallow the notion of super-personal spirits or forces we must admit that all events occur without any principles and rules. And without universal order a system of true laws how could history be intelligible? How could it make sense, have meaning, be more than an account of a succession of random episodes, a mere collection of old wives tales? Our values – what we think good and bad, important and trivial, right and wrong, noble and contemptible are conditioned by the place we occupy in the pattern on the moving stair. Such attitudes are held to be rational and objective to the degree to which we perceive this condition accurately, that is, to understand where we are in terms of the great world plan. But we often forget that each condition and generation has its own perspectives of the past and future, depending upon where it has arrived, what it has left behind, and whither it is moving. To condemn the Greeks or the Romans or the Assyrians or the Aztecs for this or that folly or vice may be no more than to say that what they did or wished or thought conflicts with our own view of life which may be the true or objective view for the stage which we have reached. If the Romans and the Aztecs judged differently from us, they may have judged no less well and truly and objectively to the degree to which they understood their own condition and their own very different stage of development. For us to condemn their scale of values is valid enough for our condition, which is the sole frame of references we have. And if they had known us they might have condemned us as harshly and, because their circumstances and values were what they inevitably were, with equal validity. According to this view there is nothing, no point of rest outside the general movement, where we or they can take up a stand, no static absolute standards in terms of which things and persons can be finally evaluated. The opposite attitude rests on the belief that everything is caused to occur as it does by the machinery of history itself by the impersonal forces of class, race, culture, History, Reason, The Life-Force, Progress, The Spirit of the Age. Berlin claims, the notion that history obeys laws, whether natural or supernatural, that every event of human life is an element in a necessary pattern, has deep metaphysical origins. In the first place, there is the teleological outlook whose roots reach back to the beginnings of human thought. It occurs in many versions, but what is common to them all is the belief that men and all living creatures and perhaps inanimate things as well have functions and pursue purposes. Every entity has a nature and pursues a specific goal which is natural to it, and the measure of its perfection consists in the degree to which it fulfils is. Evil, vice, imperfection, all the various forms of chaos and error are, on this view, forms of frustration and failures. On such view to say of things and persons that they exist is to say that they pursue goals. To say that persons exist and they really have a lack of purpose is to say something self-contradictory and therefore meaningless. Teleology is not a theory or a hypothesis, but a category or a framework in terms of which everything should be conceived and described. It enters, however unconsciously, into the thought and language of those who speak of the rise and fall of states or movements or classes or individuals as if they obeyed some irresistible natural or supernatural laws. Berlin emphasizes that historical movements exist and we must be allowed to call them so. Collective acts do occur, societies do rise, flourish, decay, die. Patterns, atmospheres, complex relationships of men or cultures are what they are. Rhythms of history occur, but it is a sinister symptom of one s condition to speak of them as inexorable. Cultures possess patterns, and ages spirits, but to explain human actions as their inevitable consequences or expressions is to be a victim of misuse of words.
Teleology is not the only metaphysics of history. There is a second, no less time-honoured view according to which there is – not goals, which explain and justify whatever happens – but a timeless, permanent, transcendental reality, above, or outside or beyond, which is as it is forever, in perfect, inevitable, self-explaining harmony. This theory tries to explain the underlying pattern of the events of history. The ideal now is a self-consistent, eternal, ultimate structure of reality. Visible world has been thought as of an appearance, a feeble shadow, but its origins, cause, explanation and justification is in an ideal harmonious reality. The relation of this reality to the world of appearances forms the subject-matter of all the parts of true philosophy of ethics, aesthetics, logic, of the philosophy of history and of laws and of politics. The central issue of them remains one and the same Reality and Appearance. To understand truly is to understand it and it alone.
What both these concepts have in common is the notion that to explain is to subsume under general formulae, so that with knowledge of all the relevant laws and of a sufficient range of relevant facts, it will be possible to tell not merely what happens, but also why. But Berlin criticizes these concepts and offers us the modern concept of history pluralism and the variety of views. Berlin claims that all standards are relative. Quoting Berlin, we are what we are, and when we are and where we are; and when we are historians, we select and emphasize, interpret and evaluate, reconstruct and present facts, as we do, each in his own way .1 There is no hard and fast line between subjective and objective, of course it does not follow that there is no such line at all. No doubt some concepts and categories are more universal than others, but they are not therefore objective in some absolutely clear sense. Objective , true , fair are words of large content, their uses are many, their edges often blurred. Ambiguities and confusions are always possible and often dangerous. We shall not condemn the Middle Ages simply because they fell short of the moral or intellectual standards of the revolutionary intelligence of Paris in the eighteenth century, or denounce these latter because in their turn they earned the disapprobation of moral bigots in England in the nineteenth or in America in the twentieth century. We can add: other times, other standards. Nothing is absolute and unchanging, time and chance alter all things. Surely it is not necessary to dramatize these simple truths, which are now too familiar, in order to remember that the purposes, the ultimate ends of life pursued by men are many, even within one culture and generation. Some of these goals come into conflict, and lead to clashes between societies, parties and individuals. The ends of one age and country differ widely from those of other times and other outlooks. We should recognize that not all good things are necessary compatible with one another and we should seek to comprehend the changing ideas of culture, peoples, classes and individuals without asking which are right, which wrong.
1 Isaiah Berlin Four Essays On Liberty p. 87.