Isaiah Berlin Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Berlin, Isaiah, and Ramin Jahanbegloo. Conversations with Isaiah Berlin. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992. In a question-and-answer format, Berlin discusses a wide range of topics, including his personal history, intellectual development, and opinions on philosophy and philosophers. Berlin’s responses to questions on such topics as “two kinds of liberty” are direct and lucid, and the biographical sections, especially those dealing with Berlin’s life as a young boy in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, are fascinating.

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, ed. Challenges to Democracy: Essays in Honour and Memory of Isaiah Berlin. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. A tribute. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Galipeau, Claude. Isaiah Berlin’s Liberalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A thoughtful consideration of Berlin’s version of liberalism and how it differs from and yet is linked to the traditions of classical liberalism. Galipeau is especially good at placing Berlin’s thought in relationship to modern world politics, the excesses of which were often in direct, if not brutal, conflict with his more humane and humanitarian stance.

Gray, John. Isaiah Berlin. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996. A thoughtful examination of Berlin’s belief in the existence of values that while different are equally important. The central thesis of the book is that Berlin’s work is based on a principle that might be called “value-pluralism,” meaning that ultimate human values are objective but diverse and may often conflict.

Ignatieff, Michael. Isaiah Berlin: A Life. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998. A biography. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Lilla, Mark, Ronald Dworkin, and Robert Silvers, eds. The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin. New York: New York Review Books, 2001. Examines Berlin’s contributions in political science.

Margalit, Edna, and Avishai Margalit, eds. Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991. This collection draws together essays that touch on the wide range of Berlin’s interests, from opera to political science to philosophy. Although a number of the pieces included here are valuable, the essay by celebrated legal scholar Ronald Dworkin on “Two Concepts of Liberty” is especially illuminating for those wishing to understand the full impact of Four Essays on Liberty.

Ryan, Alan, ed. The Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honor of Isaiah Berlin. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1979. A useful collection of essays that shed light on Berlin’s philosophy of history and his views on the history of philosophy.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207219-Berlin.jpg Isaiah Berlin Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In writings that earned for him a position as one of the most remarkable political thinkers of his age, Isaiah Mendelevich Berlin demonstrated an unusual and sweeping grasp of related disciplines, summoning intellectual history, moral philosophy, and literary criticism to support an essentially liberal view of historical and social values in the twentieth century. Berlin was born in 1909 in Riga, Latvia, when that country was part of the Russian Empire; his parents were Jewish, and his father, Mendel Berlin, was a prosperous timber merchant. Early impressions of Russian life may have affected Isaiah Berlin’s cultural proclivities, but in 1920 his family settled in England.

After attending St. Paul’s School in London, Berlin received a scholarship that allowed him to enroll at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He graduated with first-class honors in two subjects, and in 1932 he became a Fellow of All Souls College. He began his teaching career as a lecturer in philosophy at New College. By that time, he had already published some short articles, including music reviews; among subsequent essays were studies of induction and philosophical verification.

Although he did not at this stage feel impelled to produce academic writings in quantity, Berlin found the company of other scholars and thinkers both congenial and stimulating. It would seem that he considered the companionship of J. L. Austin, an analytical philosopher, diverting and rewarding; when other commitments did not impinge upon them, he and Austin spent hours at a time, day and night, pondering the relative merits of logical positivism, linguistic analysis, and other movements that had transformed their discipline. Other concerns were also significant to Berlin, and in his full-length work Karl Marx: His Life and Environment he set forth the philosophical sources for the ideas of the well-known socialist thinker. As an intellectual biography, this study is regarded by many as provocative and useful, though some critics have reproached Berlin for neglecting the economic elements of Marx’s theories.

Berlin spent much of World War II in the United States; in 1941, he was assigned to a branch of the British Information Service in New York, and during the four years that followed he served as first secretary of the British embassy in Washington, D.C. He was, in effect, charged with evaluating information about political developments and America’s intentions during the conflict, and he composed working drafts of the great majority of dispatches that were received in London from this office. The quality of Berlin’s reports was widely recognized by members of the wartime government, including, it has been said, Winston Churchill, and indeed, in 1946 Berlin was made Commander, Order of the British Empire.

Because of his background and his knowledge of Russian, Berlin was also called into service for a certain period in 1945-1946 at the British embassy in Moscow; during his travels, he met important writers such as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova. A return visit to the Soviet Union, in 1956, fortified Berlin in his convictions that literary and cultural traditions remained vital matters under the Soviet state. Upon his resumption of university work, Berlin returned to Oxford; in 1949, he became a visiting professor at Harvard University, where he lectured during subsequent terms as well. Other appointments of...

(The entire section is 1400 words.)