Friday, November 25, 2011

Insight into Russian Authors

Russian Thinkers (Penguin Philosophy)
Russian Thinkers 

“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

Classic work on Russian literature and ideas. Included in his excellent collection of essays, Russian Thinkers, Isaiah Berlin has a fascinating essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox. In this essay Berlin uses the distinction found in a fragment of the poet Archilocus that argues that there are two types of thinkers: Hedgehogs, who know one big thing and foxes, who know many things. Berlin goes on to categorize the great thinkers of the ages into groups based on this distinction. Hedgehogs like Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal and Dostoevsky versus foxes like Shakespeare, Herodotus, Aristotle, Goethe and Balzac. He goes on to attempt to classify Tolstoy and analyze his view of history. It is a worthy task and I will recommend to all that they read the essay and decide for themselves what Berlin succeeds in accomplishing with all his analysis. It is essays like this one that document the seriousness of the thought of Isaiah Berlin. The essays include ones on other Russian luminaries, including Alexander Herzen, Belinsky, Tolstoy, Bakunin, and the populists (including Chernyshevsky). His insight into Russian authors like Turgenev is magnificent. This is a delightful collection of essays.

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