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Isaiah Berlin
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Philosopher
    (June 6, 1909-November 5, 1997)
    Born in Riga, Latvia
    Philosopher and political theorist
    Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford (1957-67)
    First president of Wolfson College, Oxford (1965-75)
    Wrote ‘Freedom and Its Betrayal’ (1952), ‘The Age of Enlightenment: The Eighteenth Century Philosophers’ (1956), ‘Four Essays on Liberty’ (1969), ‘Concepts and Categories: Political Essays’ (1978), ‘Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas’ (1979) and ‘Personal Impressions’ (1980)
    Named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1946)
    Knighted (1957)
    Awarded the Order of Merit (1971)
    He argued that complete freedom and complete equality were incompatible and therefore utopia was unobtainable even in theory.
    He said of his influential essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ (which divided writers and thinkers into ‘hedgehogs’ who analyzed the world in terms of a single defining idea and ‘foxes’ who drew on a wide variety of experiences), ‘I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of intellectual game, but it was taken seriously.’
    He complained that his students were ‘dull and polite and spiritless.’
    He said his fast-paced speaking style was a result of nerves: he wanted to get his lectures over with as quickly as possible.
    He said that unlike other philosophers, he had no disciples – and did not want any.
    He was fluent in Russian, English, French, German and Italian, and could read Latin and Ancient Greek.
    While serving at the British embassy in Washington, DC, during World War II, he provided a weekly summary of American opinion that was Winston Churchill’s favorite report to read.
    He said even the most complex ideas should be expressible in simple terms and direct language.
    Fellow Oxford Professor Jerry Cohen said, ‘He was the most effervescent person one could know…. There was nobody who disliked him. They couldn’t.’

Credit: C. Fishel


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