The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History

The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History

A New York Times Notable Book of the YearIsaiah Berlin's The Sense of Reality contains an important body of previously unknown work by one of our century's leading historians of ideas, and one of the finest essayists writing in English.

Reviews of the The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History

Procede con mobilissima, affascinante divagazione erudita che non tralascia niente, nessun aspetto del pensiero e dell'immaginazione, che si tratti di Machiavelli o di Vico, di Herzen o di Kant, di Tolstoj o di Hamann, dell'impegno dell'artista nella Russia dell'Ottocentoo o della genesi del Nazionalismo, di Giuseppe Verdi o del dilemma liberale in Turgenev, Isaiah Berlin si oppone alla sragione e allo stesso tempo mostra le cose come sono con tutte le loro implicazioni. Suggerisco i volumi, "Il riccio e la volpe" in cui è contenuto lo straordinario saggio su Tolstoj e le sue ansie tragiche, "Controcorrente" in cui sono contenuti i saggi su Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Hume, Herzen (il pensatore più affine a Berlin), "Il legno storto dell'umanità", "Il senso della realtà".

To give you an idea of my thoughts, let me post some notes I made about the last portion of the title essay, "The Sense of Reality" : Here, Berlin summarizes the European revolutionaries profound failure: (p. Since there is manifestly too much information about any given society for any individual or small group to be able to master and direct effectively, we can reasonably assume that these revolutionaries erred by attempting to direct their efforts guided by only the most obvious facts about the people they were trying to lead. By ignoring the existence of the vast oceans of facts (as described above by Berlin) about social life that they had little or no access to, they guaranteed their own failure. The revolutionaries might not notice at first, but its only a matter of time before these unmapped regions forcibly impact those obvious ones, and events take an entirely new, and generally very violent turn. Thats when the revolutionaries start turning the screws, attempting to force the people into the revolutionary mold. We can see this occur every time the revolutionaries decry the forces of reaction that are sabotaging the revolution. At this point, the revolution, in the sense of becoming something genuinely new and improved, creating a social space where people can live more freely, it instead ceases and simply becomes a coup detat, a power struggle. He is the one who wields not only technical knowledge but human understanding as he seeks a good answer to current political problems. of the unaccountable infinitesimals of which individual and social life is composed A statesman has a strong sense of these in the form of unspoken tacit knowledge and understanding. They assume that simplifying explanations of complex human realities exist. Berlin insists that human reality is far more complex than that which both revolutionaries and traditionalists take it to be. 35) And, that sense of reality is utterly dependent upon our respect for the utterly inexhaustibly numerous particulars of human life. Hayek made the same argument against the 19th century positivists in his The Counter-Revolution of Science. We are assuming certain forces will be too strong for the would-be revolutionaries, that they will be stopped, that they cannot succeed against them. Recognizing TMI and its impact on human life is exactly the same thing as having a good strong sense of reality in Berlins sense of the phrase. Berlin points out that historical forces too great to be resisted simply means that almost all the things that millions of people say and do and know are in fact unknown to us and unknowable by us, and cant be accounted for in any model of human society we may have occasion to construct. 39) fanciful, pseudo-scientific histories and theories of human behavior, abstract and formal at the expense of the facts, and to revolutions and wars and ideological campaigns conducted on the basis of dogmatic certainty about their outcome--vast misconceptions which have cost the lives, liberty and happiness of a great many innocent human beings.

The title essay discusses the limitations on what can be learned in the study of history. The essay starts out using Stalin and Hitler as examples of the fallacy of the idea that there is some type of human progress in history. Marx may have had some good insights but when his ideas were supposedly put into practice the results he predicted did not come about. Much of Berlin's writing focuses on the effect of the Romantic movement on Western thought. I have been reading on a book by Berlin titled The Romantic Revolution. Berlin wrote an excellent biography on Marx which I have read and enjoyed. Berlin shows step by step how Marx created an ideology that became the weapon for the working class in their struggle against the capitalist exploiter. It helped to create a better world for the working class that lessened their misery and in most countries eliminated the need for the revolution Marx predicted. Marx used his great insights into industrial society to predict a world that never came to pass. In an essay on nationalism Berlin writes "a craving for recognition has grown to be more powerful than any other force today." My first thought was that this idea is applicable to the individual as well as society. In Berlin's essay he talks about how this idea motivates the struggle of small nations and minorities all over the world. Every word in his writing has a purpose and you must read the book for yourself and develop your own conclusions.

In particular, two essays - one on romanticism and another on nationalism - helped me understand the effect of Kant's ideas on the events of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Maybe my mind is no longer interested in the subjects covered by this book. But I didn't like this book and I got bored with it and couldn't finish it.

The greatest book to read if you want to know about history of philosophy, politics, humanity, and civilisation.

Berlin is best known for his essay Two Concepts of Liberty, delivered in 1958 as his inaugural lecture as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. Berlin associated positive liberty with the idea of self-mastery, or the capacity to determine oneself, to be in control of one's destiny. This became politically dangerous when notions of positive liberty were, in the nineteenth century, used to defend nationalism, self-determination and the Communist idea of collective rational control over human destiny. Berlin argued that, following this line of thought, demands for freedom paradoxically become demands for forms of collective control and discipline those deemed necessary for the "self-mastery" or self-determination of nations, classes, democratic communities, and even humanity as a whole. There is thus an elective affinity, for Berlin, between positive liberty and political totalitarianism.

  • English

  • Philosophy

  • Rating: 4.06
  • Pages: 304
  • Publish Date: December 26th 1998 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Isbn10: 0374525692
  • Isbn13: 9780374525699