Three Revolutions in Thought

From Isaiah Berlin, “the Sense of Reality”,  The Romantic Revolution.

Berlin identifies 2 turning points in the thinking of western man. What are they?

  1. After the death of Aristotle, the emergence of thinking that the inner man was separate from the public figure.  It was a move from the outer to the inner man, the political to the ethical
  2. From the writings of Machiavelli that political values are distinct from and incompatible with moral values. One had to choose, and in order to prosper in a state, one could not choose the moral
  3. The romantic revolution that arose in the late 18th century that challenged whether questions of truth and validity  were answerable. One valued great motives, even if they lead to great suffering.

Is this a trend? Minimize the public man in favor of private ethics. Then minimize the public ethos in favor of great results made possible by the “great” leader. Then minimize the public results in favor of the private intentions. Step by step, we move away from a system of public accountability. in favor of individual freedom.

Berlin was greatly fascinated by the notion of indeterminate questions, and his essay on the romantic revolution gets into this in some detail. I will follow up in posts to this blog. Stay tuned!


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