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Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment$
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Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198783930

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.001.0001

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Berlin’s Conception of the Enlightenment

Berlin’s Conception of the Enlightenment

(p.35) 2 Berlin’s Conception of the Enlightenment
Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment

Laurence Brockliss

Ritchie Robertson

Oxford University Press

This chapter frames Berlin’s conception of the Enlightenment within his academic career in Oxford, first at All Souls, then New College, then at All Souls again, and finally at Wolfson College. It shows how his conception of the Enlightenment as well-intentioned but over-systematic was consolidated during the cold war, especially in his 1952 lectures ‘Freedom and its Betrayal’, and was finally formed by 1965. Its origins are found in the 1930s, when Berlin’s study of Marx led him to the account of the philosophes given by Plekhanov. Hence the strangely one-sided character of Berlin’s Enlightenment, which increasingly becomes a foil to his ‘Counter-Enlightenment’. However, his positive conception of the Enlightenment received practical expression through his founding of Wolfson, a college which, unlike All Souls, was to be open to the outside world, to welcome both sciences and humanities, and to provide a space for free intellectual conversation.

Keywords:   Helvétius, Holbach, Herder, All Souls, Wolfson College

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