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Thursday, April 3, 2003

Doomed to choose.

Do you have a favorite philosopher? When I was in college, I fell madly under the spell of Alfred North Whitehead, the British metaphysician and philosopher of science. But lately I'm into Isaiah Berlin, the British political philosopher. (Someday I'll try to figure out how they overlap, if at all. One thing is clear: I like off-to-the-side British philosophers!) But in the midst of a very busy week, here's a favorite passage from Berlin's essay "The Pursuit of the Ideal" (1988):

The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution, in which all good things coexist, seems to me to be not merely unattainable — that is a truism — but conceptually incoherent; I do not know what is meant by a harmony of this kind. Some among the Great Goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss. Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of their leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakeable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possible doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of forms of self-induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human.

From The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, ed. by Henry Hardy (Princeton, 1990): 13-14.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 3 April 2003 at 5:39 PM

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