Isaiah Berlin: Liberalism and pluralism in theory and practice

Contemporary Political Theory 8 (3):295-316 (2009)


One of the most pressing dilemmas of the moment concerns pluralism and the issue of justification: how does one defend a commitment to any particular position? The fear is that pluralism undercuts our ability to justify our moral and political views, and thereby leads to relativism. As I argue here, Isaiah Berlin provides an exemplary argument concerning the ties between pluralism and liberalism. Although Berlin admits there is no logical link between pluralism and liberalism, he nevertheless highlights plausible ties between pluralism and the fields of philosophy, history and politics, all of which provide good reasons for him to endorse liberalism. Moreover, these arguments indicate how pluralism differs from relativism, so that pluralists such as Berlin are not guilty of the charge of moral subjectivism. A reconsideration of Berlin's position thus provides insight into the problem of justification in a pluralist condition, one that illuminates certain features of pluralism, as well as exemplifies its compatibility with liberalism

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Jason Ferrell
Mount Allison University

References found in this work

Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.Richard Rorty - 1989 - The Personalist Forum 5 (2):149-152.

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Citations of this work

Enlightenment Liberalism and the Challenge of Pluralism.Matthew Jones - 2012 - Dissertation, Canterbury Christ Church University
Isaiah Berlin.Joshua Cherniss - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Limits of Liberal Tolerance.Thomas Mulligan - 2015 - Public Affairs Quarterly 29 (3):277-295.

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