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Three Critics of the Enlightenment [Paperback]

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Pages   382
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.22" Width: 6.13" Height: 0.97"
Weight:   1.2 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 11, 2000
Publisher   Princeton University Press
ISBN  0691057273  
EAN  9780691057279  

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Isaiah Berlin was deeply admired during his life, but his full contribution was perhaps underestimated because of his preference for the long essay form. The efforts of Henry Hardy to edit Berlin's work and reintroduce it to a broad, eager readership have gone far to remedy this. Now, Princeton is pleased to return to print, under one cover, Berlin's essays on Vico, Hamann, and Herder. These essays on three relatively uncelebrated thinkers are not marginal ruminations, but rather among Berlin's most important studies in the history of ideas. They are integral to his central project: the critical recovery of the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment and the explanation of its appeal and consequences--both positive and (often) tragic.

Giambattista Vico was the anachronistic and impoverished Neapolitan philosopher sometimes credited with founding the human sciences. He opposed Enlightenment methods as cold and fallacious. J. G. Hamann was a pious, cranky dilettante in a peripheral German city. But he was brilliant enough to gain the audience of Kant, Goethe, and Moses Mendelssohn. In Hamann's chaotic and long-ignored writings, Berlin finds the first strong attack on Enlightenment rationalism and a wholly original source of the coming swell of romanticism. Johann Gottfried Herder, the progenitor of populism and European nationalism, rejected universalism and rationalism but championed cultural pluralism.

Individually, these fascinating intellectual biographies reveal Berlin's own great intelligence, learning, and generosity, as well as the passionate genius of his subjects. Together, they constitute an arresting interpretation of romanticism's precursors. In Hamann's railings and the more considered writings of Vico and Herder, Berlin finds critics of the Enlightenment worthy of our careful attention. But he identifies much that is misguided in their rejection of universal values, rationalism, and science. With his customary emphasis on the frightening power of ideas, Berlin traces much of the next centuries' irrationalism and suffering to the historicism and particularism they advocated. What Berlin has to say about these long-dead thinkers--in appreciation and dissent--is remarkably timely in a day when Enlightenment beliefs are being challenged not just by academics but by politicians and by powerful nationalist and fundamentalist movements.

The study of J. G. Hamann was originally published under the title "The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism." The essays on Vico and Herder were originally published as "Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas." Both are out of print.

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More About Isaiah Berlin & Henry Hardy

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. A fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, he was the author of many books, including "Against the Current," "The Crooked Timber of Humanity," and "The Roots of Romanticism" (all Princeton). Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin's literary trustees. He has edited several other volumes by Berlin, and is currently preparing Berlin's letters and remaining unpublished writings for publication.

Isaiah Berlin was born in 1909 and died in 1997 and has an academic affiliation as follows - All Souls College, Oxford Oxford University Oxford University Oxford U.

Isaiah Berlin has published or released items in the following series...
  1. A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
(Addition to my already posted review)  Feb 4, 2001
Following that dictum, I might point out that, especially in two areas of contemporary concern, Hamann's thought is highly relevant: Oswald Bayer has shown in Autoritaet und Kritik (1991) that Hamann's hermeneutics -- antedating by two centuries Derrida's reflections on intertextuality -- provides the basis for a devastating critique of deconstruction by subverting the French thinker's concept of the "center," and demonstrating where the true center ("Mitte") is to be located. Further, there is presently a lively discussion among scholars of Hamann's critique of Kant's famous essay: "What is Enlightenment"? Berlin's present study would have done more justice to Hamann's thought by discussing such developments as these and others, which were available during his lifetime.
"The Magus of the North" in THREE CRITICS  Oct 13, 2000
My review is limited to the study of Johann Georg Hamann in the present volume, and the three star rating applies to it alone. Combining Isaiah Berlin's books on Vico, Hamann and Herder under one cover was a felicitous idea of Berlin's editor and literary executor Henry Hardy. The position which these thinkers share: their anti-Cartesianism, their emphasis on history, tradition, language and mythology may now be seen through the considerably different lenses they employ. I feel compelled, however, to register a caveat. When the present Hamann study appeared in book form in 1993, I expressed my reservations about it in a letter to the "New York Review of Books," to which Berlin replied. I lamented the fact that he had ignored modern Hamann scholarship, and had clung to the interpretation of Hamann as an irrationalist, especially that espoused by Rudolf Unger in his 1911 book,"Hamann und die Aufklaerung,"ignoring modern discussions of the "dialectic of the Enlightenment." Specialists in the field now consider Unger's interpretation outdated, and see Hamann as a champion of one side of the Enlightenment, albeit a severe critic of its other, extremely rationalistic, side.

The question of Hamann's relation to the Enlightenment turns on the conception of reason. I have maintained that Hamann employed a mode of reason distinct from that of the rationalistic Enlighteners as well as from that of his friendly adversary,Kant. In order to designate that mode, I adopted a term once used by Kant in referring to Hamann's thought,i.e., "intuitive reason," or, in the original German, "anschauende Vernunft." I accepted the term as an apt one for Hamann's mode of thought, however Kant felt about it. Further, I have demonstrated how it can be linguistically distinguished from the traditional logico-mathematical mode of thought in my book "The Quarrel of Reason with Itself"(1988),and elsewhere. It is one which Berlin rightly sees as akin to Dilthey's "verstehen," which Berlin also rejects. He lists a group of philosophers whose conception of reason matches his own: Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, Franz von Brentano, William James, Bertrand Russell and the "Vienna Circle." Most of these thinkers are about as far removed from any kind of "verstehen" as possible. Who then, besides Hamann, may be said to have employed what I have called "intuitive reason"? The prime examples are the great epistemological heirs of Hamann: Goethe and Nietzsche. Goethe belongs here because of his refusal to analyze the "Urphaenomen." Hence, his anti-Newtonian stance. Nietzsche, especially in "Zarathustra," which I have analyzed closely from the standpoint of intuitive reason in "Nietzsche and the Judaeo-Christian Tradition"(1985).

Having stated my reservations concerning Berlin's interpretation of Hamann, I must say, however, that we can be grateful that he has helped mightily to rescue that German philosopher from the obscurity to which he has been unjustly relegated by those who remain under the spell of the strictly rationalistic wing of the Enlightenment. Berlin, in spite of his basic lack of empathy with Hamann, not only recognized his importance, but was always fascinated by him. He was an early and enthusiastic subscriber to "The Hamann News-Letter," which I edited and published in the early 195O's and 196O's. Further, his correspondence with me regarding Hamann over a period of three and a half decades shows an unflagging interest in the man who both attracted and repelled him. In a letter to me of June 25,1972, he wrote: "My passion for Hamann is undiminished." Not too surprisingly, there are certain passages in the present book in which Berlin seems, unwittingly, to move toward a certain degree of empathy,hence to a kind of "verstehen." But such passages are few, and many others are unjustly harsh. Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings, Berlin's study of Hamann is valuable for introducing the reader, especially the anglophone reader, to the historically important pre-Romantic figure, known as "The Magus of the North," without whom the development of German Romanticism would be unthinkable, and whose insights increasingly bear fruit today, especially in theology and philosophy. As Berlin has said: "Hamann repays study."


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