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ISAIAH BERLIN'S ANTI-REDUCTIONISM: THE MOVE FROM SEMANTIC TO NORMATIVE PERSPECTIVES

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Abstract:

Against the standard reading of Isaiah Berlin's thought that drives a wedge between his early and subsequent work, this article suggests that his late normative anti-reductionism has roots in the early writings on meaning, semantics and truth. Berlin's anti-reductionist objection to logical positivists in the realm of semantics evince a sensitivity to reductionism, a recognition of the irreducibility of propositional meaning, a plea for the embededness of language in a temporal continuum, an anti-dualist call, and a celebration of the plural and open-ended character of propositions, all of which keep broad affinity with his mature value pluralism in ethics and politics. The unity of concerns in Berlin's work brings about two implications. First, it sheds light on the fact that Berlin's ethical and political pluralism rests on views about semantics and ontology as well. Second, it offers a basis on which to deflect some current moral realist readings of his value pluralism, offering instead a history-laden understanding of his pluralism that provides more compelling grounds to understand the relationship between the latter and liberalism in Berlin's work.

Keywords: Isaiah Berlin; anti-reductionism; incomparability; liberalism; moral realism; pluralism; sense of reality; value incommensurability; value objectivity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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