Abstract

1Discussing the intellectual legacy of Isaiah Berlin, this dissertation offers an interpretation that stresses the concepts of objective pluralism and negative versus positive freedom as central elements in Berlin’s thought. In so doing it provides crucial revisions of two core concepts in contemporary philosophy.

2This study firstly suggests to re-interpret Berlin’s concept of freedom by rejecting the notion of positive freedom as “mis-naming”. Such a reading of freedom, which must be understood as a negator of obstacles and a private sphere characterized by insufficient determination, transcends Thomas Hobbes’ notion of non-frustrating freedom – without the overstretching common in Republicanism and Pure Negativism. Unlike material concepts of freedom that draw on notions of Good Life, the first part reconstructs an interpretation of individual freedom that builds upon and goes beyond the historical Berlin.

3Secondly Berlin’s concept of objective pluralism is analyzed in a way that understands any value as one among other values which can come into unresolvable conflict since actors have to choose (or justify their choosing) between incommensurable and incomparable values. This dissertation constitutes a much-needed modification of Berlin’s concept of pluralism by adapting impulses from contemporary discourse on vagueness. At the same time the break with anthropological essentialism renders redundant fears about the amalgamation of pluralism and relativism that also haunted Berlin.

4Based on these two reconstructions, the dissertation scrutinizes whether–as Berlin insisted–an ethical stance of pluralism might strengthen the position of liberalism within political philosophy. In a conclusive view into the future the dissertation finally explores contemporary fields of debate around liberalism, perfectionism, and participation–not least of all in order to highlight new varieties of paternalisms in analytic philosophy which have replaced earlier debates with communitarianism.