Introduction: pluralism and the Greeks
1. PLURALISM IN HISTORY To chart the course of pluralism is not a straightforward task. Isaiah Berlin devoted much of his career as a historian of ideas to chronicling and combating the hegemony in Western theory of pluralism’s great rival, monism. But what we know about the development of pluralism itself—that is to say, which thinkers and which ages can safely or ﬁrmly be placed in the pluralist ‘camp’—lacks a comparable certainty. In this way, Berlin sought to draw attention to pluralism as it featured in history: the rare and ﬂeeting challenger to the giant of monism, the David to monism’s Goliath. By focusing on the relationship between monism and pluralism and, more particularly, on the disproportionate prevalence of monism in comparison with pluralism, Berlin was able not only to illustrate the uniqueness of the pluralist perspective but to underline the normative importance in identifying it. From the birth of philosophical speculation over two-and-a-half millennia ago, he tells us, there emerged a thought-pattern which was to dominate the way people would conceive of themselves, the world, and their relationship to it. It was a thought-pattern which would become an unparalleled intellectual and spiritual driving-force. Central to this pattern is the idea that there exists a single and harmonious order to the universe—a ‘cosmic jigsaw puzzle’—that it is the goal of human affairs somehow to reﬂect. Berlin recognized that this idea and the broader outlook it inspired rested on three fundamental assumptions: that to all genuine questions there is only one answer—this is truth; that true answers to such questions are, in principle, knowable; and that these true answers cannot clash
with one another.1 On the matter of whether such questions could be answered, in practice, by imperfect men (who were, at different times, too weak, too ignorant or too wicked to do so), of the right place to look... [continues]
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