Thinking Like A Fox

Sixty years ago Isaiah Berlin published his famous essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” in which he declared, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Robert Zaretsky believes the philosopher should be counted among the foxes:

His landmark essays in political thought, particularly on the notions of negative and positive liberty, as well as his critique of historical determinism, reveal Berlin’s attachment to the values of pluralism. Not only do the variety and density of historical and human experience undermine any effort to reduce them to a solitary truth, he declares, but there is also a variety of ways of attempting to understand those experiences. In his essay “Historical Inevitability,” he is categorical about the wrongheadedness of believing that there is just one legitimate category: “The same facts can be arranged in more than one pattern, seen from several perspectives, displayed in many lights.”

Levi Asher complicates this argument:

[W]e can be foxes and hedgehogs on many levels at once, and I think Zaretsky calcifies the distinction when he suggests that a pluralist must be a fox. I think the determining factor between a hedgehog and a fox has more to do with a person’s style of thinking than with their metaphysical beliefs. … In one sense, as Zaretsky emphasizes in his article, a hedgehog is a monist and a fox is a pluralist. But in another sense, a hedgehog is simply single-minded about something, anything, while a fox exists in a passive mental state, observing and reacting rather than projecting a strong vision of reality.