Thursday, March 18, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Four Essays on Liberty

I just finished Four Essays on Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, a collection of his essays on liberty (obviously) with a long introduction (longer than at least one of the collected essays) refuting criticisms of his positions. The edition I read is ancient (Oxford University Press, 1969), and falling apart, but has that used bookstore smell about it that I love.

Very enjoyable, but hard work. The prose is lucid and deliciously dense, but therefore demanding of great concentration. This is the kind of book that requires multiple readings to digest. Highlights were the essays on determinism and John Stuart Mill. Berlin pretty neatly demolishes determinism and makes a cogent case for human free will. The Mill essay put Mill's thinking into some semblance of perspective for me--ignorant me. The essay on positive and negative notions of liberty was also interesting and what initially attracted me to the book, which I purchased years ago in Tokyo. It only took me about 15 years to get around to it.... Recommended (if you enjoy this sort of thing).

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