Berlins frihetsbegrepp och värdeteori

Några spridda anteckningar:

De tankar som Isaiah Berlin uttryckte i brevet till George Kennan har en kantiansk, upplysningsliberal ton i högre grad än vad som brukar förknippas med Berlin. Bör bilden av honom förändras i denna riktning?

Två som tycker det är George Crowder och Joshua Cherniss. I båda deras bidrag i volymen The One and the Many: Reading Isaiah Berlin (Crowder & Hardy 2007) påpekas att ofta misstolkas Berlins ”Two Concepts of Liberty” till att betyda ett ensidigt ställningstagande för negativ frihet. Positiv frihet är inte ett fullständigt falskt eller värdelöst frihetsbegrepp; Berlins huvudpoäng är att det så enkelt kan missbrukas, förvanskas och användas för att legitimera förtryck (Crowder 2007, s. 228).

Joshua Cherniss studie av Berlins tidiga politiska filosofi visar också att Berlin ”was less straightforwardly wedded to the ’negative’ concept, and more sympathetic to some elements of the ’positive’ conception, than many readings of TCL suggest.” Dessa tidiga texter visar på en större sympati för ”the idea of autonomy (defined not as rule by reason or self-given law, but as ability independently to set the direction of one’s own life)”. (Cherniss 2007, 95)

Denna idé om autonomi uttrycks klart i Berlins sätt att legitimera utbildning av barn i brevet till Kennan. Ett brev som enligt Cherniss visar på . . .

. . . the influence on Berlin of Kantian ethics, which his later emphasis on pluralism has tended to obscure. Berlin was never an adherent of Kant’s rationalistic moral theory; but his conception of human dignity was deeply influenced by Kant, to whom he traced his belief in the evil of using human beings ’as means to ends that are not their own, but those of the manipulator, the treatment of free beings as if they were things, tools’. [. . .] [It] was from Kant that he derived important aspects of his own theory of values. Kant, Berlin explained, argued that individuals were ends in themselves ’because they were the sole authors of moral values’. Values existed, not in nature, but only in the wills of individuals. Human beings, as the authors of all genuine values, could not be sacrificed to anything other than their own purposes, without ’stultifying the absoluteness, the end-in-itselfness’ of values. From this it also followed that all individuals were morally equal, because all were equally creators, carriers and fulfillers of values. This was the basis of the liberal belief in the ’right to develop one’s individual capacity’ . . . (Cherniss 2007, 109; citaten är från Berlin 2006, 151 & 154)

Den bild som Cherniss målar upp kan jämföras med Bhikhu Parekhs kritik av Berlin:

Berlin is ambiguous about the nature of values and seems to oscillate between the extremes of objectivism and subjectivism. Sometimes he argues that men ‘choose’, ‘accept’ or ‘commit’ themselves to certain values, implying that the values exist independently of human choice. This is Platonism in a pluralist disguise. Like Plato’s ideas the ultimate values occupy a realm of their own and inspire men to commit themselves to any one of them. On other occasions Berlin takes the opposite view. As we saw, he says that there is ‘no principle or value higher than the ends of the individual’ and that all values ‘are made so by the free acts of man’. It is difficult to see how such a view can be sustained. To say that whatever an individual chooses is a value, and that all such values are ultimate, is to imply that the purposes men follow and the choices they make are beyond moral evaluation, and that is simply not true. We would not allow a Hitler to claim that his purposes are sacred, ultimate and beyond criticism. While it makes sense to say that men are the sole authors of values in the sense that the systems of values do not grow on trees but are products of human decisions, it does not follow, and is in any case empirically false, to say that every man is the sole author of his values. Since Berlin slides from man in the collective to man in the singular sense, he does not notice that what can plausibly be said about men in the plural becomes false when said of each individually. (Parekh 1982, 224)

I en not till detta stycke skriver Parekh att Berlin klargjort för honom att ”he does not subscribe to moral subjektivism”. (Jfr. Cherniss 2006, s. xlii & xliv.)

I somras läste jag Berlins Political Ideas in the Romantic Age (PIRA), ett förarbete (som först publicerades 2006) till bland annat Berlins fyra essäer om frihet och en del andra föreläsningar och essäer om både upplysningen och romantiken. Där kan man läsa att de som förespråkar det rätta frihetsbegreppet kan legitimera det på följande sätt:

[The] wishes and ideals of […] men are to be respected  […] very much as Kant recommended, though not perhaps for one of his explicit reasons – not because they are rational beings (whatever may be meant by that) – but really for his other reason, that men are ends in themselves because they are the sole source of all morality, the beings for whose sake alone whatever is worth doing is worth doing, because the notion of ends in themselves is one of ends which men invent for themselves, and there is therefore nothing outside them to which thay can in principle be deemed worthy of sacrifice. (Berlin 2006, 206)

Denna vänding, från att värden upptäcks till att de skapas, identifierar Berlin i PIRA som romantikens huvudsakliga bidrag till västerlandets idéhistoriska utveckling.

För att återgå till frihetsbegreppet: Cherniss föreslår att det bästa sättet att beskriva Berlins frihetsbegrepp är att gå bortom negativ och positiv frihet och istället tala om ett ”basic concept of liberty as the ability to make choices for oneself”. Traditionellt har Berlins försvar för individualitet och fritt val tolkats som ett ensidigt försvar för negativ frihet, men Cherniss tillägger att . . .

. . . it contained an element of ’positive’ liberty as well, for it included not only freedom from coercion, but also the exercise of the ability to choose and to will, to act in accordance with one’s own beliefs, to select and pursue ideals for oneself – that is, a form of self-rule or autonomy.” (Cherniss 2007, 115)


  • Berlin, Isaiah (2006), Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
  • Cherniss, Joshua L. (2007), ’Berlin’s Early Political Thought’, i Crowder & Hardy 2007.
  • Cherniss, Joshua L. (2006), ’Isaiah Berlin’s Political Ideas: From the Twentieth Century to the Romantic Age’, i Berlin 2006.
  • Crowder, George & Hardy, Henry (2007) (red.), The One and the Many: Reading Isaiah Berlin (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books)
  • Crowder, George (2007), ’Value Pluralism and Liberalism: Berlin and Beyond’, i Crowder & Hardy 2007.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu (1982), ’The Political Thought of Sir Isaiah Berlin’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 201–226.