Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hedgehog vs. Fox Historiography

The "Hedgehog and the Fox" by Isaiah Berlin splits intellectual activity into two categories, unifiers and splitters:

"there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way….

"The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes."

Blogging is certainly very foxy; the use of an outliner making it more hedgehoggy. In writing history, if the search for facts and new sources is fox-like, then interpretation is hedgehog-like. Antiquarianism, collecting historical facts and objects as an end, in and of itself, without any further interpretation or attempt to fit them into a system, is the ultimate historiographical foxism. Historicism or the new historicism, the ultimate historiographical hedgehogism. Karl Popper was a heroic hedgehog critic. Foucault was a notorious hedgehog.

I try to balance the two extremes with primary source translation (fox) and studying results from world history valid across cultures (hedgehog).