This volume is the fruit of nearly fifteen years of discussion-in person and by letter-between world-famous British philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) and Dr. Beata Polanowska-Sygulska of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland. Berlin always felt a special affinity for scholars from Eastern Europe, and the unique chemistry between him and this younger enthusiast for his ideas yielded a remarkable body of material, most of it hitherto unpublished.
Divided into four sections, the book begins with a selection from the correspondence between Berlin and Polanowska-Sygulska dating from 1983 to 1997. These letters are published here in their entirety for the first time. The second section comprises two interviews Berlin gave in 1991 for Polish periodicals. Next come edited transcripts of a number of recorded conversations that took place between 1986 and 1995. In one conversation, Berlin tellingly recalls his childhood and youth. In other exchanges, the famous conversationalist is pressed to be more precise about some of his most contested views, particularly his concepts of liberty and value pluralism, and to give his response to criticism of these ideas by a wide range of authors. In one of his last letters to Dr. Polanowska-Sygulska, Berlin stated, “I have never expressed myself so clearly before, I believe.”
The book concludes with a collection of articles on Berlin’s thought by Dr. Polanowska-Sygulska, stemming from her long-standing immersion in his work. Berlin himself thoroughly discussed three of these with the author and approved their publication.
Complete with a foreword by Henry Hardy, Berlin’s editor and collaborator of thirty years, and now one of his literary trustees, this fascinating collection of letters, conversations, and articles sheds considerable light on Berlin’s thinking, clarifying some of the central themes of his philosophy.