Monday, January 30, 2006

Of Foxes and Hedgehogs

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. writes Archilochus. But it was Sir Isaiah Berlin that took this verse to the next level and when I read about his interpretation of it, I was hooked.

Berlin posits that there are two kinds of personalities out there. First, there are hedgehogs, who basically believe that there is a unifying theme, or system which governs how the world works. They spend their lifetime trying to figure out this system, and if they think they have figured it out, they will attempt to mold reality to fit their understanding of how the system is supposed to work. Foxes, on the other hand, realize that the system is perhaps too complex to figure out, or perhaps the rules are constantly changing, and so reality, rather than pre-conceived notions tends to provide the feedback they need to steer themselves in life.

I definitely identify with the foxes. And frankly I dis-trust the hedgehog. This is especially true of the fields of politics and economics. Lately, I've been trying to understand the philosophical works of Karl Popper. One of his ideas that I really identify with is the critique of the ideological movements such as fascism and communism, and all the other -isms which is argued very eloquently in his work "The Poverty of Historicism". This is really a more specific case of his general argument that providing positive evidence that prove your theory is not a way to prove its validity. But to me, these are the most poignant examples, remembering the millions of people who were killed to justify the reasoning of some loathsome hedgehog.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

That sounds fascinating. I'll have to check him out. Recently, I've read about the application of this theory to international relations on Drezner's blog.

January 30, 2006 8:10 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Who's Drezner?

January 30, 2006 8:15 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Drezner is a professor at Georgetown. He often writes about international relations,etc. Here's his website:

January 31, 2006 10:45 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

While I'm pretty sure that I myself am a fox, I think that hedgehogs have a few more good points than you seem to think. I feel like most of the idealists of the world are the hedgehogs type- those who feel as if the world ought to conform to certain ideals (like equality, for example) and do their best to make that a reality. Idealism, especially forceful idealism, is a frightening and powerful force, but don't you think that idealists have contributed to the world in addition to damaging it?

January 31, 2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I agree with you that hedgehogs are not all bad. As a matter of fact, they are probably the force that moves humanity forward.

If you look carefully, I was really focusing on the political and economic aspects of hedgehog-dom. In those areas, the force of idealism often leads to tragedy.

Thanks for your comment!

January 31, 2006 11:32 AM  

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