As we ascend hierarchical levels of sciences—from physics through chemistry ato biology—and eventually enter the human arena, subject matter becomes ever more complex, messy and unpredictable. 

In the hard sciences consensus with regard to objective, singular explanations, compatable with the grand edifice of science as a whole, is often attained. In the humanities, individual subjectivity and the interaction of multiple human agents in unique contexts, necessitate a more pluralistic mindset.

In the grand sweep of history incommensurable ideas and values collide. In consideration of what makes a just society, freedom and liberty will always clash with the need for order and justice. We are left to grapple with hard choices that involve losses for every gain. In the human sciences and in history practitioners must weigh conflicting evidence and be ever mindful of the legitimacy of their sources. Consensus is difficult to achieve given the contingent and highly contextual nature of their subject matter and a methodology that is often in narrative rather than analytical mode.

Isaiah Berlin. Photo: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis  

Isaiah Berlin. Photo: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis  

Isaiah Berlin on pluralism

This is a section from the last essay written by Isaiah Berlin, published in the New York Review of Books, Vol. XLV, Number 8 (1998).