Mappingthe history of ideas is not an easy task. This is what Berlin triesto achieve in the essay “The hedgehog and the fox.” Berlinfocuses on the historical theory of Tolstoy in order to reveal itsunderlying meaning to the readers. Tolstoy is a renowned philosopherwhose ideologies are quite confusing and hard to understand. Histheory of history as depicted in the book War and Peace is a goodexample of the complexity of his ideas. As Berlin groups otherphilosophers in either group, he finds it hard to categorize Tolstoybecause of his complexity. Berlin explores Tolstoy’s writings todetermine his personality as related to fox or hedgehog characters.He uses the distinction in perception between the hedgehog and thefox as the background for his analysis of various historical figures.He analyses several main thinkers and philosophers in a humorous andlight manner before embarking on the personality of Tolstoy. He usesthe book War and Peace to support his analysis. The outstanding claimin this essay is that Tolstoy had a fox-like personality. This showsthat he never generalized things or related them to a central idea.Rather, he celebrated multiplicity, hence recognizing individualityand appreciating diversity. However, he changed his overview lateraccording to his writings. He thus shunned multiplicity and tried torelate ideas to a central vision hence adopting a hedgehogpersonality. Berlin concludes that Tolstoy was a fox who wished to bea hedgehog. He also concludes that Tolstoy did not succeed inadopting the hedgehog character. This paper will explore Berlin’sanalysis of the personality of Tolstoy with regard to his train ofthought as depicted in his prior writings. It takes the stand thatthe analysis is credible since it is thorough and detailed.

Thedistinction between hedgehogs and foxes can take severalperspectives. For instance, the two animals are obviously differentphysically and they depict different biological characteristics.However, Berlin does not explore these differences in his essay.Rather, he focuses on the differences in mentality between the twoanimals. The fox relishes multiplicity in his mind set in its abilityto focus on several concepts. On the other hand, the hedgehog focuseson accomplishing one major thing at a go. In his essay, Berlin triesto group renowned philosophers in two groups, that is, either the foxor the hedgehog. Berlin uses these two animals symbolically torepresent two major states of mind. This title is drawn from thephrase “The hedgehog knows one big thing, but the fox knows manylittle things.” Aristochulus used this phrase figuratively and ithas since had several interpretations. However, Berlin does not dwellon the symbolic interpretation of this statement. Rather, he justrelates foxes to those individuals who are intrigued by a wide rangeof ideas in order to enjoy variety. He refers to this group of peopleas pluralists. On the other hand, he relates the hedgehogs to thoseindividuals who focus on a central idea or system in their train ofthought. He refers to this group of people as monists. Individualscan be put in either of these categories depending on their states ofmind. This is perceived from an analysis of their recorded works todetermine the focus of their ideas (Berlin 437).

Inorder to sell his idea, Berlin uses examples of renowned philosophersto depict why he calls them either foxes or hedgehogs. He usesexamples from their ideologies to determine their personality withmuch ease. Berlin groups the great thinkers like Nietzsche, Dante,Proust, Pascal, and Plato together under the umbrella of thehedgehogs. This implies that these philosophers relate their ideas tocentral theme or vision. On the other hand, Berlin feels thatphilosophers such as Shakespeare, Joyce, Montaigne, and Goethe fitthe definition of foxes as they draw their ideas from differentfields and do not try to relate them to a central point (Berlin 438).This assumption raises criticisms regarding the credibility ofBerlin’s judgment since he does not provide solid prove to supporthis claims. I feel that if Berlin had given these philosophers athorough focus, there could have been contradictions in some otherworks as pertaining to their personalities. However, he rescueshimself by indicating that he is just introducing an intellectualgame in which anyone is invited to participate. This enables thereader to take his assessment lightly rather than analyzing itcritically. He also invites his readers to contribute their thoughtson his analysis thus leaving room for more discussion as pertainingto the personalities of the philosophers.

However,Berlin’s analysis of Tolstoy’s personality is credible since heexplores it widely before giving his conclusion. Although the essayexplores the character of different philosophers, it is clear fromthe title that Berlin’s major focus in this essay is on thephilosopher Tolstoy. Berlin seeks to explore the ideas of Tolstoy inorder to determine whether he is a fox or a hedgehog. He borrowsinformation from the book “War and Peace” regarding the characterof Tolstoy. The book is focused on attacking rationalism. Using thisbook, Berlin concludes that Tolstoy as a fox that sees himself as ahedgehog. This is because Tolstoy depicts fox-like characteristics inhis mind set as depicted through his ideologies. However, Tolstoybelieves that he is a hedgehog and he tries hard to manifest hedgehogcharacteristics. Berlin also feels that Tolstoy did not succeed inhis effort to become a hedgehog all his life. For instance, it isclear from Tolstoy’s early writings that he cherished multiplicityof thought. He was able to reflect on individual tones and feelingsregarding events and places objectively. However, he changed his viewtowards the end as is evident in his later works. Here, he sought toembrace a central vision as opposed to his love for multiplicity(Berlin 440). However, he did not succeed because he shunnedrationalism and could not focus on a single idea and support it allthrough.

Berlinincreases the credibility of his analysis by referring to the theoryof history as it is depicted in the book “War and Peace.” Thetheory suggests that it is impossible to understand history becauseof the infinity of its causes. Further, history suggests thatindividuals can never be free due to the infinity of thecircumstances in which they find themselves. Tolstoy takes it up onhimself to understand the distinction between freedom and determinismin vain. Berlin explores how Tolstoy counters and even distrustsother theories of history believing that they are false depictions ofthe fullness of life. This ideas show how confusing Tolstoy is in hisanalysis of the history of ideas. He does not trust other theories ofbecause they each have their merits and demerits. Further, althoughhe believes that individuals can never be free, he still seeks tounderstand the concept of human freedom. Thus, it is impossible forhim to support one specific theory fully, and this is characteristicof a fox.

Berlin’sanalysis of Tolstoy’s character is intriguing. In his analysis ofthe other great thinkers, he indicates that it is easy for him todecide whether they are foxes or hedgehogs. He then introducesTolstoy through a thorough and in-depth analysis of his credentials.Further, Berlin asks rhetoric questions regarding Tolstoydramatically. He lightly states that it is not easy to categorizeTolstoy under either group. This prepares the reader for thechallenge of understanding Tolstoy’s character as the analysisunfolds. Berlin believes that it is hard to determine Tolstoy’scharacter because he did not understand it himself. Other people arenot able to understand Tolstoy’s personality because he representsboth personalities. Here, he is a natural fox who tries to representhimself as a hedgehog unsuccessfully. This is the problem statementon which Berlin bases his essay. He then breaks down Tolstoy’sarticles to determine proof that Tolstoy was indeed a fox, as opposedto a hedgehog.

Ahedgehog personality indicates that an individual focuses on onecentral point and all his ideas are geared towards supporting thispoint. Thus, the individual views the world through a universal lenssince he relates each event to a central focus. I agree with Berlinthat Tolstoy did not have a major reference point when analyzing thetheory of history in War and peace. Rather, he embraced severaldiffering ideas such that the reader is even confused regarding hisstandpoint. His distrust of various ideas regarding rationality madehim skeptical and prevented him from adopting a single idea. Thus, hekept dropping each idea that he felt was faulty in any manner andeventually he did not settle on any one idea. This confusion is alsocompounded by his reference to various chaotic events.

Thecause of confusion regarding Tolstoy’s personality is evident inmost of his works. Berlin succeeds in informing the reader about thepersonality of Tolstoy by focusing on this analysis of his work. Thereader understands the reasons behind his love and tendency towardsfox-like characteristics. Although he believes that he is a hedgehog,his ideologies negate this and suggest that he was a fox. It is clearthat Tolstoy is too unclear on several concepts and this hinders hisability to choose and stick to one stand. In his theory of history,he is opposed to the idea of rationalism. He attacks this conceptvigorously, and this battle helps the reader understand the strugglehe underwent to grasp one central point. This implies that Tolstoyidentified his character initially and sought to make a consciouseffort to change his personality. He then realized that he could notsettle on one major point due to his distrust and thus he was stillstuck with his multiplicity. I therefore agree with Berlin’sinterpretation that Tolstoy was a fox. Since he did not succeed inadopting a hedgehog character, it is safe to conclude that he wasnever a hedgehog.

Berlinis vague in his distinction between the hedgehog and the fox. He isalso not clear on whether the two personalities are mutuallyexclusive. It is therefore hard to determine whether it is a goodthing that Tolstoy was a fox all his life since we are not sure thatthe fox character is a good one. The essay would have been moreappropriate if it included a comparison of the virtues and vices ofthese personalities. Since it is obvious that the fox may be shallowand undecided, but it is clear that he has more information,appreciates diversity, and makes decisions that are more informed. Onthe other hand, the hedgehog may be rigid since he relates all ideasto a central point. However, he is stable and unwavering in hisdecision making process. Thus, Berlin leaves his readers in suspenseregarding the purpose of his analysis since he only succeeds indetermining the personality of Tolstoy. The reader will then have todecide whether the fox character is better than the hedgehogcharacter or vice versa.

Inaddition, Berlin’s analysis is biased because he focuses on one ofTolstoy’s works in drawing his conclusions. Although Tolstoy isrenowned for his analysis of the theory of history, he also has otherworks, which may depict differing ideologies. Although Berlin uses afew examples from Tolstoy’s other works, the emphasis of just oneof his works is therefore unfair and it may affect the quality andcredibility of Berlin’s judgment.

Itis also interesting to determine the effect of analyzing the degreeto which one is a hedgehog or a fox in this essay. Berlin notes thatvarious philosophers have varying degrees of either character. Thisimplies that one may have an average degree of either character. Inthis case, the individual may not qualify to be either a hedgehog ora fox. Berlin does not pry this factor further as he does not statethe degree to which Tolstoy is a fox. If there could have been amiddle ground, Tolstoy would have fit in that category since he triesto be a hedgehog but finds himself depicting fox-likecharacteristics. He is not even conscious of the fact that he is afox!

Iagree with most parts of Berlin’s analysis in this essay. This isespecially the case because he introduces information from outsidesources. Introducing concepts from war and peace is a useful conceptas it explores the theory of history from a new perspective. It alsoenhances understanding of two materials simultaneously by focusing ona single event. This reduces the effort of scanning two materials atthe same time in order to increases one’s understanding of thetheory of history as it is depicted in war and peace. This wasespecially useful to me since War and Peace is a course material Ihad trouble understanding fully. While reading it, I had to skipother parts as they had many confusing details. The book is full ofbattle scenes and historic details that are unappealing to mostreaders. Thus, most readers tend to scheme through the book ratherthan explore its details. Berlin succeeds in exploring the otherwiseignored details on a light note. This makes it appealing to thereader. For instance, I reread the book after reading the essay andit was more enjoyable than the first time since I understoodTolstoy’s views better. I would thus recommend his essay to anyindividual who wishes to understand War and Peace without goingthrough the pain of separating chaff from the wheat first.

Thecredentials of the author also enhance the credibility of the text.Although few people know Berlin and his works, he was a key figure inthe world of philosophy during his time. However, he did not embarkon creating his own theories or supporting any concept for thatmatter. Rather, he majored in providing book reviews in which hecould analyze the works of other authors. His most renowned work isthe Hedgehog and the Fox in which he analyzed the concepts ofTolstoy’s personality. His experience in the field of philosophy isthus useful in helping readers appreciate the content of his essay.

Ialso appreciated the humor with which Berlin presents his essay. Thisshows the effect of the tone in which a literature material ispresented in enhancing the understanding of individuals. As alreadynoted, the first time I read War and Peace, I schemed through thebook in order to avoid the conflicting and confusing details.However, after reading hedgehog and the fox, I was able to connectmost of the ideas in the book. Further, I was prompted to read thewhole book in order to explore its finer details. It is amazing how apiece of work can be interesting when reading it from a differentperspective. This shows that the book was intriguing all along, but Iwas affected by my mentality and the formal presentation of the book.Thus, introducing humor is a valuable learning tool that is gearedtowards enhancing understanding. This teaches that enjoying anarticle is essential in order to appreciate its content.

Lastly,it could be interesting if Berlin could have analyzed his owncharacter alongside that of the other philosophers. Berlin does notgive any hints to his personality in his essay. In determiningwhether Berlin is a fox or a hog, one would have to analyze hisworks. However, Berlin specializes in analyzing other people’sworks. This shows that it is hard to determine his mind setappropriately. This will translate into difficulties in analyzing hispersonality. Individuals would thus debate on his personality just asthey do on Tolstoy’s personality along the hedgehog-foxdescription.

Inbrief, Berlin does a good work in analyzing Tolstoy’s personalityin his essay. His focus on Tolstoy gives his essay a specific focusthat is easy to follow. He concludes that Tolstoy was a fox whowished to be a hedgehog in vain. He supports this hypothesis througha thorough analysis of Tolstoy’s works. The book War and Peaceplays an important role in helping Berlin present his essay. Thisincreases the credibility of his study and enhances one’sunderstanding of the often-confusing book. Thus, he accomplishes twotasks at a go. The credibility of Berlin’s analysis is debatablebecause he fails in many aspects. For instance, he fails to offer adetailed analysis of the other philosophers and categorizes thempresumptuously. On the other hand, his work is credible because hegives room for contributions from critics regarding his analysis. Theuse of a light note in the essay was also a great plus in enhancingits understanding.


Berlin,Isaiah. Thehedgehog and the fox: An essay on Tolstoy’s view of history.New York: Orion. 1953. Print.