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Sir Isaiah Berlin, giant in 20th-century thought

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Sir Isaiah Berlin, philosopher, historian of ideas and one of the most important figures in 20th-century thought, has died at age 88.

He was renowned for his lucid and absorbing lectures at universities around the world and was associated with Oxford University for more than 60 years as lecturer, professor and college president.

He died Wednesday night, Oxford University said Thursday.

No further details on his death were released.

A Latvian-born liberal and a committed anti-Communist, Sir Isaiah examined the development of liberal and totalitarian ideas and wrote on Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, on opera and on Russian literature. He wrote an admired book on Karl Marx in 1939, but most of his work was devoted to essays _ most notably The Hedgehog and the Fox and Mr. Churchill in 1940.

In the former, he ruminated on a line from the Greek poet Archilochus that says, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

"Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defense," he wrote. "But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general."