The Review of Politics

Research Article

A Liberal Pluralism: Isaiah Berlin and John Stuart Mill

Alex Zakaras


The essay explores the relationship between value pluralism, as Isaiah Berlin understood it, and liberalism. It consists of two main parts. In the first part, I argue that value pluralism does not entail liberalism, and I criticize two philosophers—William Galston and George Crowder—who believe that it does. In the second, I reconstruct and defend Isaiah Berlin's own understanding of this relationship, drawing on an essay that is often neglected by Berlin's interpreters: “John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life.” Berlin thought that the relationship between value pluralism and liberalism was largely psychological. He believed that those who embraced value pluralism would be more likely to affirm liberal institutions, because they would be more likely to exhibit certain virtues—notably empathy, imagination, and openness to other ways of life—that typically motivate tolerance.

Alex Zakaras is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Vermont, Old Mill Room 522, Burlington, VT 05405 (


  This article is based on an essay presented at the International Symposium on Isaiah Berlin and Contemporary China, organized by Tsinghua Academy of Chinese Learning, and held in March 2011 at Tsinghua University, Beijing. I am grateful to Professors Liu Dong and Liu Wei, as well as to Joshua Cherniss, Chow Po-Chung, George Crowder, Jonathan Riley, and Patrick Neal for their help and comments.