The Hedgehog and the Fox

Here is a another really delightful metaphor for the power-law dialectic between the elite and the long-tail.

In his essay on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, Berlin starts with the fragment of the Greek poet Archilochus, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The conventional interpretation of this proverb is that the fox, for all her cunning, may be defeated by the hedgehog’s one defense. Berlin suggests the metaphor may also be used to highlight one of the important differences among basic vision of life held by different thinkers and writers.(4) On the one hand there are those who believe that there exists a single, universal organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance. On the other side of the divide are those whose beliefs are scattered or diffuse, moving on many levels, seizing upon a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are without seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to fit them into any one unchanging, all embracing, unitary vision. The first kind of intellectual is like the hedgehog, the second, like the fox. Berlin suggests that Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen and Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs. Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, and Joyce are foxes.(5) Berlin readily acknowledges that, like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes artificial, scholastic, and ultimately absurd.(6) Yet he argues that because the distinction captures an important insight, it provides a useful starting point for genuine investigation.

There is a small excerpt from Berlin’s essay here.

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