Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Hedgehog and the Fox

The Hedgehog and the Fox is an essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin, the 20th century philosopher, on Tolstoy's view of history. In it he divides writers and thinkers into hedgehogs, who see the world through a single defining idea, and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of ideas.  (Plato, Dante, Nietzsche and Proust were hedgehogs while Aristotle, Shakespeare, Erasmus and Goethe were foxes.)  The inspiration came from the Greek poet Archilochus who wrote "a fox knows many things but a hedgehog one important thing" and Erasmus "Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum".

In my garden the hedgehog and the fox have a more straightforward view of life and are both interested in only one thing - dinner.  I have been feeding the hedgehog more or less every night since the end of last year, including right through the winter.  Recently a young fox has realised what is going on, although it usually turns up after the hedgehog has already had its first helping.

The fox is usually very wary and snatches the food at full stretch, ready for instant retreat.  In the past few nights I have put out two dishes of food to increase the chance of getting some pictures.

The Fox and the Cat is one of Aesop's fables which contains a similar idea to that of Archilochus.  In it the fox and the cat were discussing the tricks and ideas they had.  The fox boasted of many while the cat had only one.  When the hunters arrived the cat ran up a tree but the fox was caught by the hounds.  Fortunately there are no cats in my garden.

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