San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


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Value pluralism is the idea that legitimate human values and goals are many, often incompatible, and not reducible to any single overarching principle or Good. Value pluralism is probably the central idea - you could say the single overarching idea - in the work of Sir Isaiah Berlin, the English philosopher and historian of ideas. Berlin's theme is that individuals, and societies as well, have ideals and aspirations that conflict, and that therefore cannot all be fully realized. Thus a society cannot have perfect equality and perfect liberty because some people will exercise freedom to differentiate themselves, and hence to make themselves unequal to their fellow citizens. Equality or freedom may be at odds with other values as well, such as tradition, or the desire for social unity, or for social tolerance. Good government may be at odds with self-government, secularism with the desire for common faith, and so on. Value pluralism sees good in many irreconcilable aspirations, ways of life, and public and private choices. What are the implications of value pluralism for law and legal thought? Value pluralism can be invoked, it would seem, on any side, or at least on many sides, or various legal issues.