Matthieu Queloz, University of Bern

In the fall of 1998, a year after the death of Isaiah Berlin, the New York Institute for the Humanities convened a two-day conference in Manhattan to examine his intellectual legacy. It became the scene of a debate between Ronald Dworkin and Bernard Williams over how we ought to deal with the conflict that Berlin perceived between the values of liberty and equality. Dworkin, striving for integrity among our concepts, sought to eliminate this conflict, while Williams, doubtful that we either could or should eliminate the conflict, resisted the pursuit of conceptual integrity. Upon closer inspection, however, the debate turns out to be about far more than Berlin's familiar pluralist thesis that values conflict. Dworkin and Williams personify not just two contrasting approaches to the conflict between the concepts of liberty and equality, but two rival views of what our political concepts should be answerable to, what the constraints on those who would reinterpret our concepts for coherence should be, and how we should conceive of politics itself. My aim in reconstructing this debate is thus not just to fill a gap in intellectual history, but to draw out ideas of ongoing philosophical and political importance. The Dworkin–Williams debate is instructive for contemporary efforts to ameliorate or engineer our concepts. It exemplifies the virtues and hazards of such efforts, warning us that alleviating tensions between our concepts comes at a cost. The debate also indicates what political philosophy should look to in appraising political concepts; it illustrates how to devise the conceptual tools we need to make sense of political disagreement, and in particular to deal with polarization and secure the consent of those who end up on the losing side of political decisions. And the debate presents us with two starkly contrasting conceptions of politics itself, of the place of political values within it, and of our prospects of reducing conflicts between political values through philosophy.

Matthieu Queloz is a philosopher at the University of Bern, Switzerland, where he works on conceptual ethics and the ideal of systematic thought as applied to public administration and AI. Before that, he was a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and a Member of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford for three years. In 2022, he received the Amerbach Prize of the University of Basel as well as the Lauener Prize for Up-and-Coming Philosophers of the Lauener Foundation for Analytical Philosophy.