Thinking Like a Fox
– Yale College Opening Assembly Address, Class of 2021
Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Good morning and welcome – to my colleagues here on stage, to the family members who are here with us today, and most of all, to the Class of 2021! I want to give a special shout-out to Marvin Chun, who’s beginning his first year as the new dean of Yale College. And I know you all enjoyed his remarks just as much as I did. To Marvin Chun…
A few years ago, I helped a friend – a member of the Yale College Class of 1982, in fact – I helped him teach a Yale College seminar called “Great Big Ideas.” Each week, students in the seminar considered a “big idea” from a different field of study. For homework, they watched video lectures delivered by various experts and read primary sources. Then they came to [the] class ready to debate each week’s “big idea.” By the end of the course, they had become conversant in major debates and questions in art history, political philosophy, evolutionary biology, and other fields as well. My friend described the educational impact of the course as “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
I was thinking about Great Big Ideas over the summer. Reflecting on the goal for the course reminded me of the story of the fox and the hedgehog. Now, this is a distinction attributed to Archilochus, the seventh century B.C. Greek poet and warrior, who said, “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog, one important thing.” When threatened, the fox remains flexible, coming up with a clever way to deal with the particular matter at hand. The hedgehog, however, responds the same way to every threat: it rolls up into a ball. The fox is wily and resilient. The hedgehog, consistent but inflexible.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin popularized this distinction in a 1953 essay. Berlin described the hedgehog as a thinker who sees the world through a single, grand idea – a focused lens. Someone like Karl Marx or Ayn Rand might be considered a hedgehog. The fox, on the other hand, becomes knowledgeable about many different things. It draws on a multitude of ideas and experiences, depending on the situation at hand. Perhaps Confucius and Aristotle are best described as foxes.
哲学家以赛亚· 柏林(Isaiah Berlin)在1953年发表的一篇论文中推介了这一区别。柏林将刺猬描述为一个思想家，他的方式是透过一个巨大的思想，好比一个聚焦的镜头，观察思考这个世界;马克思与安·兰德(Ayn Rand)大概算是这一类。而狐狸可谓是一部百科全书，知道许多事情，会根据眼前状况参考大量的想法和经验;孔子与亚里士多德可能是最好的代表。