The Pursuit of the Ideal
"What is clear is that values can clash that is why civilizations are incompatible. They can be incompatible between cultures, or groups in the same culture, or between you and me. You believe in always telling the truth, no matter what; I do not because I believe that it can sometimes be too painful and too destructive. We can discuss each other’s point of view, we can try to reach common ground, but in the end what you pursue may not be reconcilable with the ends to which I find that I have dedicated my life. Values may easily clash within the breast of a single individual; and it does not follow that, if they do, some must be true and others false. Justice, rigorous justice, is for some people an absolute value, but it is not compatible with what may be no less ultimate values for them mercy, compassion as arises in concrete cases.
Both liberty and equality are among the primary goals pursued by human beings through many centuries; but total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and the less gifted. Equality may demand the restraint of the liberty of those who wish to dominate; liberty without some modicum of which there is no choice and therefore no possibility of remaining human as we understand the word may have to be curtailed in order to make room for social welfare, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to leave room for the liberty of others, to allow justice or fairness to be exercised.
The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution, in which all good things coexist, seems to me to be not merely unattainable that is a truism but conceptually incoherent; I do not know what is meant by a harmony of this kind. Some among the Great Goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss. These collisions of values are of the essence of what they are and what we are."
~ Isaiah Berlin, British philosopher (1909-1997) in The Crooked Timber of Humanity 1988