Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Plato, Lucretius, Dante Alighieri, Blaise Pascal, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henrik Ibsen, Marcel Proust and Fernand Braudel), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include Herodotus, Aristotle, Desiderius Erasmus, William Shakespeare, Michel de Montaigne, Molière, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Aleksandr Pushkin, Honoré de Balzac, James Joyce and Philip Warren Anderson).
Turning to Tolstoy, Berlin contends that at first glance, Tolstoy escapes definition into one of the two groups. He postulates that while Tolstoy's talents are those of a fox, his beliefs are that one ought to be a hedgehog and so Tolstoy's own voluminous assessments of his own work are misleading. Berlin goes on to use this idea of Tolstoy as a basis for an analysis of the theory of history that Tolstoy presents in his novel War and Peace.
In the latter half of the essay, Berlin illuminates Tolstoy by an extended comparison between him and the early 19th-century thinker Joseph de Maistre, a comparison that gains in piquancy because while Tolstoy and de Maistre held violently contrasting views on more superficial matters, they held some profoundly similar views about the fundamental nature of existence and the limits of a rational, scientific approach to it.
In the final few paragraphs of the essay, Berlin reasserts his thesis that Tolstoy was by nature a fox but by conviction a hedgehog and goes on to say that the division within himself caused him great pain at the end of his life.
The essay has been published separately and as part of the collection Russian Thinkers, edited by Henry Hardy and Aileen Kelly. The essay also appears in a widely-representative anthology of Berlin's essays, The Proper Study of Mankind.