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Bernard Williams
This volume provides a systematic overview and comprehensive assessment of
Bernard Williams™ contribution to moral philosophy, a ¬eld in which Williams
was one of the most in¬‚uential of contemporary philosophers. The seven essays,
which were specially commissioned for this volume, examine his work on moral
objectivity, the nature of practical reason, moral emotion, the critique of the
“morality system,” Williams™ assessment of the ethical thought of the ancient
world, and his later adoption of Nietzsche™s method of “genealogy.” Collec-
tively, the essays not only engage with Williams™ work, but also develop inde-
pendent philosophical arguments in connection with those topics that have,
over the last thirty years, particularly re¬‚ected Williams™ in¬‚uence.

Alan Thomas is Senior Lecturer in the department of philosophy at the Uni-
versity of Kent.
Contemporary Philosophy in Focus

Contemporary Philosophy in Focus offers a series of introductory volumes
to many of the dominant philosophical thinkers of the current age. Each vol-
ume consists of newly commissioned essays that cover major contributions of
a preeminent philosopher in a systematic and accessible manner. Comparable
in scope and rationale to the highly successful series Cambridge Companions
to Philosophy, the volumes do not presuppose that readers are already inti-
mately familiar with the details of each philosopher™s work. They thus combine
exposition and critical analysis in a manner that will appeal to students of phi-
losophy and to professionals as well as to students across the humanities and
social sciences.

forthcoming volumes:
Jerry Fodor edited by Tim Crane
Saul Kripke edited by Alan Berger
David Lewis edited by Theodore Sider and Dean Zimmerman

published volumes:
Stanley Cavell edited by Richard Eldridge
Paul Churchland edited by Brian L. Keeley
Donald Davidson edited by Kirk Ludwig
Daniel Dennett edited by Andrew Brook and Don Ross
Ronald Dworkin edited by Arthur Ripstein
Thomas Kuhn edited by Thomas Nickles
Alasdair MacIntyre edited by Mark Murphy
Alvin Plantinga edited by Dean-Peter Baker
Hilary Putnam edited by Yemina Ben-Menahem
Richard Rorty edited by Charles Guignon and David Hiley
John Searle edited by Barry Smith
Charles Taylor edited by Ruth Abbey
Bernard Williams

Edited by

University of Kent
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521662161

© Cambridge University Press 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2007

eBook (EBL)
ISBN-13 978-0-511-34155-7
ISBN-10 0-511-34155-5 eBook (EBL)

ISBN-13 978-0-521-66216-1
ISBN-10 0-521-66216-8

ISBN-13 978-0-521-66555-1
ISBN-10 0-521-66555-8

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
This volume is dedicated to Bernard Williams, 1929“2003

page xi
List of Contributors

alan thomas
1 Realism and the Absolute Conception
a. w. moore
2 The Nonobjectivist Critique of Moral Knowledge
alan thomas
3 Internal Reasons and the Scope of Blame
john skorupski
4 The Critique of the Morality System
robert b. louden
5 Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt
michael stocker
6 Williams on Greek Literature and Philosophy
a. a. long
7 Genealogies and the State of Nature
edward craig

Guide to Further Reading
List of Works Cited

List of Contributors

edward craig is professor of philosophy emeritus at the University of
Cambridge. He is the author of The Mind of God and the Works of Man,
Knowledge and the State of Nature, and numerous papers in the philosophy
of language, philosophy of mind, and epistemology.
a. a. long is Irving Stone Professor of Literature, Professor of Classics, and
af¬liated Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.
He is editor of The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, and his
other books include Language and Thought in Sophocles, Hellenistic Philosophy,
Stoic Studies, and Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life.
robert b. louden is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern
Maine. He is the author of Morality and Moral Theory and Kant™s Impure
Ethics and is currently preparing The World We Want: How and Why the
Ideals of the Enlightenment Still Elude Us.
a. w. moore is professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford. He
is the author of The In¬nite, Points of View, and Noble in Reason, In¬nite
in Faculty. He is also one of Bernard Williams™ literary executors and is
the editor of Williams™ posthumously published collection Philosophy as a
Humanistic Discipline. He is currently writing a book on the evolution of
modern metaphysics.
john skorupski is professor of moral philosophy at the University of
St. Andrews. He has published widely in many areas of philosophy. Among
his books are Ethical Explorations (1999) and Why Read Mill Today? (2006).
michael stocker is professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. He is
the author of Plural and Con¬‚icting Values and, with Elizabeth Hegeman,
Valuing Emotions.
alan thomas is a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Kent.
He is the author of Value and Context and of numerous papers on moral and
political philosophy and the philosophy of mind.


This volume has, for various reasons, been beset by delay. I have, through-
out this time, been encouraged to persevere by the support of my partner,
Kathryn Brown, my friend Adrian Moore, and a very strong personal sense
of how much I owed to Bernard Williams, both professionally and per-
sonally. I am more than usually indebted to my contributors for their pro-
fessionalism and for their forbearance in tolerating long periods of delay
in seeing their excellent work appear in print. Bernard™s widow, Patricia
Williams, has been very supportive and supplied the photograph for the
front cover of this volume. I am also grateful to Helen Frowe for her work
as a research assistant that helped the volume over the ¬nishing line. I
would like to dedicate this volume to Bernard™s memory on behalf of all the

London, 2006

Bernard Williams

At the time of his death in 2003, Bernard Williams was one of the most
in¬‚uential philosophers in Anglo-American philosophy. His contribution
to philosophy was very wide-ranging, from metaphysics and epistemology
to moral, social, and political philosophy. In the history of philosophy, he
made contributions to ancient philosophy, to scholarship on Descartes and
to a wide range of other historical subjects.1 For the purposes of this volume,
selection from this wide range of subjects was necessary and I opted to focus
on the centre of gravity of Williams™ work, moral philosophy. Furthermore,
without any editorial intervention, the papers in the volume naturally clus-
tered around the key themes of Williams™ later writings from Shame and
Necessity to Truth and Truthfulness, thus complementing a volume of papers
on Williams™ moral philosophy that focused on his earlier work.2
Williams™ early training both in classics and in the philosophical meth-
ods of Ryle and Austin inclined him to the piecemeal treatment of philo-
sophical problems; he was not a systematic philosopher. However, over
the course of his career, Williams did come to detect a broad consistency
and mutual support between many of his distinctive theses in ethics. He
remarked that “it is a reasonable demand that what one believes in one
area of philosophy should make sense in terms of what one believes else-
where. One™s philosophical beliefs, or approaches, or arguments should
hang together (like conspirators perhaps), but this demand falls a long way
short of the unity promised by a philosophical system.”3 One of the many
virtues of the papers assembled here is that this aspect of Williams™ work

1 For a posthumous collection that represents the breadth of Williams™ historical interests, see
Williams (2006). There are two very helpful surveys of Williams™ work as a whole: Cullity
(2005), Chappell (2006), and a valuable introduction to his work in Jenkins (2006). See the
Guide to Further Reading.
2 Altham and Harrison (1995). An exception to this generalization is Williams™ thesis that all
practical reasons are internal, discussed both in this earlier volume and in this volume by
John Skorupski, re¬‚ecting its standing as one of the most hotly debated of Williams™ claims,
much discussed in recent meta-ethics.
3 Williams (1995c), p. 186.

2 Alan Thomas

is brought out very clearly. With the bene¬t of hindsight, his entire philo-
sophical output clearly does not form a system, but there is an underlying
consistency and unity of purpose that de¬‚ects the charge, sometimes lev-
eled against Williams, that he was a brilliant critic of other philosophers
but had no systematic outlook of his own. A systematic outlook, no; a con-
sistent set of theses all arranged around what Williams called “the need to
be sceptical,” yes.4
Adrian Moore™s paper ranges the furthest outside moral philosophy and
into metaphysics in order to assess Williams™ views as to the extent to which
moral thought can be re¬‚ectively understood to be objective. That is because
Williams™ approach to this problem, as Moore clearly demonstrates, cannot
be understood independently of how he conceived of realism in general and
of the differences between how we understand what it is to be realist across
different domains. There are both bad and good reasons why Moore™s paper
is so important in setting the stage for a clear understanding of Williams™
work in ethics. The bad reason is that some of Williams™ critics have system-
atically misunderstood his distinctive claim that in certain areas of thought
and language we can aspire to a conception of the world maximally inde-
pendent of our perspective and its peculiarities. In their eagerness to classify
that which Williams called the aspiration to an absolute conception of the
world as a misguided form of “external realism,” to be contrasted with the
correct view, “internal realism,” in which this aspiration to objectivity is
signi¬cantly curbed, several philosophers have misrepresented Williams™
claims in ways that Moore has already demonstrated in earlier work and
further clari¬es here.5
Those critics read the phrase “maximally independent of our concep-
tion of the world and its peculiarities” in an uncharitable way as “totally
independent of our conception of the world and it particularities” and pro-
ceed to rehearse familiar arguments against the idea of such an “external
realism.” These arguments include the claim that Williams must believe in

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