. 34
( 38 .)


that humans aren™t quite like this now but is convinced that in their early
state they must have been is pushing towards an assertion about a particular
time (within a few hundred thousand years anyway) and place (somewhere
in Africa, most probably); whereas genealogy may sometimes involve very
little history and start at a pretty indeterminate place and date “ as did
Nietzsche. We saw Hume (in The Natural History of Religion) freely mingling
materials from different points on this spectrum.
In the interests of clarity it must be said that all this leaves the expres-
sion “state-of-nature theory” uncomfortably stretched across two very dis-
parate procedures: one involving perfectly genuine, even if largely conjec-
tural, assertions about human prehistory, the other turning essentially on
claims about more or less contemporary human psychology. Only those
who believe that the human condition has a constant component will see
much relationship between them, and then only when restricted to features
of human life that are agreed to belong to this unchanging core. Otherwise
the two methods will appear to be miles apart, both in their starting points
and in what they can legitimately deliver.


Williams remarks at one point that some genealogies detect function in a
phenomenon where we might not have suspected it.20 (What is justice for? “
what is the concept of knowledge for?) If that is true, then some functional
phenomena must be good at covering their functional tracks, so to speak.
And in that case we might hope that a genealogy will show us how they do
it. How does the function disappear from view “ or keep out of sight in the
¬rst place? What then keeps it well enough hidden for us to feel that the
genealogist has told us something surprising?
It would be ridiculous to suppose that there is any general answer to that
question. There may be cases (of the subversive sort, presumably) in which
an element of self-deception is an essential part of the story: the practice
in question couldn™t perform its function if the participants realized that
that was why they went in for it. We may hold a certain belief in order
to make life more bearable; but it wouldn™t do us that service unless we
believed that we believe it because it is true, or because we have good
evidence for it. There may on the other hand be cases in which the (perfectly
reputable) reason why we do something has just slipped out of sight from

20 Williams (2002), p. 31.
198 Edward Craig

sheer familiarity; bringing that reason back to consciousness needn™t impede
our performance at all “ it might in fact help us improve our ef¬ciency. But
Williams thinks that function may go into hiding in another, particularly
interesting and important way: it may be that some originally functional
phenomena do, in a certain sense, actually cease to be functional. In some
cases, paradoxical as it sounds, they must outgrow their functionality to be
capable of performing their function. And he thinks that in these cases the
genealogical method is our best hope of adequate understanding what has
happened; philosophers who try to stick with the functional account get
matters badly wrong, and themselves into insoluble dif¬culties “ whereas
philosophers who ignore, suppress, or just don™t believe in the functional
background leave too much unexplained, and too much that is central to
the topic unsaid. With genealogy we need neither overstress function, nor
overlook it.
What it means for a functional practice to outgrow its function, and why
it might need to do so, is well illustrated by Williams™ own example: the
virtue of truthfulness came to be valued because its widespread adoption
conferred bene¬ts connected with, and arising out of, the distribution of
reliably accurate information. Such information is essential to guide individ-
ual projects, and to co-ordinate group-action, so everyone feels the bene¬ts
to a greater or lesser degree. But this establishes the value of truthfulness
only in a rather general sense, one that leaves room for plenty of cases in
which it will confer no bene¬t at all, or certainly no net bene¬t, on the
person who tells the truth. To tell the truth may land you in trouble with
the law, give vital information to a rival or an enemy “ or to a potential
customer, and bang go your chances of selling that second-hand car. If the
truth is complex, telling it can be bothersome “ the bother may far out-
weigh the advantage to the informant. The costs of ¬nding out what the
truth is may be high, and the bene¬ts fall not to the inquirer but to those he
informs, sometimes not even to them “ a hard-won truth may turn out to
be useless. On many an occasion it may well be in the individual™s interest to
lie, or to shirk the effort of making sure that their belief is true. To say at this
point, as some do, that such dereliction of truthfulness reduces con¬dence
in the practice of truth-telling and so saps its bene¬ts for everyone, this
individual included, looks lame when we think how much inaccuracy and
insincerity goes on all the time without the con¬dent exchange of informa-
tion suffering any noticeable decline. No individual, thinking in terms of
the costs and bene¬ts of telling the truth on some particular occasion, and
¬nding the former outweighing the latter, could be expected to reverse
that decision on such insubstantial grounds as the resulting damage to
Genealogies and the State of Nature

truth-telling in general. What is needed is that they should not think in
such credit-and-debit terms at all, but assign value (call it “intrinsic value”
if you like) to truthfulness per se, and societies will accordingly put consider-
able effort into bringing up citizens who have a strong prima facie disposition
to be truthful.
Truthfulness isn™t an isolated case. We can easily think of other exam-
ples “ here, for instance, is a variation on a Hobbesian theme. For the
purpose of security against the descent into the “war of every man against
every man” and the threat to our lives that that would entail, a number of
us form ourselves into a state-like society under the control of an absolute
monarch who guarantees the peace, and the punishment of anyone who
breaks it. As an enthusiastic subject I enlist in the forces that the sovereign
needs to command in order to pose a threat both dire and credible enough
to back this guarantee. Then a rebellion breaks out and I am ordered into
action to put it down, whereupon it becomes vitally important that I should
have acquired a loyalty to the sovereign that is not simply a matter of my
enthusiasm for the function for which he was enthroned. The idea was
that he would keep the peace and obviate the danger of early and violent
death, but early and violent death is exactly what I and my comrades are
now facing, in his service. So it seems that our best bet would be to walk
away from the battle¬eld, leaving the monarch incompetent to do that very
thing for which the monarchy was created. Its very function, in other words,
requires that there be subjects whose loyalty to it is not just a matter of their
belief that it ful¬ls that function. It cannot ful¬ll its function unless there
are many who will stick with it although well aware that at this moment
it is not ful¬lling its function, and will not do so for the clearly foresee-
able future. A prime concern of the sovereign and of all who support the
political arrangements must be to ensure that most of the citizens are of
this loyal disposition. How this has actually been done, by a mixture of
threats, promises, and early upbringing in codes of citizenship and honour,
doubtless has as long and detailed a history as the one to which Williams
introduces us in the case of the virtues of truthfulness.
We can now appreciate the claims Williams makes on behalf of the
genealogical method. Some thinkers, rightly impressed by the functional
aspect of some practice or institution, try to understand it in functional
terms alone. They can then never really explain how it achieves the sta-
bility to be effective “ it seems too vulnerable to such commonplace ene-
mies as the free rider (as with truthfulness), or any serious re¬‚ection on its
ef¬ciency (as with loyalty). Rightly impressed by their failure, or wrongly
impressed by the apparent sanctity of whatever is under investigation, other
200 Edward Craig

thinkers eschew function altogether and reach for deontological or abso-
lutist answers. The ¬rst group miss the intrinsic value of the practice, the
second miss the instrumental; and both miss the connection between them.
The genealogical method alone can separate the two phases, or two aspects,
connect them again, and give both their due.
To claim that only the genealogical method can do this sounds rash. After
all, how many alternatives have we tried? But it sounds less rash if we put
it the other way round, saying that any method that can do this will count
as genealogical. Not just less rash, but quite likely true “ for any procedure
that ¬rst presents what I might call the “functional prototype,” then the
apparently nonfunctional “¬nished product,” and then links the two, will
in so doing have shown how the functional motivations can lead to the
veiling of the function. And that sounds like genealogy, on most people™s


Craig, Edward (1990). Knowledge and the State of Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Hobbes, Thomas (1651/1996). Leviathan, rev. ed., ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press).
Hume, David (1757/2006). The Natural History of Religion, ed. Tom Beauchamp
(Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Hume, David (1978). A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford:
Clarendon Press).
Williams, Bernard (2002). Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford:
Princeton University Press).
A Guide to Further Reading on
Bernard Williams

There is a small, but growing, secondary literature on Williams. Students who want
to take their study of Williams further will ¬nd a good starting point in the dictionary
entry by Garrett Cullity:
Garrett Cullity, “Bernard Williams,” in Stuart Brown (ed.), Dictionary of Twentieth-
Century British Philosophers (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005), vol. 2,
pp. 1132“1138.

Supplemented by the online encyclopedia entry by Tim Chappell:
Chappell, Timothy (Spring 2006 Edition) “Bernard Williams,” Zalta, Edward N.
(ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/

There is a valuable general survey of the whole of Williams™ work in:

Mark Jenkins, Bernard Williams (Philosophy Now) (Acumen/McGill-Queen™s Uni-
versity Press, 2006).

The multiauthor volume of essays published as a Festschrift for Williams contains
several important essays about his work:
Altham, J. E. J. and Harrison, T. R. (eds.), World, Mind and Ethics: Essays on the Ethical
Philosophy of Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

A volume of the Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 100, No. 6 (2003) recently published
the proceedings of a conference devoted to Williams™ work and includes papers
by Thomas Scanlon, Allan Gibbard, and Charles Taylor. An invaluable scholarly
resource is the complete bibliography of Williams™ own work now available in
Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, pp. 215“227.

Composite List of Works Cited

Adkins, Arthur, Merit and Responsibility. A Study in Greek Values (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1960).
Altham, J. E. J., “Re¬‚ection and Con¬dence,” J. E. J. Altham and T. R. Harrison
(eds.), World, Mind and Ethics, pp. 156“169.
Altham, J. E. J. and Harrison, T. R. (eds.), World, Mind and Ethics: Essays on the Ethical
Philosophy of Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Barnes, Jonathan, “Like us, only better: Bernard Williams™ theory of the decline in
ethics since the early Greeks,” Times Literary Supplement (April 23, 1993).
Baron, Marcia, Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univer-
sity Press, 1995).
Berlin, Isaiah, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969).
Bible: King James Version (Oxford, Oxford Paperbacks, 1998).
Blackburn, Simon, Spreading the Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).
Blackburn, Simon, Essays in Quasi-Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Blackburn, Simon, “Enchanting Views,” Peter Clark and Bob Hale (eds.), Reading
Putnam, pp. 12“30.
Blackburn, Simon, Ruling Passions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
Blum, Lawrence (1980), Friendship, Altruism and Morality (London: Routledge).
Brink, David, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989).
Bromberg, Philip, Standing in the Spaces: Essays on Clinical Process, Trauma, and
Dissociation (Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1998).
Brown, Stuart, Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers (London:
Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).
Bunnin, Nicholas and Tsui-James, E. P. (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy
(Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996).
Cairns, D.L., Aidos. The Psychology and Ethics of Shame in Ancient Greek Literature
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Chappell, Timothy, “Bernard Williams,” Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring, 2006 edition). Available at http://plato.stanford.
Child, William, “On the Dualism of Scheme and Content,” Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society, 94 (1994).

204 Works Cited

Clark, Peter and Hale, Bob (eds.), Reading Putnam (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996).
Cockburn, David, Other Times: Philosophical Perspectives on Past, Present and Future
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
Coetzee, J. M., Disgrace (New York: Penguin Books, 2000).
Cottingham, John, “The Ethics of Self-Concern,” Ethics, 101 (1991), pp. 798“817.
Craig, Edward, Knowledge and the State of Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
Cullity, Garrett, “Bernard Williams,” Stuart Brown (ed.), Dictionary of Twentieth-
Century British Philosophers (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005), Vol. 2,
pp. 1132“1138.
Dancy, Jonathan, Moral Reasons (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993).
D™Arms, Justin and Jacobson, Daniel, “The Moralistic Fallacy,” Philosophy and Phe-
nomenological Research, 61 (2000), pp. 65“90.
Darwall, Stephen, Gibbard, Allan, and Railton, Peter (eds.), Moral Discourse and
Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Davidson, Donald and Hintikka, Jaakko (eds.), Words and Objections: Essays on the
Work of W.V. Quine (Reidel: Dordrecht, 1969).
Davidson, Donald, “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” Inquiries into Truth
and Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 183“198.
Davidson, Donald, “Indeterminism and Antirealism,” Subjective, Intersubjective,
Objective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 69“85.
Dodds, E. R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
of California Press, 2004).
Donagan, Alan, The Theory of Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).
Donagan, Alan, “Consistency in Rationalist Moral Systems,” Gowans, Christopher
W. (ed.), Moral Dilemmas, pp. 271“90.
Finley, Moses (ed.), The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1981).
Foot, Phillipa, Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).
Fossum, Merle A. and Mason, Marilyn J., Facing Shame: Families in Recovery (New
York: Norton, 1986).


. 34
( 38 .)