About this topic
Summary Bernard Arthur Owen Williams (1929–2003) was an English philosopher, born in Essex, who studied Classics at Oxford and went on to hold academic posts in Oxford, London, Cambridge, Berkeley, and Oxford again. His work covers an unusually wide range. He was known as a sharp critic of the drive towards theory in moral philosophy, and in particular of what he called ‘the morality system’ as exemplified by Kantianism and utilitarianism. Many of his contributions set the agenda for subsequent debates, including his views on personal identity, the truth-directedness of beliefs, ethical consistency, internalism about reasons, the importance of the emotions to morality, thick concepts, how reflection can destroy knowledge, the possibility of an absolute conception of reality, the relativism of distance, toleration, integrity, moral luck, practical necessity, the importance of shame, the tedium of immortality, the idea of equality, political realism, and the liberalism of fear. Williams advocated a conception of philosophy as a humanistic discipline, arguing that philosophy needed to draw on other human sciences in order to achieve what it set out to achieve, which was to make sense of humanity. His own work includes a study of ethical ideas in Homeric Greece and a genealogy of truthfulness. He also wrote about how philosophy could profit from engagement with its own history, and himself offered readings of the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Sidgwick, Collingwood, and Wittgenstein.
Key works

Williams’ most important books are: Morality (1972), a concise introduction to moral philosophy which doubles as an introduction to Williams’ distinctive take on it, and to which he added a preface in 1993Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (1978), an influential study of Descartes that also includes some of Williams’ most important epistemological writings; Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), the locus classicus of Williams’ ideas in ethics; Shame and Necessity (1993), a book based on the 1989 Sather Lectures that showcases Williams’ abilities as a Classical scholar and examines what we can learn from comparing our modern ethical ideas with those of the ancient Greek world; and Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (2002), a vindicatory genealogy of truthfulness – and in particular of the twin virtues of truth which Williams labels Accuracy and Sincerity – that also reflects on the genealogical method itself and on the connection of truthfulness to trust, historiography, authenticity, liberal politics, and sense-making. His contribution to Utilitarianism: For and Against (1973) is also among his most influential publications. Many of Williams’ key ideas are only to be found in his articles, however. Three anthologies – Problems of the Self (1973), Moral Luck (1981), and Making Sense of Humanity (1995) – were published during his lifetime. Three more – In the Beginning was the Deed: Realism and Morality in Political Argument (2005), The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy (2006), and Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (2006) – followed posthumously. The collections On Opera (2006) and Essays and Reviews: 1959–2002 (2014) contain many more occasional pieces that nevertheless also shed light on Williams’ views on such topics as pessimism and why philosophy needs history.

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  1. Bernard Williams and Practical Necessity.Matthew Prentice - unknown - Proceedings of the Heraclitean Society 19.
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  2. Towards a "What-If" Class.John Fantuzzo - Spring 2015 - Teaching Ethics 15 (1):83-96.
    This paper contends that the primary aim of teaching ethics to court-involved youth should be the realization of respect. I make this argument by defining what is meant by a practice of respect using Bernard Williams’s "The Idea of Equality." I then couch this understanding in my recent experience leading a moral/political philosophy workshop with court-involved youth in Harlem, New York. Raising the objection that educational opportunity, not the practice of respect, should be the primary aim of teaching court-involved youth, (...)
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  3. How one becomes what one is: The case for a Nietzschean conception of character development.Mark Alfano - forthcoming - In Iskra Fileva (ed.), Perspectives on Character. Oxford University Press.
    Gone are the heady days when Bernard Williams (1993) could get away with saying that “Nietzsche is not a source of philosophical theories” (p. 4). The last two decades have witnessed a flowering of research that aims to interpret, elucidate, and defend Nietzsche’s theories about science, the mind, and morality. This paper is one more blossom in that efflorescence. What I want to argue is that Nietzsche theorized three important and surprising moral psychological insights that have been born out by (...)
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  4. The EU's Democratic Deficit in a Realist Key: Multilateral Governance, Popular Sovereignty, and Critical Responsiveness.Jan Pieter Beetz & Enzo Rossi - forthcoming - Transnational Legal Theory.
    This paper provides a realist analysis of the EU's legitimacy. We propose a modification of Bernard Williams' theory of legitimacy, which we term critical responsiveness. For Williams, 'Basic Legitimation Demand + Modernity = Liberalism'. Drawing on that model, we make three claims. (i) The right side of the equation is insufficiently sensitive to popular sovereignty; (ii) The left side of the equation is best thought of as a 'legitimation story': a non-moralised normative account of how to shore up belief in (...)
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  5. The indeterminacy of desire and practical reason.Patrick Fleming - forthcoming - In David K. Chan (ed.), Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will. Springer: Philosophical Studies Series.
    Bernard Williams has famously argued that all reasons for action are internal reasons.1 The internalist requirement on reasons is that all reasons must be linked to the agent’s subjective motivational state by a sound deliberative route. This argument has been the subject of a great deal of debate. In this paper I wish to draw attention to a much less discussed aspect of Williams’ papers on internalism. Williams believes that there is an essential indeterminacy regarding what an agent has a (...)
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  6. A Shelter from Luck: The Morality System Reconstructed.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - In András Szigeti & Matthew Talbert (eds.), Morality and Agency: Themes from Bernard Williams. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 182-209.
    Far from being indiscriminately critical of the ideas he associated with the morality system, Bernard Williams offered vindicatory explanations of its crucial building blocks, such as the moral/non-moral distinction, the idea of obligation, the voluntary/involuntary distinction, and the practice of blame. The rationale for these concessive moves, I argue, is that understanding what these ideas do for us when they are not in the service of the system is just as important to leading us out of the system as the (...)
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  7. Reasons of Love and Conceptual Good-for-Nothings.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - In Michael Frauchiger & Markus Stepanians (eds.), Themes from Susan Wolf. Berlin: De Gruyter.
    What reasons do we have to use certain concepts and conceptions rather than others? Approaching that question in a methodologically humanistic rather than Platonic spirit, one might seek “reasons for concept use” in how well concepts serve the contingent human concerns of those who live by them. But appealing to the instrumentality of concepts in meeting our concerns invites the worry that this yields the wrong kind of reasons, especially if the relevant concerns are nonmoral ones. Drawing on Susan Wolf’s (...)
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  8. Law as a Test of Conceptual Strength.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - In Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco, Daniel Peixoto Murata & Julieta Rabanos (eds.), Bernard Williams on Law and Jurisprudence: From Agency and Responsibility to Methodology. Oxford: Hart.
    In ‘What Has Philosophy to Learn from Tort Law?’, Bernard Williams reaffirms J. L. Austin’s suggestion that philosophy might learn from tort law ‘the difference between practical reality and philosophical frivolity’. Yet while Austin regarded tort law as just another repository of time-tested concepts, on a par with common sense as represented by a dictionary, Williams argues that ‘the use of certain ideas in the law does more to show that those ideas have strength than is done by the mere (...)
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  9. Defending Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - Analysis.
    In this paper, I respond to three critical notices of The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering, written by Cheryl Misak, Alexander Prescott-Couch, and Paul Roth, respectively. After contrasting genealogical conceptual reverse-engineering with conceptual reverse-engineering, I discuss pragmatic genealogy’s relation to history. I argue that it would be a mistake to understand pragmatic genealogy as a fiction (or a model, or an idealization) as opposed to a form of historical explanation. That would be to rely on precisely the (...)
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  10. The Ethics of Conceptualization: A Needs-Based Approach.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Philosophy strives to give us a firmer hold on our concepts. But what about their hold on us? Why place ourselves under the sway of a concept and grant it the authority to shape our thought and conduct? Another conceptualization would carry different implications. What makes one way of thinking better than another? This book develops a framework for concept appraisal. Its guiding idea is that to question the authority of concepts is to ask for reasons of a special kind: (...)
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  11. Williams’s Debt to Wittgenstein.Matthieu Queloz & Nikhil Krishnan - forthcoming - In Marcel van Ackeren & Matthieu Queloz (eds.), Making Sense of the Past: Bernard Williams and the History of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    This chapter argues that several aspects of Bernard Williams’s style, methodology, and metaphilosophy can be read as evolving dialectically out of Wittgenstein’s own. After considering Wittgenstein as a stylistic influence on Williams, especially as regards ideals of clarity, precision, and depth, Williams’s methodological debt to Wittgenstein is examined, in particular his anthropological interest in thick concepts and their point. The chapter then turns to Williams’s explicit association, in the 1990s, with a certain form of Wittgensteinianism, which he called ‘Left Wittgensteinianism’. (...)
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  12. Recasting Responsibility: Hume and Williams.Paul Russell - forthcoming - In Marcel van Ackeren & Matthieu Florian Queloz (eds.), Bernard Williams on Philosophy and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Bernard Williams identifies Hume as “in some ways an archetypal reconciler” who, nevertheless, displays “a striking resistance to some of the central tenets of what [Williams calls] ‘morality’”. This assessment, it is argued, is generally correct. There are, however, some significant points of difference in their views concerning moral responsibility. This includes Williams’s view that a naturalistic project of the kind that Hume pursues is of limited value when it comes to making sense of “morality’s” illusions about responsibility and blame. (...)
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  13. The Reason View and "the Morality System".Paul Russell - forthcoming - In Michael Frauchiger & Markus Stepanians (eds.), Themes from Wolf. Berlin:
    This paper examines Susan Wolf's accout of "the Reason View" of moral responsibility as articulated and defended in 'Freedom Within Reason' (OUP 1990). The discussion turns on two questions about the Reason View: -/- (1) Does the Reason View aim to satisfy what Bernard Williams describes as “morality” and its (“peculiar”) conception of responsibility and blame? -/- (2) If it does, how successful is the Reason View judged in these terms? -/- It is argued that if the Reason View aims (...)
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  14. Enquiry and the Value of Knowledge.Barnaby Walker - forthcoming - Philosophy.
    In this paper I challenge the orthodox view of the significance of Platonic value problems. According to this view, such problems are among the central questions of epistemology, and answering them is essential for justifying the status of epistemology as a major branch of philosophical enquiry. I challenge this view by identifying an assumption on which Platonic value problems are based – the value assumption – and considering how this assumption might be resisted. After articulating a line of thought that (...)
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  15. Il rincrescimento dell'agente di Bernard Williams: un confronto con la colpa, il rimorso e altre forme di rincrescimento.Simone Gasparoni - 2023 - Thaumàzein 11 (2):217-247.
    This essay explores Bernard Williams’ notion of agent-regret, comparing it with guilt, remorse, and other forms of regret. I first highlight some features of the intentional structure of guilt (also in relation to shame) and remorse, and then proceed to the analysis of regret. I discuss several examples of regret, including Williams’ discussion of the truck driver who accidentally runs over a child. In agreement with Williams, I argue that agent-regret has a moral significance not captured by either guilt or (...)
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  16. The Dworkin–Williams Debate: Liberty, Conceptual Integrity, and Tragic Conflict in Politics.Matthieu Queloz - 2023 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (open access):1-27.
    Bernard Williams articulated his later political philosophy notably in response to Ronald Dworkin, who, striving for coherence or integrity among our political concepts, sought to immunize the concepts of liberty and equality against conflict. Williams, doubtful that we either could or should eliminate the conflict, resisted the pursuit of conceptual integrity. Here, I reconstruct this Dworkin–Williams debate with an eye to drawing out ideas of ongoing philosophical and political importance. The debate not only exemplifies Williams's political realism and its connection (...)
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  17. Nietzsche’s Conceptual Ethics.Matthieu Queloz - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 66 (7):1335-1364.
    If ethical reflection on which concepts to use has an avatar, it must be Nietzsche, who took more seriously than most the question of what concepts one should live by, and regarded many of our inherited concepts as deeply problematic. Moreover, his eschewal of traditional attempts to derive the one right set of concepts from timeless rational foundations renders his conceptual ethics strikingly modern, raising the prospect of a Nietzschean alternative to Wittgensteinian non-foundationalism. Yet Nietzsche appears to engage in two (...)
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  18. Ethics Beyond the Limits: New Essays on Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. [REVIEW]Matthieu Queloz - 2023 - Mind 132 (525):234-243.
    Bernard Williams’ books demand an unusual amount of work from readers. This is particularly true of his 1985 magnum opus, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (ELP)—a work so charged with ideas that there seems to be nothing more to say, and yet at the same time so pared-down and tersely argued that there seems to be nothing left to take away. Reflecting on the book five years after its publication, Williams writes that it is centrally concerned with a Nietzschean (...)
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  19. Virtue Ethics and the Morality System.Matthieu Queloz & Marcel van Ackeren - 2023 - Topoi:1-12.
    Virtue ethics is frequently billed as a remedy to the problems of deontological and consequentialist ethics that Bernard Williams identified in his critique of “the morality system.” But how far can virtue ethics be relied upon to avoid these problems? What does Williams’s critique of the morality system mean for virtue ethics? To answer this question, we offer a more principled characterisation of the defining features of the morality system in terms of its organising ambition—to shelter life against luck. This (...)
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  20. Responses to Ryan, Fosl and Gautier: SKEPSIS Book Symposium on 'Recasting Hume and Early Modern Philosophy', by Paul Russell.Paul Russell - 2023 - Skepsis: A Journal for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research 14 (26):121-139.
    In the replies to my critics that follow I offer a more detailed account of the specific papers that they discuss or examine. The papers that they are especially concerned with are: “The Material World and Natural Religion in Hume’s Treatise” (Ryan) [Essay 3], “Hume’s Skepticism and the Problem of Atheism” (Fosl) [Essay 12], and “Hume’s Philosophy of Irreligion and the Myth of British Empiricism (Gautier) [Essay 16].
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  21. Precis of Recasting Hume and Early Modern Philosophy. SKEPSIS Book Symposium: Paul Russell, Recasting Hume and Early Modern Philosophy, With replies to critics: Peter Fosl (pp. 77-95), Claude Gautier (pp. 96-111) , and Todd Ryan (pp.112-122).Paul Russell - 2023 - Skepsis: A Journal for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research 14 (26):71-73.
    Recasting Hume and Early Modern Philosophy is a collection of essays that are all concerned with major figures and topics in the early modern philosophy. Most of the essays are concerned, more specifically, with the philosophy of David Hume (1711-1776). The sixteen essays included in this collection are divided into five parts. These parts are arranged under the headings of: (1) Metaphysics and Epistemology; (2) Free Will and Moral Luck; (3) Ethics, Virtue and Optimism; (4) Skepticism, Religion and Atheism; and (...)
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  22. Purity and Practical Reason: On Pragmatic Genealogy.Nicholas Smyth - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10 (37):1057-1081.
    Pragmatic Genealogy involves constructing fictional, quasi-historical models in order to discover what might explain and justify our concepts, ideas or practices. It arguably originated with Hume, but its most prominent practitioners are Edward Craig, Bernard Williams and Mathieu Queloz. Its defenders allege that the method allows us to understand “what the concept does for us, what its role in our life might be” (Craig, 1990), and that this in turn can ground practical reasons to preserve or further a conceptual practice. (...)
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  23. Theorizing the Normative Significance of Critical Histories for International Law.Damian Cueni & Matthieu Queloz - 2022 - Journal of the History of International Law 24 (4):561-587.
    Though recent years have seen a proliferation of critical histories of international law, their normative significance remains under-theorized, especially from the perspective of general readers rather than writers of such histories. How do critical histories of international law acquire their normative significance? And how should one react to them? We distinguish three ways in which critical histories can be normatively significant: (i) by undermining the overt or covert conceptions of history embedded within present practices in support of their authority; (ii) (...)
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  24. La virtù morale tra Aristotele e Bernard Williams.Lorenzo Greco - 2022 - In Monica Ferrari, Matteo Morandi & Giulia Delogu (eds.), La virtù tra paideia, politeia ed episteme. Brescia BS, Italia: Morcelliana Scholé. pp. 618-32.
  25. The Shaken Realist: Bernard Williams, the War, and Philosophy as Cultural Critique.Nikhil Krishnan & Matthieu Queloz - 2022 - European Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):226-247.
    Bernard Williams thought that philosophy should address real human concerns felt beyond academic philosophy. But what wider concerns are addressed by Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, a book he introduces as being ‘principally about how things are in moral philosophy’? In this article, we argue that Williams responded to the concerns of his day indirectly, refraining from explicitly claiming wider cultural relevance, but hinting at it in the pair of epigraphs that opens the main text. This was Williams’s solution (...)
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  26. Genealogy, Evaluation, and Engineering.Matthieu Queloz - 2022 - The Monist 105 (4):435-451.
    Against those who identify genealogy with reductive genealogical debunking or deny it any evaluative and action-guiding significance, I argue for the following three claims: that although genealogies, true to their Enlightenment origins, tend to trace the higher to the lower, they need not reduce the higher to the lower, but can elucidate the relation between them and put us in a position to think more realistically about both relata; that if we think of genealogy’s normative significance in terms of a (...)
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  27. Function-Based Conceptual Engineering and the Authority Problem.Matthieu Queloz - 2022 - Mind 131 (524):1247-1278.
    In this paper, I identify a central problem for conceptual engineering: the problem of showing concept-users why they should recognise the authority of the concepts advocated by engineers. I argue that this authority problem cannot generally be solved by appealing to the increased precision, consistency, or other theoretical virtues of engineered concepts. Outside contexts in which we anyway already aim to realise theoretical virtues, solving the authority problem requires engineering to take a functional turn and attend to the functions of (...)
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  28. Free Will and the Tragic Predicament: Making Sense of Williams.Paul Russell - 2022 - In Andras Szigeti & Matt Talbert (eds.), Morality and Agency: Themes from Bernard Williams. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 163-183.
    Free Will & The Tragic Predicament : Making Sense of Williams -/- The discussion in this paper aims to make better sense of free will and moral responsibility by way of making sense of Bernard Williams’ significant and substantial contribution to this subject. Williams’ fundamental objective is to vindicate moral responsibility by way of freeing it from the distortions and misrepresentations imposed on it by “the morality system”. What Williams rejects, in particular, are the efforts of “morality” to further “deepen” (...)
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  29. Moral Responsibility and Existential Attitudes.Paul Russell - 2022 - In Dana K. Nelkin & Derk Pereboom (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility. New York City, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 519-543.
    We might describe the philosophical issue of human freedom and moral responsibility as an existential metaphysical problem. Problems of this kind are not just a matter of theoretical interest and curiosity: They address issues that we care about and that affect us. They are, more specifically, relevant to the significance and value that we attach to our lives and the way that we lead them. According to the orthodox view, there is a tidy connection between skepticism and pessimism. Skepticism threatens (...)
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  30. Relation-Regret and Associative Luck: On Rationally Regretting What Another Has Done.Daniel Telech - 2022 - In Andras Szigeti & Talbert Matthew (eds.), Morality and Agency: Themes from Bernard Williams. Oxford University Press. pp. 233-264.
    I argue that the phenomenon underlying Bernard Williams’ (1976) “agent-regret” is considerably broader than appreciated by Williams and others. Agent-regret— an anguished response that agents have for harms they have caused, even if faultlessly— I maintain, is a species of a more general response to harms that need not be one’s fault, but which nonetheless impact one’s practical identity in a special way. This broader genus includes as a species what I call “relation-regret”, a pained response to harm caused by (...)
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  31. Genealogical Solutions to the Problem of Critical Distance: Political Theory, Contextualism and the case of Punishment in Transitional Scenarios.Francesco Testini - 2022 - Res Publica 28 (2):271-301.
    In this paper, I argue that one approach to normative political theory, namely contextualism, can benefit from a specific kind of historical inquiry, namely genealogy, because the latter provides a solution to a deep-seated problem for the former. This problem consists in a lack of critical distance and originates from the justificatory role that contextualist approaches attribute to contextual facts. I compare two approaches to genealogical reconstruction, namely the historiographical method pioneered by Foucault and the hybrid method of pragmatic genealogy (...)
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  32. The Purity of Agent-Regret.Jake Wojtowicz - 2022 - Philosophy 97 (1):71-90.
    I argue for a novel understanding of the nature of agent-regret. On the standard picture, agent-regret involves regretting the result of one’s action and thus regretting one’s action. I argue that the standard picture is a flawed analysis of agent-regret. I offer several cases of agent-regret where the agent feels agent-regret but does not regret the result itself. I appeal to other cases where an agent’s attitude towards something depends upon whether or not they are involved in that thing. I (...)
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  33. Whence the Demand for Ethical Theory?Damian Cueni & Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - American Philosophical Quarterly 58 (2):135-46.
    Where does the impetus towards ethical theory come from? What drives humans to make values explicit, consistent, and discursively justifiable? This paper situates the demand for ethical theory in human life by identifying the practical needs that give rise to it. Such a practical derivation puts the demand in its place: while finding a home for it in the public decision-making of modern societies, it also imposes limitations on the demand by presenting it as scalable and context-sensitive. This differentiates strong (...)
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  34. The Passive Body and States of Nature: An Examination of the Methodological Role State of Nature Theory Plays in Williams and Nietzsche.Brian Lightbody - 2021 - Genealogy 5 (8):1-15.
    : In his work Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams offers a very different interpretation of philosophical genealogy than that expounded in the secondary literature. The “Received View” of genealogy holds that it is “documentary grey”: it attempts to provide historically well-supported, coherent, but defeasible explanations for the actual transformation of practices, values, and emotions in history. However, paradoxically, the standard interpretation also holds another principle. Genealogies are nevertheless polemical because they admit that any evidence that would serve to justify a (...)
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  35. Reflections on Meaning and Immortality.Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin - 2021 - Ergo 8 (8).
    This article revisits Bernard Williams’s influential argument that an immortal human life would be meaningless and argues for a shift in focus. There’s good reason to keep Williams’s framework for evaluating the prospects of meaning in continued life. But there’s also good reason to abandon the conception of human psychology that he, and most of the vast literature in response, uses to fill in that framework. Focusing on values, as opposed to desires, reveals that the most pressing threats to a (...)
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  36. Tracing Concepts to Needs.Mathieu Queloz - 2021 - The Philosopher 109 (3):34-39.
    Why is the concept of truth so important to us? After all, it is not at all obvious why human intelligence would have evolved to do anything other than to dissimulate, deceive, cheat, and trick. Pragmatic genealogies like the genealogies of the value of truth told by Nietzsche and Williams can help us grasp why we think as we do. But instead of explaining concepts by tracing them to antecedent objects in reality, they trace them to practical needs and reverse-engineer (...)
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  37. Choosing Values? Williams Contra Nietzsche.Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (2):286-307.
    Amplifying Bernard Williams’ critique of the Nietzschean project of a revaluation of values, this paper mounts a critique of the idea that whether values will help us to live can serve as a criterion for choosing which values to live by. I explore why it might not serve as a criterion and highlight a number of further difficulties faced by the Nietzschean project. I then come to Nietzsche's defence, arguing that if we distinguish valuations from values, there is at least (...)
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  38. Nietzsche’s English Genealogy of Truthfulness.Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 103 (2):341-363.
    This paper aims to increase our understanding of the genealogical method by taking a developmental approach to Nietzsche’s genealogical methodology and reconstructing an early instance of it: Nietzsche’s genealogy of truthfulness in On Truth and Lie. Placing this essay against complementary remarks from his notebooks, I show that Nietzsche’s early use of the genealogical method concerns imagined situations before documented history, aims to reveal practical necessity before contingency, and focuses on vindication before it turns to subversion or problematization. I argue (...)
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  39. The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering (Open Access).Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Why did such highly abstract ideas as truth, knowledge, or justice become so important to us? What was the point of coming to think in these terms? This book presents a philosophical method designed to answer such questions: the method of pragmatic genealogy. Pragmatic genealogies are partly fictional, partly historical narratives exploring what might have driven us to develop certain ideas in order to discover what these do for us. The book uncovers an under-appreciated tradition of pragmatic genealogy which cuts (...)
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  40. Ideas that Work.Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - Aeon:1–8.
    Truth, knowledge, justice – to understand how our loftiest abstractions earn their keep, trace them to their practical origins.
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  41. The Self-Effacing Functionality of Blame.Matthieu Queloz - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (4):1361-1379.
    This paper puts forward an account of blame combining two ideas that are usually set up against each other: that blame performs an important function, and that blame is justified by the moral reasons making people blameworthy rather than by its functionality. The paper argues that blame could not have developed in a purely instrumental form, and that its functionality itself demands that its functionality be effaced in favour of non-instrumental reasons for blame—its functionality is self-effacing. This notion is sharpened (...)
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  42. Left Wittgensteinianism.Matthieu Queloz & Damian Cueni - 2021 - European Journal of Philosophy 29 (4):758-777.
    Social and political concepts are indispensable yet historically and culturally variable in a way that poses a challenge: how can we reconcile confident commitment to them with awareness of their contingency? In this article, we argue that available responses to this problem—Foundationalism, Ironism, and Right Wittgensteinianism—are unsatisfactory. Instead, we draw on the work of Bernard Williams to tease out and develop a Left Wittgensteinian response. In present-day pluralistic and historically self-conscious societies, mere confidence in our concepts is not enough. For (...)
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  43. Philosophy as Synchronic History.Daniel Stoljar - 2021 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 7 (2):155-172.
    Bernard Williams argues that philosophy is in some deep way akin to history. This article is a novel exploration and defense of the Williams thesis —though in a way anathema to Williams himself. The key idea is to apply a central moral from what is sometimes called the analytic philosophy of history of the 1960s to the philosophy of philosophy of today, namely, the separation of explanation and laws. I suggest that an account of causal explanation offered by David Lewis (...)
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  44. An Adam Smithian account of moral reasons.Nir Ben-Moshe - 2020 - European Journal of Philosophy 28 (4):1073-1087.
    The Humean Theory of Reasons, according to which all of our reasons for action are explained by our desires, has been criticized for not being able to account for “moral reasons,” namely, overriding reasons to act on moral demands regardless of one's desires. My aim in this paper is to utilize ideas from Adam Smith's moral philosophy in order to offer a novel and alternative account of moral reasons that is both desire-based and accommodating of an adequate version of the (...)
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  45. The (Un)desirability of Immortality.Felipe Pereira & Travis Timmerman - 2020 - Philosophy Compass 15 (2):e12652.
    While most people believe the best possible life they could lead would be an immortal one, so‐called “immortality curmudgeons” disagree. Following Bernard Williams, they argue that, at best, we have no prudential reason to live an immortal life, and at worst, an immortal life would necessarily be bad for creatures like us. In this article, we examine Bernard Williams' seminal argument against the desirability of immortality and the subsequent literature it spawned. We first reconstruct and motivate Williams' somewhat cryptic argument (...)
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  46. Revealing Social Functions through Pragmatic Genealogies.Matthieu Queloz - 2020 - In Rebekka Hufendiek, Daniel James & Raphael Van Riel (eds.), Social Functions in Philosophy: Metaphysical, Normative, and Methodological Perspectives. London: Routledge. pp. 200-218.
    There is an under-appreciated tradition of genealogical explanation that is centrally concerned with social functions. I shall refer to it as the tradition of pragmatic genealogy. It runs from David Hume (T, 3.2.2) and the early Friedrich Nietzsche (TL) through E. J. Craig (1990, 1993) to Bernard Williams (2002) and Miranda Fricker (2007). These pragmatic genealogists start out with a description of an avowedly fictional “state of nature” and end up ascribing social functions to particular building blocks of our practices (...)
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  47. How Genealogies Can Affect the Space of Reasons.Matthieu Queloz - 2020 - Synthese 197 (5):2005-2027.
    Can genealogical explanations affect the space of reasons? Those who think so commonly face two objections. The first objection maintains that attempts to derive reasons from claims about the genesis of something commit the genetic fallacy—they conflate genesis and justification. One way for genealogies to side-step this objection is to focus on the functional origins of practices—to show that, given certain facts about us and our environment, certain conceptual practices are rational because apt responses. But this invites a second objection, (...)
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  48. From Paradigm-Based Explanation to Pragmatic Genealogy.Matthieu Queloz - 2020 - Mind 129 (515):683-714.
    Why would philosophers interested in the points or functions of our conceptual practices bother with genealogical explanations if they can focus directly on paradigmatic examples of the practices we now have?? To answer this question, I compare the method of pragmatic genealogy advocated by Edward Craig, Bernard Williams, and Miranda Fricker—a method whose singular combination of fictionalising and historicising has met with suspicion—with the simpler method of paradigm-based explanation. Fricker herself has recently moved towards paradigm-based explanation, arguing that it is (...)
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  49. Précis of The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering.Mattieu Queloz - 2020 - Analysis.
    In this précis of The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering (OUP 2021), I summarize the key claims of the book. The book describes, develops, and defends an underappreciated methodological tradition: the tradition of pragmatic genealogy, which aims to identify what our loftiest and most inscrutable conceptual practices do for us by telling strongly idealized, but still historically informed stories about what might have driven people to adopt and elaborate them as they did. What marks out this methodological (...)
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  50. Political Obligations in Illiberal Regimes.Zoltán Gábor Szűcs - 2020 - Res Publica 26 (4):541-558.
    The paper is organized around two major, but closely interconnected goals. First, the paper’s principal aim is to offer a normative theory of political obligations that is based on certain insights of philosophical anarchism, theories of associative obligations and political realism. Second, the paper aims to offer a normative theoretical framework to examine political obligations in contemporary non-democratic contexts that does not vindicate non-democratic regimes and that does not exclude political obligations from the terrain of moral normativity. The theory of (...)
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