Recasting Responsibility: Hume and Williams

In Marcel van Ackeren & Matthieu Queloz (eds.), Bernard Williams on Philosophy and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

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. It is, Williams maintains, only when we consider moral responsibility in genealogical terms, which gives attention to the importance of culture and history, that we can find a way of exposing the various prejudices and illusions of “the morality system”. Nevertheless, despite these differences, what Hume and Williams share is a fundamental commitment to provide a more “truthful” and “realistic” understanding of moral responsibility and our human ethical predicament.

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