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Drawing lines

Bernard Williams, 12 May 1994

Only Words 
by Catharine MacKinnon.
HarperCollins, 128 pp., £9.99, June 1994, 0 00 255497 6
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... only that they may take a more positive view of some pornography than MacKinnon allows (as Linda Williams, for one, does in her book Hardcore). They may wonder whether pornography can be quite the all-consuming, omnipresent and supremely important threat to their freedom and autonomy that MacKinnon makes out. She quotes her friend Andrea Dworkin as saying ...

Personal Identity

Bernard Williams, 7 June 1984

Reasons and Persons 
by Derek Parfit.
Oxford, 543 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 19 824615 3
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... Ten or fifteen years ago, the complaint against moral philosophy was that it did not address practical problems, but concentrated on meta-ethics: that is to say, on questions about the status, meaning, objectivity and so forth of ethical thought. That complaint is now out of date. For a decade, analytical philosophy has been conspicuously concerned to display its credentials for being of use in helping us to think about concrete problems ...

Freer than others

Bernard Williams, 18 November 1993

Inequality Examined 
by Amartya Sen.
Oxford, 207 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 19 828334 2
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... Every modern state and every modern political philosophy believes in equality of something. As Amartya Sen points out in this book, even libertarians, who think that there should be no politically imposed limits on what people may retain of what they gain without force or fraud, believe in the equal right to exert oneself in the market and not to be taxed ...

Why Philosophy Needs History

Bernard Williams: On Truth, 17 October 2002

... Lack of a historical sense is the hereditary defect of philosophers . . . So what is needed from now on is historical philosophising, and with it the virtue of modesty.’ Nietzsche wrote this in 1878, but it still very much needs to be said today. Indeed, a lot of philosophy is more blankly non-historical now than it has ever been. In the so-called analytic tradition in particular this takes the form of trying to make philosophy sound like an extension of science ...

Do not disturb

Bernard Williams, 20 October 1994

The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Princeton, 558 pp., £22.50, June 1994, 0 691 03342 0
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... This is a book about therapeutic philosophy, the philosopher as doctor. It is a historical work, concerned with the schools of philosophy that developed in the Hellenistic period, the period in which, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Greek culture adapted itself to existing in the large and loosely organised states that took the place of the independent city-states in which most Greek life had gone on in the Classical period ...

On Hating and Despising Philosophy

Bernard Williams, 18 April 1996

... As long as there has been such a subject as philosophy, there have been people who hated and despised it. I do not want to exaggerate, in a self-pitying or self-dramatising way, the present extent or intensity of this dislike; I am not thinking of the philosopher as emblematically represented by the figure of Socrates, the martyr to free thought who reaches what the pious or conventional regard as the wrong answer ...
... In the first book that Marx and Engels wrote together, The Holy Family, there is a passage about the Jacobin leader Saint-Just, who was famous not only for the ruthlessness with which he helped to conduct the Terror, but for the intensity with which he urged on the Revolution ideals of civic virtue drawn from the ancient world: his demand, as he expressed it, that revolutionary men should be Romans ...

The View from Here and Now

Thomas Nagel: A Tribute to Bernard Williams, 11 May 2006

The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy 
by Bernard Williams, edited by Myles Burnyeat.
Princeton, 393 pp., £26.95, March 2006, 0 691 12477 9
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In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument 
by Bernard Williams, edited by Geoffrey Hawthorn.
Princeton, 174 pp., £18.95, October 2005, 0 691 12430 2
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Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline 
edited by Bernard Williams and A.W. Moore.
Princeton, 227 pp., £22.95, January 2006, 0 691 12426 4
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... Bernard Williams had a very large mind. To read these three posthumously published collections of essays (there will be a fourth, on opera) is an overwhelming reminder of his incandescent and all-consuming intelligence. He brought philosophical reflection to an opulent array of subjects, with more imagination and with greater cultural and historical understanding than anyone else of his time ...

Are we any better?

Gisela Striker, 19 August 1993

Shame and Necessity 
by Bernard Williams.
California, 254 pp., £25, May 1993, 0 520 08046 7
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... by the Department of Classics at Berkeley, but they are not always Classicists in a narrow sense. Bernard Williams rightly and proudly points to the precedent of one of his teachers, E.R. Dodds, whose The Greeks and the Irrational, published in 1951, remains one of the glories of the series. When Williams says in the ...

What Philosophers Dream Of

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Bernard Williams, 2 July 2015

Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 435 pp., £24.95, January 2014, 978 0 691 15985 0
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... you’re going to say better than you understand it yourself’, Gilbert Ryle said of the young Bernard Williams, ‘and sees all the possible objections to it, all the possible answers to all the possible objections, before you’ve got to the end of your sentence’. Williams’s declared enemies in philosophy ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Bookshops, 14 December 2000

... Western philosophy into two classes, continental and Anglo-American’, a distinction Bernard Williams once compared to dividing cars into either ‘left-hand-drive’ or ‘made in Japan’. It wasn’t like that in the days when Ray Monk ran the philosophy section of Waterstone’s on the Charing Cross Road. At the time, Monk was also ...

Nuclear Argument

Keith Kyle, 18 April 1985

Objections to Nuclear Defence: Philosophers on Deterrence 
edited by Nigel Blake and Kay Pole.
Routledge, 187 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 7102 0249 0
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Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War 
by Jeff McMahan.
Pluto, 214 pp., £3.95, August 1984, 0 86104 602 1
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A future that will work 
by David Owen.
Viking, 192 pp., £12.95, August 1984, 0 670 80564 5
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The Most Dangerous Decade: World Militarism and the New Non-Aligned Peace Movement 
by Ken Coates.
Spokesman, 211 pp., £15, July 1984, 9780851244051
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... differ little from political polemics, but with Anthony Kenny, Michael Dummett, Roger Ruston and Bernard Williams among the contributors there is much that is worth considering. All four of these philosophers reject the notion that it is meaningful to have the bomb without having the hypothetical intention to use it. The Master of Balliol (Kenny) puts ...

Against Simplicity

Stuart Hampshire, 18 February 1982

Moral Luck 
by Bernard Williams.
Cambridge, 173 pp., £16.50, December 1981, 0 521 24372 6
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... idea that morality’s claims upon us rest upon reason alone has faded within moral philosophy. Mr Williams attacks this rationalism. A residue of Kant’s doctrine survived in an argument within the philosophy of language, an argument that Mr Williams also attacks: that there is a peculiar and recognised moral use of the ...

Human Welfare

Paul Seabright, 18 August 1983

Utilitarianism and Beyond 
edited by Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams.
Cambridge, 290 pp., £20, June 1982, 0 521 24296 7
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... theories that bear resemblance – in varying degrees – to its currently popular versions. Even Bernard Williams, who ten years ago incautiously expressed the hope that ‘the day cannot be too far off when we hear no more of it,’ has bowed to the inevitable and edited, with Amartya Sen, this substantial collection of essays by philosophers and ...

To the Sunlit Uplands

Richard Rorty: A reply to Bernard Williams, 31 October 2002

Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 328 pp., £19.95, October 2002, 0 691 10276 7
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... stand against irrationalist mystery-mongerers (such as Augustine) and their rigid orthodoxies. Bernard Williams’s term for those usually lumped together as Postmodernists – the targets of his polemic in Truth and Truthfulness – is ‘the deniers of truth’. Unfortunately, he leaves the requirements for membership in this group vague. He does ...

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