Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen (1929–2003)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD090-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 18, 2018, from

Article Summary

Bernard Williams wrote on the philosophy of mind, especially personal identity, and political philosophy; but the larger and later part of his published work is on ethics. He is hostile to utilitarianism, and also attacks a view of morality associated in particular with Kant: people may only be properly blamed for what they do voluntarily, and what we should do is the same for all of us, and discoverable by reason. By contrast Williams holds that luck has an important role in our evaluation of ourselves and others; in the proper attribution of responsibility the voluntary is less central than the Kantian picture implies. Williams thinks shame a more important moral emotion than blame. Instead of there being an independent set of consistent moral truths, discoverable by reason, how we should live depends on the emotions and desires that we happen to have. These vary between people, and are typically plural and conflicting. Hence for Williams ethical judgment could not describe independent or real values – by contrast with the way in which he thinks that scientific judgment may describe a real independent world.

    Citing this article:
    Harrison, Ross and Edward Craig. Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen (1929–2003), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD090-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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