Bernard Williams is an eloquent member of that small but important group of distinguished thinkers who are trying to erase the borders between the experts and all of us who grapple with moral issues in our own lives. In this book he delivers a sustained indictment of systematic moral theory from Kant onward and offers a persuasive alternative.
Kant’s ideas involved a view of the self we can no longer accept. Modern theories such as utilitarianism and contractualism usually offer criteria that lie outside the self altogether, and this, together with an emphasis on system, has weakened ethical thought. Why should a set of ideas have any special authority over our sentiments just because it has the structure of a theory? How could abstract theory help the individual answer the Socratic question “How should I live?”
Williams’s goal is nothing less than to reorient ethics toward the individual. He accuses modern moral philosophers of retreating to system and deserting individuals in their current social context. He believes that the ethical work of Plato and Aristotle is nearer to the truth of what ethical life is, but at the same time recognizes that the modern world makes unparalleled demands on ethical thought. He deals with the most thorny questions in contemporary philosophy and offers new ideas about issues such as relativism, objectivity, and the possibility of ethical knowledge. Williams has written an imaginative, ingenious book that calls for philosophers to transcend their self-imposed limits and to give full attention to the complexities of the ethical life.
Who has not asked—if only when depressed—‘How should I live, and how can I find out?’ To read this book is to be taken through one of the most sophisticated discussions available of such questions by an engaging, skeptical, often wryly witty and extraordinarily subtle professional.
Bernard Williams’s book is better read not as an introduction to ethics, but as an attempt to take stock of the present state of the subject. As such, it is a splendid piece of work It illuminatingly maps the various tendencies and the difficulties which they encounter… Such stocktaking is much needed. Bernard Williams is probably the philosopher best placed to undertake it, and he has done it admirably.
Remarkably lively and enjoyable… It is a very rich book, containing excellent descriptions of a variety of moral theories, and innumerable original and often witty observations on topics encountered on the way.
Bernard Williams writes so elegantly that one is led to believe that his arguments are simple; they are not; they are dense and intricate, and they always repay rereading. They constitute in this book a profound critique of contemporary moral philosophy and a wonderfully subtle exploration of the ethical life we actually live (and think about) everyday.
- 244 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.