Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002

Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002

by Bernard Williams

View All Available Formats & Editions

Bernard Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the past fifty years, but he was also a distinguished critic and essayist with an elegant style and a rare ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide public. This is the first collection of Williams’s popular essays and reviews. Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy

…  See more details below


Bernard Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the past fifty years, but he was also a distinguished critic and essayist with an elegant style and a rare ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide public. This is the first collection of Williams’s popular essays and reviews. Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy to science, the humanities, economics, feminism, and pornography.

Included are reviews of major books such as John Rawls’s Theory of Justice, Richard Rorty’s Consequences of Pragmatism, and Martha Nussbaum’s Therapy of Desire. But many of these essays extend beyond philosophy, providing an intellectual tour through the past half century, from C. S. Lewis to Noam Chomsky. No matter the subject, readers see a first-class mind grappling with landmark books in "real time," before critical consensus had formed and ossified.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From an early essay disdaining “obscure metaphysical writing” in favor of “more pragmatic and literal-minded… thinkers” to a late selection announcing that philosophy “wants to make things clear,” this career-spanning collection by Williams (1929–2003), author of Truth and Truthfulness, exhibits and demands discipline of mind, precision of thought, clarity of language, and practicability of concept. The selections weave through evolutionary biology, theology, linguistic theory, medical ethics, and social science toward Williams’s favored ground, political and moral philosophy, in search of principles by which we “might lead a worthwhile life.” Williams’s reviews evaluate his targets on argumentative method and “intellectual structure,” praising clarity and excoriating sophistry, faulty logic, untested assumptions, imprecise language, and “speculative history and creaky scholarship” with gentle irony or caustic glee. Emblematic of his own criteria of inquiry with exactitude, exuding intelligence and humanity, this collection, with a foreword by Michael Wood, is free of ideology, prejudice, and cant, and is imbued with an almost wistful hope that, from an ever-deepening cultural morass, philosophy might yet discover “plain truth,” helping its subjects understand “something of how we came to be where we are.” Beyond satisfying Williams’s fans, the volume argues eloquently for the necessity of philosophical reflection and examination. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

One of Flavorwire's 10 Best Books by Academic Publishers in 2014

"[A]ffords a different, and especially advantageous, perspective from which to consider the animating ideas of Williams's humanism."--Joel Isaac, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] dazzling intellectual feast. . . . Williams's quickness, insight and wit are no surprise. More surprising, perhaps, is his rare capacity for intellectual empathy. Even more valuable are the non-review essays, which address the role of philosophy, and the humanities more generally, in human life, making a powerful case for their indispensability."--Martha Nussbaum, Times Literary Supplement

"[Williams'] essays accommodate the world and the reader, and unlike the world, give one confidence and delight in good argument."--Geoffrey Hawthorn, London Review of Books

"[A] stimulating read for anyone who cares about the condition of the world. With characteristic clarity, insight, and humor, the author tackles a wide range of topics as diverse as philosophy, religion, science, the humanities, and pornography."--Wan Lixin, Shanghai Daily

"This rigorous collection of essays and reviews reveals the brilliant and critical mind of Bernard Williams. . . . In these reviews and essays Williams achieves something that philosophy always promises but seldom delivers: a view from the perspective of reason, on a cultural landscape where reason is only one of the landmarks."--Roger Scruton, Telegraph

"Illuminating and instructive essays and reviews. This is a book which should inspire readers to go and read--or perhaps reread--Williams's other works."--Alasdair Palmer, Standpoint

"The titles that Williams reviewed read from a who's who of late 20th century philosophy. His reviews of Rawls' Theory of Justice and Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia are relevant today, thirty years after they were written. . . . Reading short reviews of these classic philosophical volumes in such a clear, accessible tone is a great pleasure, and the editors of this volume should be congratulated for making them available in this format."--Robert Robinson, San Francisco Book Review

"[E]xtremely welcome collection . . . all of which show his punchy, interogative genius in full swing. . . . [B]rilliant essays."--Seamus Perry, Literary Review

"[A]n excellent new collection. . . . The essays can be savored piecemeal but are more powerful in number. To flip through them is to flip through the past forty years of our intellectual history by way of its seminal texts."--Walker Mimms, New Criterion

"The work of forty-three busy years, the essays in this volume attest to both what analytic philosophy has to gain from the humanities, and what the humanities have to gain from philosophy. Entirely free of kitsch or easy comfort, they leave us with the cumulative impression of a lifetime of truthfulness prosecuted with wit, subtlety, and stylishness."--Nakul Krishna, Cambridge Humanities Review

"For anybody wishing to undertake philosophy as a humanistic discipline, this collection of essays is an excellent place to start. But it will take many years to get up to speed, and the task will never be finished. Not for the first time, I am left wishing that Williams, who died in 2003, could have had another decade to show what a lifetime of learning can achieve."--Paul Sagar, Oxonian Review

"Posthumously published essays and reviews often feel like stale leftovers, but Bernard Williams was such a good philosopher and writer that his remain fresh and delicious. This collection gives not only a marvelous record of intellectual milestones across 43 years, but also a sense of immediacy."--Jane O'Grady, Times Higher Education

"I cannot recommend this volume highly enough to anyone interested in what the humanities have to offer."--Constantine Sandis, Times Higher Education

"[A] showcase of the philosopher's distinctive acumen and wit."--Adam Ferner, Philosophers' Magazine

"Williams's literary and philosophical skills are well on display."--John Schwenkler, Commonweal

Read More

Product Details

Princeton University Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Bernard Williams held Chairs of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge, Berkeley, and Oxford. He died in 2003.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >