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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy

Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy

by Bernard WilliamsBernard Williams
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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674268586
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/15/1986
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 244
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Bernard Williams was White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford, and Deutsch Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley.

Table of Contents

1. Socrates' Question

2. The Archimedean Point

3. Foundations: Well-Being

4. Foundations: Practical Reason

5. Styles of Ethical Theory

6. Theory and Prejudice

7. The Linguistic Turn

8. Knowledge, Science, Convergence

9. Relativism and Reflection

10. Morality, the Peculiar Institution




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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bernard William gets at the core of the issue, while still covering the basics of both utilitarian and relativist thoughts. His thesis is skepticism that there can be a universal basis for ethics, but that the arguments most commonly involved do form the basis for each individual to adopt a consistent approach. He also separates ethics from morals, for which the latter usually assumes some basis of tradition or collectivism and carries some degree of obligation. I especially enjoyed his introduction to the classical perspective -- the search for "how should one live?"