Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002 by Bernard Williams, Michael Wood

By Bernard Williams, Michael Wood

Bernard Williams was once probably the most very important philosophers of the final fifty years, yet he was once additionally a extraordinary critic and essayist with a chic variety and a unprecedented skill to speak advanced principles to a large public. this can be the 1st number of Williams's well known essays and studies, a lot of which seemed within the New York assessment of Books, the London overview of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. In those items, Williams writes a few extensive diversity of topics, from philosophy and political philosophy to faith, technology, the arts, economics, socialism, feminism, and pornography.

Included listed below are stories of significant books resembling John Rawls's Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, country, and Utopia, Alastair MacIntyre's After Virtue, Richard Rorty's Consequences of Pragmatism, and Martha Nussbaum's Therapy of Desire. yet lots of those essays expand past philosophy and jointly offer an highbrow journey during the previous part century, from C. S. Lewis and Umberto Eco to Noam Chomsky. irrespective of the topic, Williams probes and demanding situations arguments, teases out their implications, and connects them to the broader highbrow scene. whilst, readers see a first class brain grappling with landmark books in "real time," earlier than serious consensus had shaped and ossified.

In his foreword, Michael wooden discusses Williams's kind and sensibility and his obstacle that philosophy give a contribution to the bigger highbrow conversation.

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In the first chapter, for instance, a number of pages are devoted to arguments which are in fact objections to views held about perception by the logical positivists and similar thinkers, but there is nothing in the text to tell one this. It would also have been helpful, I think, to get us to see the direction of his views, had Hampshire made references to writers whose opinions on various topics he either shares or has been interestingly influenced by. Some of what he says about action and self-knowledge, for instance, bears important relations to some French writing which has not previously had much effect in this country: to Sartre and, in particular, Merleau-Ponty, among contemporaries, and to an earlier tradition going back to Maine de Biran.

He starts afresh, with lots of good sense and a genuine humility, to put together some thoughts about his own and the general experience. This gives his work a first-handness not to be despised: it is not derivative or ‘literary’ in the bad sense. Yet the price is high. By banishing from his mind that less general experience, those warnings of complexity, that the literature of love offers he hands himself over to his own particular demon—Â�a kind of clubman’s crassness which can be heard over and over again in these pages striking a false note.

The point is made over and over again, in different connexions: the point that what was said in the past is relevant to scientific inquiry only if it can stand the tests of rigorous inquiry in the present. Thus Descartes in the earliest of his philosophical works, the Rules for the Direction of Understanding, advocates a method for discovering the truth, and characteristically remarks by the way: ‘Neither, though we have mastered all the arguments of Plato and Aristotle, if yet we have not the capacity for passing a solid judgment on these matters, shall we become philosophers; we should have acquired the knowledge, not of a science, but of history’.

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