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Essays and Reviews

Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002

Bernard Williams
Foreword by Michael Wood
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Essays and Reviews
    Book Description:

    Bernard Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the last 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, many of which appeared in theNew York Review of Books, theLondon Review of Books, and theTimes Literary Supplement. In these pieces, Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy and political philosophy to religion, science, the humanities, economics, socialism, feminism, and pornography.

    Included here are reviews of major books such as John Rawls'sTheory of Justice, Robert Nozick'sAnarchy, State, and Utopia, Alastair MacIntyre'sAfter Virtue, Richard Rorty'sConsequences of Pragmatism, and Martha Nussbaum'sTherapy of Desire. But many of these essays extend beyond philosophy and together provide an intellectual tour through the past half century, from C. S. Lewis and Umberto Eco to Noam Chomsky. No matter the subject, Williams probes and challenges arguments, teases out their implications, and connects them to the wider intellectual scene. At the same time, readers see a first-class mind grappling with landmark books in "real time," before critical consensus had formed and ossified.

    In his foreword, Michael Wood discusses Williams's style and sensibility and his concern that philosophy contribute to the larger intellectual conversation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4839-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    Michael Wood

    In the first of the reviews reprinted in the present volume, Bernard Williams recalls and dismisses what he trusts is an outdated estimation of Plato, sharply expressing his ironic surprise that anyone should ever have offered or accepted it. Far from seeing theRepublicas “one of the noblest monuments of Western liberalism and enlightenment,” Williams finds in it only an “extraordinary tissue of historical falsehood and philosophical misunderstanding,” and support for a “political system … based on oligarchic deceit and a contempt for much legitimate aspiration and human diversity.” Plato represents “as a system of consent what must actually...

  4. 1 Plato Today, by R.H.S. Crossman, Spectator (1959)
    (pp. 3-5)

    Twenty-five years ago Plato’sRepublicwas generally viewed as one of the noblest monuments of Western liberalism and enlightenment. Together with the funeral speech which Thucydides in his history put into the mouth of Pericles, it was thought to represent the summit of Greek political wisdom and moral aspiration, and thus to be a primer and inspiration for the rulers and chief administrators who drew their education from the classics. This view of Plato’s politics has not entirely disappeared, and no doubt still gets an occasional airing at public-school speech days; but effectively it has gone, shown up for the...

  5. 2 English Philosophy since 1900, by G. J. Warnock, Philosophy (1959)
    (pp. 5-8)

    It is only in its title that this notably unpretentious book promises more than it gives.¹ It is not a general account of English philosophy since 1900, as it omits moral and political philosophy altogether, and in other fields deals with the work of comparatively few philosophers, and that selectively. These limitations, however, are clearly stated by Mr. Warnock, who explains that his aim has been “to make as clear as possible the general character of the philosophical landscape”, and that he has deliberately given brief treatment to subjects, such as Logical Atomism, which have been studied recently in other...

  6. 3 Thought and Action, by Stuart Hampshire, Encounter (1960)
    (pp. 8-17)

    The chief and persistent influence on British philosophical thought about the human mind has been Descartes. To say this may seem a paradox, since there is no more hallowed contrast in the history of philosophy than that between on the one hand the rationalism of Descartes, with its far-reaching trust in the powers of pure theoretical reason to discover the ultimate structure of reality, and on the other hand the profound empiricist strain of British thought, which has again and again returned to the view that nothing substantial can be learned about the world save through the laborious, tentative, and...

  7. 4 The Theological Appearance of the Church of England: An External View, Prism (1960)
    (pp. 17-24)

    My disqualifications for writing about this subject are many; I must start by declaring some. I am not a member of the Church of England, and thus may be suspected of being biassed against it, or at least lacking in sympathy with it. The fact that I am not a member of any other church, either, may do something to alleviate the first suspicion, but may, on the other hand, only tend to aggravate the second, since it may be thought that only Christians are likely to show much understanding in questions of Christian theology. To a certain extent, this...

  8. 5 The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis, Spectator (1960)
    (pp. 24-26)

    The Four Loves are Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. In this brief book Professor Lewis discusses each; its difficulties, dangers and rewards.¹ He starts off with an introductory chapter in which he principally distinguishes between what he calls Gift-loves and Need-loves—a distinction of some importance to his later thoughts, although he rightly admits its limitations, since there are many whose need it is to make a gift of their love. He also has a chapter on, as he puts it, our ‘liking and loves for the sub-human,’ and there speaks of such things as patriotism and the love for...

  9. 6 Discourse on Method, by René Descartes, translated by Arthur Wollaston, Spectator (1960)
    (pp. 26-28)

    The fame of Descartes has at least three separate and very firm foundations. In philosophy, it was he who made into the starting point of the philosopher’s inquiry the question, ‘Of what can I be certain,’ and by so doing turned Western philosophy on to a path which in good part it has followed ever since. By asking this question, and by finding as the first and basic answer to it the famouscogito ergo sum—‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’—he did something virtually unthinkable to his predecessors: he made the first certainties of philosophy the immediate data...

  10. 7 The Individual Reason: L’esprit laïc, BBC Radio 3 talk, Listener (1961)
    (pp. 28-35)

    No era in the history of scientific ideas is more celebrated than the seventeenth century, the century that contains the work of Kepler, of Galileo, of Descartes, and culminates in the publication, in 1687, of Newton’sPrincipia. The celebration of this great century is just, from more than one point of view. The mere intellectual achievements, individual and cumulative, are gigantic. More than that, the century saw a decisive shift in men’s general outlook, and the firm establishment of what is, to all intents and purposes, the modern attitude towards the physical universe. Besides this, again, the history of these...

  11. 8 What Is Existentialism? BBC World Service talk broadcast in Vietnamese (1962)
    (pp. 35-38)

    It is not easy to explain Existentialism, for two reasons. First, it is by any standards an obscure philosophy, whose exponents tend to express themselves in a very dark style. Second, there is a great variety of thinkers who might be called in the broadest sense ‘existentialists’, but whose views are very different one from another—some are Marxists, some liberals; some are atheists, and others Christians. Not all of those often called ‘Existentialists’ will accept the title.

    Nevertheless, some threads run through this range of thought. To pick up the threads, it is probably best to look at the...

  12. 9 Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Philip Mairet, Spectator (1962)
    (pp. 38-40)

    This is a translation of a brief work that was published in 1939, and it is an excellent thing that it has appeared.¹ It is of considerable interest in its own right, and also serves as a comparatively luminous introduction to some of the themes which Sartre pursues more portentously inBeing and Nothingness. Not all readers may entirely agree with the blurb when it says that the essay ‘is nowhere an obscure or difficult work,’ but it is true that it has a special briskness and lightness of touch.

    Sartre starts by criticising three existing theories of emotion—a...

  13. 10 Sense and Sensibilia, by J. L. Austin, reconstructed by G. J. Warnock; Philosophical Papers, edited by J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock, Oxford Magazine (1962)
    (pp. 40-45)

    Sense and Sensibiliaconsists of a course of lectures that Austin gave for several years, mostly skilfully stitched together from the notes by Mr Warnock.¹ It is a remarkable book: original, clear, forceful, entertaining and salutary. It is bound to have, as Austin’s personal influence had, a considerable effect on the terms of philosophical discussion. After it, the philosophy of perception cannot be discussed in ways it usually was discussed before.

    It is one of the peculiarities of philosophy, however, that the influence and genuine importance of a philosophical work can be remarkably independent of its actual success in doing...

  14. 11 The Concept of a Person, by A. J. Ayer, New Statesman (1963)
    (pp. 45-47)

    This book of essays (four new and five reprinted) gives a very good view of Professor Ayer’s present philosophical situation, which is an interesting one.¹ It is now a long time since he gave up any large-scale adherence to the logical positivism that he originally expounded in that dazzling book,Language, Truth, and Logic, but he retains a loyalty to certain features of positivism. This can take the form of a nostalgic attachment to specific doctrines, and then it tends to have a Quixotic ring. In the first of these papers, which was his inaugural lecture at Oxford given in...

  15. 12 Two Faces of Science, BBC Radio 3 talk in the series Personal View, Listener (1963)
    (pp. 48-52)

    What are the two faces of science? At one level, it is just that we have a notion of science as technological power, which is by its very nature ambiguous, and which can be used, as preachers and others remind us every day, for good or for ill—bacteriological research for saving life or for germ warfare, nuclear energy for power-stations or for bombs. This is the most familiar form of the conflict between two aspects of science—the contrast between good and evil uses of technology. But although it is the most familiar form, I am sure it is...

  16. 13 The English Moralists, by Basil Willey, New York Review of Books (1965)
    (pp. 52-55)

    This book has emerged from a course of lectures which the author gave, as he rather dauntingly informs us in the Preface, for more than thirty years in the University of Cambridge.¹ The course of lectures and the examination paper that it serves were conceived at a time—as Willey mentions—when the remnants of a pure aestheticism made it less than fashionable to attempt to relate literature and morality. They continued—though this he does not mention—through a period when his colleague in Cambridge, F. R. Leavis, was indeed relating literature to morality, but in a way that...

  17. 14 Universities: Protest, Reform and Revolution, Lecture in celebration of the foundation of Birkbeck College (1968)
    (pp. 55-69)

    It seemed right to try to say something about the discontents and student protests which have been, in Britain as elsewhere, troubling the universities; and certainly to undertake some discourse on the nature, purpose, role or whatever of universities, which did not take seriously the basic questions raised by what is going on, would be an idiotic evasion. However, I realise that in giving a lecture on these issues one runs a special risk of being tedious: on the one hand because events are running very fast, and problems which seem absolutely central at one point may even shortly afterwards...

  18. 15 Has ‘God’ a Meaning? Question (1968)
    (pp. 70-75)

    People are often tempted to think of questions about meaning as though they were all on the level of the most trivial disagreements about the use of a particular word, the sort of disagreements that are rightly called ‘merely verbal’: exemplified, for instance, in the fact that Americans use the word ‘suspenders’ to refer to what we call ‘braces’. Obviously, no sane person would waste time arguing about which was the right word to use, or what the word ‘suspenders’reallymeant. But most questions about meaning are not nearly as superficial as this, and in issues of metaphysics or...

  19. 16 Russell and Moore: The Analytical Heritage, by A. J. Ayer (1971)
    (pp. 75-77)

    In the annals of twentieth-century philosophy, the early alliance of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore is famous, as the principal contribution to the undermining of the temporary and untypical influence of Idealism on British thought. Moore, at that time, influenced Russell; at various times Russell’s work provided Moore, who was always disposed to start from other philosophers’ sayings, with material to criticise. They each greatly influenced analytical philosophy. But they were very different philosophers, with extremely different temperaments and types of achievement. Ayer indeed treats them separately in this book (which is derived from his William James lectures at...

  20. 17 Immanuel Kant, by Lucien Goldmann, Cambridge Review (1972)
    (pp. 77-82)

    Lucien Goldmann is best known in Britain for his study of Pascal and Racine (Le Dieu Caché, 1955; translated asThe Hidden God, 1964). He died in 1970; he has been commemorated in Cambridge by the Memorial Lecture which Raymond Williams gave last year. This book¹ is a translation of Goldmann’s first book, his doctoral thesis at Zürich, which was published there under the titleMensch, Gemeinschaft und Welt in der Philosophie Immanuel Kants. A French translation was first published in 1948, followed by a second French edition in 1967, with the rather less informative titleIntroduction à la philosophie...

  21. 18 A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls, Spectator (1972)
    (pp. 82-87)

    “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought,” Rawls writes at the beginning of this most remarkable book.¹ The sentence contains the seeds of a lot that is to follow. A social system may have many other properties that we can recognise as advantages—as that many people are content or getting what they want, or that a class of outstanding artists is supported—but without justice it is not acceptable. There are many social values, but they can be ordered: and justice comes first. Justice itself, moreover, is various: both in the...

  22. 19 Beyond Freedom and Dignity, by B. F. Skinner, Observer (1972)
    (pp. 87-89)

    B. F. Skinner is an American psychologist who is famous for a number of things. He pioneered a particular kind of behaviourist theory, based on the idea of selectively reinforcing by reward certain spontaneously produced patterns of behaviour: the model for learning is thus fundamentally that of evolutionary natural selection. He conducted a famous series of experiments with pigeons. He invented, among other things, an experimental device called the Skinner Box, which provides a totally artificial environment for the study of animal behaviour. He has written a Utopian novel. He has been extensively attacked by Chomsky, originally on the subject...

  23. 20 What Computers Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason, by Hubert L. Dreyfus, New York Review of Books (1973)
    (pp. 90-100)

    Electronic machines of the kind generically called “computers” can now do a number of things at least as well as human beings, and in some cases better. Many of these tasks are boring, such as finding addresses or counting things. Immunity to boredom is one thing that helps to give computers the edge over human beings in some tasks. Another is speed of operation: only a computer could do the calculations necessary for landing a module on the moon, since only a computer could do the sums in less time than it takes the module to get there.

    In some...

  24. 21 Wisdom: Twelve Essays, edited by Renford Bambrough, Times Literary Supplement (1974)
    (pp. 101-104)

    John Wisdom, who this year retired as professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon, for many years taught at Cambridge. The most important fact of his philosophical life has been the influence of the later Wittgenstein, to which his publications bear strong witness from 1937 onwards; though he had published a number of things before that, including a book,Problems of Mind and Matter, it is as an exponent of Wittgensteinian ideas that he has, perhaps, most generally been regarded, and indeed has given the impression, in some of his most influential works, of regarding himself.

    It is not...

  25. 22 The Socialist Idea, edited by Stuart Hampshire and L. Kolakowski, Observer (1975)
    (pp. 104-107)

    What is socialist thought? It is the attempt to work out systematically the consequences of the three revolutionary values of 1789, in the context of a world transformed by industrialism and capitalism. It is in effect the only systematic political thought we have. Most of the alternatives really come, in one way or another, to saying that there can be no systematic thought at all about the realisation of political values. There has been in the past intellectually elaborated conservative thought, but there is not much of it around today; while nationalism, when it comes to express its further hopes...

  26. 23 Anarchy, State, and Utopia, by Robert Nozick, Political Philosophy (1975)
    (pp. 107-114)

    Why is there a state at all? Or, rather, whyshouldthere be a state at all? What is the justification of the state? The sense that these are real questions has come and gone and come again at various times; when that sense is present, the questions step in as the basic or first questions of political philosophy. It is notobviousthat they are real questions, that the demand for a justification is a sound one. For one thing, one might be prepared to spend time on the justification only if one had an idea of some alternative...

  27. 24 The Ethics of Fetal Research, by Paul Ramsey, Times Literary Supplement (1975)
    (pp. 115-118)

    There is a contrast between American and British life which applies not only to politics: while American practice is often harder, tougher and less inhibited than British, so are the protests and analyses that it elicits. Some frontier thought is at work, that before (or after) force all we have is argument, and that one cannot just rely on the rightness of what already exists. Questions of practical ethics take on an urgency, and a sense that something might actually turn on the results of an argument, which are lacking in our own fully saturated culture, with its depressing combination...

  28. 25 The Moral View of Politics, BBC Radio 3 talk in the series Current Trends in Philosophy, Listener (1976)
    (pp. 119-124)

    Twenty years ago, the prevailing view in English-speaking philosophical circles was that political philosophy would never flourish again. Now by contrast, the subject is very active, the predicted funeral seems to have been indefinitely postponed, and the sources of this new life are largely to be found in the United States of America.

    The moribund condition of political philosophy at that time was due to more than one cause. Some of the causes were internal to the state of philosophy itself; in particular, there was a prevailing theory that statements of value were sharply to be separated from statements of...

  29. 26 The Life of Bertrand Russell, by Ronald W. Clark; The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love, by Dora Russell; My Father Bertrand Russell, by Katharine Tait; Bertrand Russell, by A. J. Ayer, New York Review of Books (1976)
    (pp. 125-133)

    Bertrand Russell’sAutobiography(which was published in three volumes in the 1960s) is a work that leaves one in more than one way winded. It is not altogether a book, bringing together a rather random collection of letters with a sketchy account of the author’s life which, though sometimes alarmingly frank, omits much and hurries the reader on from one cursorily described event to another. It is not just the speed of travel that leaves one gasping, but the glancing view of some episodes that Russell puts in. One is several times confronted with a summary or dismissive account of...

  30. 27 Reflections on Language, by Noam Chomsky; On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays, edited by Gilbert Harman, New York Review of Books (1976)
    (pp. 133-140)

    Since the publication ofSyntactic Structuresnineteen years ago the general shape of Chomsky’s position in linguistic theory has become familiar. The subject, as he conceives it, is a branch of cognitive psychology; its basic problem is posed by the human capacity to acquire a natural language, something which Chomsky has insisted we should see as remarkable, with regard both to what the child experiences and to what he acquires. What he acquires is an indefinitely extensive creative capacity to produce and to understand an open-ended set of sentences that he has never heard before. What he is offered by...

  31. 28 The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, New Scientist (1976)
    (pp. 140-142)

    A philosopher, H.W.B. Joseph, who 50 years ago was (as Richard Dawkins now is) a fellow of New College Oxford, used to set as a first essay for philosophy students the problem: “what evolves?” Joseph’s question was a notably unfruitful one, but with the large and exciting development recently of both ideas and information in evolutionary biology, questions of that general sort retain their place in that they put a large premium on reflective power and intellectual imagination.

    The sense that there are intellectual problems here which are both exciting and accessible, even if only imprecisely, to non-specialists, is well...

  32. 29 The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, by Iris Murdoch, New Statesman (1977)
    (pp. 142-145)

    In this short book, based on her 1976 Romanes Lecture, Iris Murdoch takes up Plato’s celebrated attack, from the point of view of philosophy and truth, on art and the artists.¹ She considers where its weight lies, and compares its inner workings with other distrustful placings of art against morality, notably Kant’s and Tolstoy’s. She offers some thoughts, lastly, on the theme of how we might take something like Plato’s point and yet defend art, resisting his demand that such art as may be allowed by the state to exist should be socially useful, morally celebratory, or at least decently...

  33. 30 The Logic of Abortion, BBC Radio 3 talk, Listener (1977)
    (pp. 146-152)

    I want to take up some of the moral and philosophical issues involved in present controversies about legalised abortion. The puzzlement that people feel about this issue, and the deep disagreement that obtains between different people, are of the kind that invite philosophical reflection, and, in fact, a great deal has been written by philosophers about the issue in recent years, both here and in the USA. Though I shall not try to conceal my own views, what I shall try mainly to do is separate and point out some of the main threads in this discussion, rather than present...

  34. 31 On Thinking, by Gilbert Ryle, edited by Konstantin Kolenda, London Review of Books (1979)
    (pp. 152-156)

    Gilbert Ryle, who died in 1976, was for many years a professor of philosophy in Oxford. He was a man of genially military appearance, with a knobbly, cubic head; rather soldierly in speech and manner, he punctuated his sentences with an abrupt half-cough, highly characteristic of him and much imitated. He was an exceptionally nice man, friendly, generous, uncondescending, unpretentious, and, for a well-known professional philosopher, startlingly free from vanity. He affected an amiable Philistinism, which to some degree was also genuine: ‘no ear for tunes,’ he was disposed to say, if music was mentioned. He was often amusing. He...

  35. 32 Rubbish Theory, by Michael Thompson, London Review of Books (1980)
    (pp. 157-161)

    The author of this book was once a builder, working particularly for the ‘knockers through’, as he calls them, who turn two rooms into one in terrace houses and make other well-known changes to convert a collapsing slum into a thing of pride and a joy for ever. Thompson’s sharp descriptions of these operations, and of the contrasts between the attitudes of those who own these gentrified residences and their working-class neighbours, who regard few of their possessions as things of pride or joy, and certainly not for ever, offer some of the few enjoyable passages in the book. They...

  36. 33 Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok, Political Quarterly (1980)
    (pp. 161-165)

    In 1960, when a U2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory, the Americans first denied that the plane had been spying; later, Eisenhower publicly owned up. The incident raised some questions about political lying. It was clear that what made the Russians particularly angry was not being spied on, nor being first lied to, both of which they took for granted, but being publicly told the truth, which put them in a difficult position. It was not clear, admittedly, exactly why it put them in a difficult position, since everyone—or at least everyone whose opinion in any...

  37. 34 Logic and Society and Ulysses and the Sirens, by Jon Elster, London Review of Books (1980)
    (pp. 165-168)

    There are some pieces of logical or theoretical jargon which are marks of ideological allegiance—intellectual wind-socks to display which way the wind is blowing the author. While linguistic philosophers, at least of the older sort, ‘analyse’ some intellectual object, structuralists and their neighbours ‘deconstruct’ it. For Marxists, a set of interrelated problems is usually ‘problematic’; and what gives rise to their problematic, is involved in it, and needs to be overcome, is, standardly, ‘a contradiction’, where that is not something in their or someone else’s discourse, but an objective state of the world.

    Logicians characteristically hate this use of...

  38. 35 The Culture of Narcissism, by Christopher Lasch; Nihilism and Culture, by Johan Goudsblom, London Review of Books (1980)
    (pp. 169-173)

    All around him in American society Lasch sees intellectual and moral feebleness, cultural decay, despair and inner rage.¹ There is no personal love, only a snatching at gratification, or domestic skirmishes in the war of all against all. There is no politics, only manipulation; no radical protest, only street theatre; no education, only organised illiteracy. The ‘élitism’ of earlier educational functions has been purged—by robbing the educational process of content. Sport is corrupted into mass entertainment. Therapy has replaced genuine moral reflection, and superstition has replaced genuine therapy.

    This jeremiad is illustrated with many well-chosen and sometimes amazing examples...

  39. 36 Religion and Public Doctrine in England, by Maurice Cowling, London Review of Books (1981)
    (pp. 173-178)

    This peculiar book belongs to a series called ‘Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics’, but one should not be misled by the name either of the series or of the book: there is very little about the history of politics and nothing about its theory, and not much direct light is thrown on the subject of the title.¹Cambridge, however, it very much is. The acerbic parochialism, dislike of the modern world and its cultural effects, a distinct sense of Englishness, indeed put one in mind, oddly enough, of another Cambridge writer, the late Dr Leavis, as...

  40. 37 Nietzsche on Tragedy, by M. S. Silk and J. P. Stern; Nietzsche: A Critical Life, by Ronald Hayman; Nietzsche, vol. 1, The Will to Power as Art, by Martin Heidegger, translated by David Farrell Krell, London Review of Books (1981)
    (pp. 179-184)

    Nietzsche’s first book,The Birth of Tragedy, was published in 1872, when he was 27, and while he was a Professor of Classics at Basel. It had the unusual effect, for him, of attracting some attention at the time of its appearance: after that, Nietzsche’s writings virtually ceased to be noticed until the 1890s, by which time he was, for the last 11 years of his life, insane, virtually without speech, and out of touch with the world.

    Nietzsche said to his sister that this book was a ‘centaur’, a description which emphasises its oddness, underestimates its beauty, and misleads...

  41. 38 After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre, Sunday Times (1981)
    (pp. 184-186)

    MacIntyre’s brilliant and deeply interesting book starts from a truth which is, as he says, not as obvious as some of its effects—that modern morality is in a mess.¹ The mess does not consist simply in the fact that there are many moral conflicts which we find it difficult to resolve. The point is rather that there are no agreed ways of thinking about these conflicts, so that claims of justice, for instance, stand in blank opposition to claims based on utility and welfare, and we do not know how to weigh arguments in terms of what people deserve...

  42. 39 Philosophical Explanations, by Robert Nozick, New York Review of Books (1982)
    (pp. 187-196)

    Toward the end of his talented, diverse, and very long book, Robert Nozick embraces the idea of philosophy as an art form, and of the philosopher as a literary creator who works with ideas.¹ This reinforces an idea that may have already occurred to the reader; if this book is in some way like a literary work, it is clear what kind of literary work it is like.

    Nozick, when young, wrote several articles of startling brilliance, originality, and, in some cases, formidable technical resource, in such fields as the formal discipline of decision theory. He then produced the notorious...

  43. 40 The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God, by J. L. Mackie, Times Literary Supplement (1983)
    (pp. 197-200)

    The late J. L. Mackie was a notably clear and hard-headed philosopher who brought great powers of argument and a demanding intellectual integrity to a wide range of subjects. He wrote with force and insight about logic, theory of knowledge, philosophy of science, ethics and the history of philosophy, and now, after his early death, which was a great loss to the subject, we have a book in the philosophy of religion.¹ It is very largely, as its subtitle claims, a study of arguments for and against the existence of God, though it extends naturally enough, and disapprovingly, to the...

  44. 41 Offensive Literature: Decensorship in Britain, 1960–1982, by John Sutherland, London Review of Books (1983)
    (pp. 200-204)

    John Sutherland has produced ‘a calendar following a series of events (mostly trials) from 1960 to the present day’, which deals briefly and brightly with obscenity cases fromLady Chatterley’s LoverandFanny HilltoThe Romans in Britain.¹ The aim is to investigate changes in public attitudes to ‘offensive literature’. It is a lively survey, but is not the useful history of that process which might be written.

    First of all, as a calendar, it is inaccurate. I would not rely on it for the date of Christmas. It does not state correctly the grounds on which the conviction...

  45. 42 Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays 1972–1980), by Richard Rorty, New York Review of Books (1983)
    (pp. 204-215)

    Richard Rorty’s recent bookPhilosophy and the Mirror of Natureis an original and sustained attack on the idea that it can be the aim of philosophy, or even of science, to represent the world accurately. Neither activity can reveal, as he sometimes puts it, a vocabulary in which the world demands to be described. The book is remarkable for its learning and for its powers of critical exposition. At the same time, some of it is slapdash, and its program for what philosophy should do when robbed of its traditional conceptions of truth and objectivity is, to put it...

  46. 43 The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. I, Cambridge Essays 1888–99, edited by Kenneth Blackwell and others, Observer (1984)
    (pp. 216-217)

    This is the first volume of a projected series of all Bertrand Russell’s papers, published and unpublished, to be issued in 28 volumes between now and the year 2000.¹ The volumes will be divided into two major groups by subject, so that volumes II to XI will consist of strictly philosophical material, while volumes XII to XXVI, containing political and social papers, will be ordered chronologically. A paper, for these purposes, is a ‘public writing,’ including political messages and open letters as well as newspaper articles, book reviews and essays. 90 per cent of these papers, the editors claim, have...

  47. 44 Reasons and Persons, by Derek Parfit, London Review of Books (1984)
    (pp. 218-224)

    Ten or fifteen years ago, the complaint against moral philosophy was that it did not address practical problems, but concentrated on meta-ethics: that is to say, on questions about the status, meaning, objectivity and so forth of ethical thought. That complaint is now out of date. For a decade, analytical philosophy has been conspicuously concerned to display its credentials for being of use in helping us to think about concrete problems.

    In doing that, it has escaped the charge of evasiveness, but has slipped back into the line of fire of other accusations. One is that it has disconnected itself...

  48. 45 Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay, by Mary Midgley, Observer (1984)
    (pp. 224-226)

    Mary Midgley believes that too many people suppose there to be no such thing as wickedness, and in the first part of her cheerful and chatty essay she sets about various outlooks that encourage their error.¹ She criticises relativism, for instance, which makes people think that no-one is to be judged, and also a kind of fatalism supposedly based on science. We cannot do without morality, she claims, and hardly anyone thinks we can: those who claim to have got rid of it are really advancing some new morality, which in turn is likely to emphasise some selected parts of...

  49. 46 Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation, by Sissela Bok; The Secrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today, edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel, London Review of Books (1984)
    (pp. 226-230)

    It is often said that the British are obsessively interested in secrecy. It is less often said how deep and peculiar this obsession is, and how much more there is to it than the well-known fact that British authorities are exceptionally secretive. Our interest is in secrecy as much as in secrets: it is the process, the practices and irregularities of keeping and revealing secrets, that concerns us. This interest in process rather than in content, together with the unconstructive and unfruitful nature of the obsession as it is regularly displayed, for instance, in the Sunday papers’ excitement about spies,...

  50. 47 Choice and Consequence, by Thomas C. Schelling, Economics and Philosophy (1985)
    (pp. 231-235)

    This is a collection of papers that Schelling has written in the past twenty years or so, on subjects ranging from the general nature of game theory to nuclear deterrence, and from the psychology of self-control to the economic and corporate structure of organized crime.¹ The pieces are grouped by subject, not ordered by date (you have to do some digging in the book to find out when they were written). They are of varying weights and depths. Some contain detailed pieces of analysis, while in other places Schelling goes on in a more ruminating style, praising Thucydides as a...

  51. 48 Privacy: Studies in Social and Cultural History, by Barrington Moore, Jr., New York Review of Books (1985)
    (pp. 236-241)

    The more time that citizens spend thinking about public matters, Rousseau said, and the less about their own private affairs, the better a society is. One good test of political sentiments is whether you find this thought invigorating or repellent. Either reaction to it, however, implies that you have an understanding of the contrast, some conception of the private.

    Barrington Moore’s book raises the very interesting question of what that conception may be.¹ His approach is to consider the quite different ideas of privacy and different attitudes toward it that are to be found in various cultures, thus bringing out...

  52. 49 Ordinary Vices, by Judith Shklar; Immorality, by Ronald Milo, London Review of Books (1985)
    (pp. 241-246)

    Judith Shklar’sOrdinary Vicesis a wise, clever, thoughtful book about the danger and the value of various personal vices—cruelty, hypocrisy, snobbery and others.¹ Professor Shklar asks how important they are; which are worse than others; what they can positively do for society, and how their meanings differ from one society to another. She uses a wide range of writers, but her book gives far more than a well-written set of reflections on what has been thought about these bad characteristics. It also explains and (in a fairly unassertive style) defends a certain view of society and politics, a...

  53. 50 The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair, by Clive Ponting; The Price of Freedom, by Judith Cook, Times Literary Supplement (1985)
    (pp. 246-252)

    Two months ago I was in a country where, in a dreadful economic situation, surrounded by memories of a recent and very nasty tyranny, and conscious that the forces that had sustained the tyranny had not simply disappeared, people close to the government were discussing in a very concerned and scrupulous way the limits of free speech; the independence of the judiciary; the extent to which justice requires the law to be definite and not to rely on vague and catch-all phrases; how far it is an adequate defence of what public servants may do that they are obeying orders...

  54. 51 Taking Sides: The Education of a Militant Mind, by Michael Harrington, New York Times Book Review (1986)
    (pp. 252-256)

    Michael Harrington started in literature. As he says in the introduction to this collection of his essays, his mentor was T. S. Eliot, “a self-proclaimed monarchist and classicist.”¹ But he came to be a liberal journalist, a theorist of democratic Socialism, and, above all, a political activist, and this book, collected from the writings of more than 30 years, consists for the most part of reports from the front, bearing the occasional reactions, self-accusations and justifications of someone who has constantly sought to explain himself, his changing commitments and alliances, to himself and to the world.

    There are not only...

  55. 52 A Matter of Principle, by Ronald Dworkin (1986)
    (pp. 256-261)

    When I took part—as it seems, many years ago—in a Committee to recommend reforms in the obscenity laws, we received evidence from an American constitutional lawyer who happened to be in England, was an expert on the subject, and agreed to come and talk to us about it. He explained the complex constraints exercised by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which says that no law shall be made to abridge the freedom of speech. He rehearsed various devices that lawyers and legislators had used to try to get round these constraints in order to control pornography,...

  56. 53 The View from Nowhere, by Thomas Nagel, London Review of Books (1986)
    (pp. 261-266)

    ‘It seems to me that nothing approaching the truth has yet been said on this subject,’ Thomas Nagel says in the middle of this complex, wideranging and very interesting book; and he says it at the end of a chapter (on the freedom of the will) not, as some other philosophers might, at the beginning.¹ The book argues in a determined way about the largest philosophical questions: the nature of reality, the possibility of knowledge, freedom, morality, the meaning of life. It offers, not answers to those questions, but a distinctive and unified approach to them. In that sense, the...

  57. 54 What Hope for the Humanities? Times Educational Supplement (1987) (edited version of the Raymond Priestley Lecture [1986])
    (pp. 267-274)

    It will be no news that Humanities departments in UK universities are suffering from lack of morale, lack of recruitment, and from the pressures exerted by cuts in the past and more, it seems, to come.

    In this they do not of course differ from departments in other areas of academic and research activity, including those that one would suppose most relevant to technical and hence economic success. The recent report of the Royal Society for the Advisory Board on the Research Councils has pointed out that we spend less on basic science per head of population than the USA,...

  58. 55 The Society of Mind, by Marvin Minsky, New York Review of Books (1987)
    (pp. 274-282)

    Psychologists make models of the mind in order to explain what we say and do. Some particularly want to explain our abilities: how do we build a tower from toy blocks, or recognize a goldfinch? How do we manage to get across a room without hitting the furniture? Like many naive questions that lead to science, these do not have a meaning that is entirely fixed before people start to answer them. The questions seem, rather vaguely, in place when we reflect that we must learn to do these various things, that characteristic mistakes are made in trying to do...

  59. 56 Whose Justice? Which Rationality? by Alasdair MacIntyre, London Review of Books (1989)
    (pp. 283-288)

    In a previous book,After Justice, which came out in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre claimed that the ideas of justice available in the modern world are like a pile of ruins, historical fragments that can make no coherent sense. Politicians, reformers, administrators, appeal in a haphazard way to items in this deposit. Philosophers and social theorists toil away trying to make sense of it, but they cannot possibly succeed. The ruins are not even the ruins of one building, but the disordered remains of various ethical conceptions. These were, in their time, coherent: they belonged to various traditions. But now we...

  60. 57 Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson, New York Review of Books (1989)
    (pp. 288-295)

    Paul Johnson is a prolific British writer who has produced histories of the Jews, Christianity, the modern world, and the English people. He is, I believe, a Catholic (if so, it commendably did not discourage him, in his substantial and very readable history of Christianity, from admitting that the religion, to all intents and purposes, was founded by Saint Paul). Between 1955 and 1970 he worked on the left-wing journalThe New Statesman, and for six years was its editor, with more success than anyone has achieved since. He is now firmly entrenched on the right, and is a fierce...

  61. 58 Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, by Richard Rorty, London Review of Books (1989)
    (pp. 295-301)

    An energetic thinker with some original ideas may understandably rebel against the oppressive demand to get it right, especially when the demand comes, as it often does, from cautious and conventional colleagues. In responsible subjects such as the natural sciences, such people rebel against the demand only at their peril—or rather, their ideas will succeed only if the demand is, in the end, obeyed, and the colleagues turn out merely to have been too cautious. In philosophy, however, the bets are less clearly drawn: the very idea of getting it right is more problematic. The innovator may see the...

  62. 59 Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, by Charles Taylor, New York Review of Books (1990)
    (pp. 301-311)

    Charles Taylor is concerned with the ways in which we can and should think of ourselves as people who have—or lack—a sense of what is important to us, of what we most care about, and of what is valuable. This sense of our moral identity, for most of us, is not fully explicit, and does not consist of a set of formulated beliefs. It may look sometimes as though our sense of what is valuable is described by a set of beliefs, when a system of moral philosophy or a political creed seems to sum up our outlook;...

  63. 60 The Need to Be Sceptical, Times Literary Supplement (1990)
    (pp. 311-318)

    “Linguistic analysis”, that now distant philosophical style, used to attract particular odium for its attitude towards ethics. In every area, the charge against it was that it neglected the traditional serious issues of philosophy; in ethical matters there was added to this the idea that the traditional concerns of philosophy were not only philosophically serious, but serious, so linguistic moral philosophy was perceived by its enemies as humanly frivolous as well as intellectually empty. The general charge was always uninteresting, but the charge in the field of ethics did have some force. The aim, which much of that philosophy cultivated,...

  64. 61 The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, by Kenneth J. Gergen, New York Times Book Review (1991)
    (pp. 318-320)

    This is not a book about alcoholism. For Kenneth J. Gergen, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, the self is saturated, rather, with ideas, images, experiences, possibilities, and has lost its center in the rootless and superficial variety of post-modern life.¹ The expansion of media technology and of travel, the decay of traditional loyalties and identifications, the disappearance of the face-to-face society, together with the developments in culture that go with these changes, all contribute to a world in which the self is fractured and dispersed and lacks any stable identity. We have no real sense of ourselves and...

  65. 62 Realism with a Human Face, by Hilary Putnam, London Review of Books (1991)
    (pp. 320-326)

    There is a wonderful passage in Nietzsche’sDaybreak, about the ageing philosopher. ‘Subject to the illusion of a great moral renewal and rebirth, he passes judgment on the work and course of his life, as though it were only now that he had been endowed with clear sight.’ He ‘considers himself permitted to take things easier and to promulgate decrees rather than demonstrate’; and the inspiration of ‘this feeling of well-being and these confident judgments is not wisdom butweariness’.

    The American philosopher Hilary Putnam, now in his sixties and with a lot of important and influential philosophy to his...

  66. 63 Political Liberalism, by John Rawls, London Review of Books (1993)
    (pp. 326-332)

    It is over twenty years since John Rawls’sA Theory of Justicewas published. It was recognised at once as an immensely significant contribution to modern political philosophy, and its reputation has only grown since. There are many questions, about social justice, toleration and the stability of a modern state, that can scarcely be discussed unless one starts from ideas that have been shaped by Rawls.

    The author himself has not been idle in these years. Unlike some who have made large contributions to philosophy, he has not been content to act as the janitor of his system, stopping leaks,...

  67. 64 Inequality Reexamined, by Amartya Sen, London Review of Books (1993)
    (pp. 332-338)

    Every modern state and every modern political philosophy believes in equality of something. As Amartya Sen points out in this book, even libertarians, who think that there should be no politically imposed limits on what people may retain of what they gain without force or fraud, believe in the equal right to exert oneself in the market and not to be taxed.¹ Those who think that more effortful or productive or responsible work deserves higher rewards think that this principle should be applied equally to all citizens. The important issue, then, as Sen has helpfully insisted over many years, is...

  68. 65 The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, by Martha Nussbaum, London Review of Books (1994)
    (pp. 339-345)

    This is a book about therapeutic philosophy, the philosopher as doctor.¹ It is a historical work, concerned with the schools of philosophy that developed in the Hellenistic period, the period in which, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Greek culture adapted itself to existing in the large and loosely organised states that took the place of the independent city-states in which most Greek life had gone on in the Classical period. These schools continued to develop and to have influence in the Roman world, and indeed some of the principal sources on which Martha Nussbaum draws...

  69. 66 Only Words, by Catharine MacKinnon, London Review of Books (1994)
    (pp. 345-352)

    Best known as an eloquent campaigner against pornography, Catharine MacKinnon is a lawyer—a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. Not all of this book (based on talks given at Princeton) sounds much like legal argument, and particularly when she is talking about pornography she gives a rhetorical display which may well have been breathtaking in the lecture hall.¹ But the book does in fact offer a legal argument, one which is interesting, and also deeply American, in the sense that MacKinnon discusses the problems raised by pornography and also by speech that constitutes sexual or...

  70. 67 The Limits of Interpretation, by Umberto Eco; Interpretation and Overinterpretation, by Umberto Eco, with Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler, and Christine Brooke-Rose, edited by Stefan Collini; Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, by Umberto Eco; Apocalypse Postponed, by Umberto Eco, translated and edited by Robert Lumley; Misreadings, by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver; How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays, by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver, New York Review of Books (1995)
    (pp. 352-363)

    At the beginning of Umberto Eco’s novelFoucault’s Pendulum, there are two epigraphs. Every chapter of this book also has an epigraph, so these are particularly prominent—they come before everything else. One is a quotation from an occultist writer, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. The other is from a contemporary logician, Raymond Smullyan: “Superstitition brings bad luck.” The quotations bring together two obsessions in which much of Eco’s work is involved, one with logical paradox, the other with obscure facts about Hermetic traditions, magical riddles, prophecies, the cabbala, and interpretations of history and nature according to complex, hidden, and...

  71. 68 On Hating and Despising Philosophy, London Review of Books (1996)
    (pp. 363-370)

    As long as there has been such a subject as philosophy, there have been people who hated and despised it.

    I do not want to exaggerate, in a self-pitying or self-dramatising way, the present extent or intensity of this dislike. I am not thinking of the philosopher as emblematically represented by the figure of Socrates, the martyr to free thought who reaches what the pious or conventional regard as the wrong answer. Nor do I suppose that philosophers are often seen as politicians are in Australia, where that profession (I was once told) is regarded as much like that of...

  72. 69 The Last Word, by Thomas Nagel, New York Review of Books (1998)
    (pp. 371-387)

    This is the question Thomas Nagel raises inThe Last Word, and the answer he gives in his subtle, compact, and forceful book is firmly and eloquently of the first kind—a “rationalist” answer, as against answers that he variously calls “subjectivist,” “relativist,” and “naturalist.” We, most of us, have a moral outlook which is (very broadly speaking) liberal: we support universal human rights and are in favor of toleration. Others, elsewhere, do not have that outlook, and neither did most people in the past. We favor the medicine of medical practice over the medicine of medicine men, and think...

  73. 70 Wagner and the Transcendence of Politics, New York Review of Books (2000)
    (pp. 388-405)

    How should we think about Wagner? Those who are troubled by that question, as I am, presumably think that as an artist he is worth being troubled about: that his works, or some of them, are demanding, inviting, seductive, powerful. Not everyone who cares about music need share that opinion. The relation of Wagner to the history of Western music and to the formation of a taste is not the same as that of, say, Bach or Mozart: he is not in the same way necessary. His works are indeed necessary to explaining its more recent history, very obviously so,...

  74. 71 Why Philosophy Needs History, London Review of Books (2002)
    (pp. 405-412)

    ‘Lack of a historical sense is the hereditary defect of philosophers … So what is needed from now on ishistorical philosophising, and with it the virtue of modesty.’ Nietzsche wrote this in 1878, but it still very much needs to be said today. Indeed, a lot of philosophy is more blankly nonhistorical now than it has ever been. In the so-called analytic tradition in particular this takes the form of trying to make philosophy sound like an extension of science. Most scientists, though they may find the history of science interesting, do not think that it is of much...

    (pp. 413-413)
    Patricia Williams
    (pp. 414-414)
  77. INDEX
    (pp. 415-435)