In the Beginning Was the Deed

In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument

Bernard Williams
Selected, edited, and with an introduction by Geoffrey Hawthorn
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 200
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    In the Beginning Was the Deed
    Book Description:

    Bernard Williams is remembered as one of the most brilliant and original philosophers of the past fifty years. Widely respected as a moral philosopher, Williams began to write about politics in a sustained way in the early 1980s. There followed a stream of articles, lectures, and other major contributions to issues of public concern--all complemented by his many works on ethics, which have important implications for political theory.

    This new collection of essays, most of them previously unpublished, addresses many of the core subjects of political philosophy: justice, liberty, and equality; the nature and meaning of liberalism; toleration; power and the fear of power; democracy; and the nature of political philosophy itself. A central theme throughout is that political philosophers need to engage more directly with the realities of political life, not simply with the theories of other philosophers. Williams makes this argument in part through a searching examination of where political thinking should originate, to whom it might be addressed, and what it should deliver.

    Williams had intended to weave these essays into a connected narrative on political philosophy with reflections on his own experience of postwar politics. Sadly he did not live to complete it, but this book brings together many of its components. Geoffrey Hawthorn has arranged the material to resemble as closely as possible Williams's original design and vision. He has provided both an introduction to Williams's political philosophy and a bibliography of his formal and informal writings on politics.

    Those who know the work of Bernard Williams will find here the familiar hallmarks of his writing--originality, clarity, erudition, and wit. Those who are unfamiliar with, or unconvinced by, a philosophical approach to politics, will find this an engaging introduction. Both will encounter a thoroughly original voice in modern political theory and a searching approach to the shape and direction of liberal political thought in the past thirty-five years.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2673-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Patricia Williams
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Geoffrey Hawthorn

    Bernard Williams did not start writing in a sustained way about politics until the later 1980s. As he says in the first of the essays in this collection, he was most immediately prompted to do so by his encounters with legal and political theorists in the United States. But it was a natural move. He had long had an interest in issues of public concern in Britain and had engaged with the practicalities of several. The experience had strengthened his conviction that questions of principle could not be considered apart from those of practice, and that the practicalities were in...

  5. ONE Realism and Moralism in Political Theory
    (pp. 1-17)

    I start with two rough models of political theory (or philosophy: the distinction is not important here) with respect to the relation of morality to political practice. One is anenactmentmodel. The model is that political theory formulates principles, concepts, ideals, and values; and politics (so far as it does what the theory wants) seeks to express these in political action, through persuasion, the use of power, and so forth. This is not necessarily (although it is usually) a distinction between persons. Moreover, there is an intermediate activity which can be shared by both parties: this shapes particular conceptions...

  6. TWO In the Beginning Was the Deed
    (pp. 18-28)

    Carlos Nino was a brave man and an admirable philosopher who did his country notable service and stood against a tyrannical and corrupt regime on the basis of a robust belief in liberal political values and universal human rights. In his own mind and in his life, his philosophy and his political values were intimately linked. His philosophy not only expressed those values, but firmly claimed a certain type of foundation for them. He was deeply opposed not only to those who rejected liberal values but to those, such as Richard Rorty and myself, whom he saw as trying to...

  7. THREE Pluralism, Community and Left Wittgensteinianism
    (pp. 29-39)

    The most powerful contribution to Anglo-American political philosophy in this century has been that of John Rawls, and like most people discussing this subject now, I shall start from his work. The central idea of Rawls’s theory is to model the demands of a conception of social justice by the fiction of contracting parties making a rational choice under ignorance. We are to imagine people choosing a social system without knowing what particular role or position they will occupy in it. These people, in their assumed state of ignorance, are represented as disinterested toward one another and as making what...

  8. FOUR Modernity and the Substance of Ethical Life
    (pp. 40-51)

    We are met to discuss the relations of ethics to modern life. When such a subject is proposed, the discussion almost always turns to ethical discontent with modern life, to the feeling that the modern world is, from an ethical point of view, peculiarly problematical or unsatisfactory. That feeling may not be altogether wrong. But it makes a great deal of difference how such feelings are brought to bear on the discussion, and how we understand ethical discontent itself. I should like first to say something about this.

    There have been complaints about the ethical state of the modern world...

  9. FIVE The Liberalism of Fear
    (pp. 52-61)

    It is an honour and a special pleasure to give a lecture in honour of my friend Isaiah Berlin. I have known him for more than forty years. I still recall the first occasion on which I spoke to him. It was after an undergraduate lecture, in the East Schools, then as now presenting problems of audibility. Berlin had been talking about the polarity or contrast principle, and Thales. I made a pushy objection.

    There is something appropriate about that occasion. Berlin was denying (admittedly in a rather untypical context) that everything is one thing. It is odd that I...

  10. SIX Human Rights and Relativism
    (pp. 62-74)

    We have a good idea of what human rights are. The most important problem is not that of identifying them but that of getting them enforced. The denial of human rights means the maintenance of power by torture and execution; surveillance of the population; political censorship; the denial of religious expression; and other such things. For the most gross of such violations, at least, it is obvious what is involved.

    I am going to discuss the case in which the violations are committed by governments or quasi-governments (e.g., a movement which controls part of a territory). There is a borderline...

  11. SEVEN From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value
    (pp. 75-96)

    My subject is freedom and in particular freedom as a political value. Many discussions of this topic consist of trying to define the idea of freedom, or various ideas of freedom. I do not think that we should be interested in definitions. I leave aside the very general philosophical point that if we mean, seriously, definitions, there are no very interesting definitions of anything. There is a more particular reason. In the case of ethical and political ideas, what puzzles and concerns us is the understanding of those ideas—in the present case, freedom—as a value for us in...

  12. EIGHT The Idea of Equality
    (pp. 97-114)

    The idea of equality is used in political discussion both in statements of fact, or what purport to be statements of fact—that peopleareequal—and in statements of political principles or aims: that peopleshould beequal, as at present they are not. The two can be, and often are, combined: the aim is then described as that of securing a state of affairs in which people are treated as the equal beings which they in fact already are, but are not already treated as being. In both these uses, the idea of equality notoriously encounters the same...

  13. NINE Conflicts of Liberty and Equality
    (pp. 115-127)

    The aim of this paper is to show how there can be conflicts between liberty and equality as political values. It might be thought that this undertaking was either unnecessary or impossible. On one account of liberty (or, to use the word more usual at this point of the argument, freedom) there are quite obviously conflicts between freedom and equality: this is the account by which (very roughly indeed) I am free to do X if I am able to do X (if I have the “capability” to do it). Any form of co-existence restricts freedom in this sense; so,...

  14. TEN Toleration, a Political or Moral Question?
    (pp. 128-138)

    There is something obscure about the nature of toleration, at least when it is regarded as an attitude or a personal principle. Indeed, the problem about the nature of toleration is severe enough for us to raise the question whether, in a strict sense, it is possible at all. Perhaps, rather, it contains some contradiction or paradox which means that practices of toleration, when they exist, must rest on something other than the attitude of toleration as that has been classically described by liberal theory.¹

    There are undoubtedlypracticesof toleration. Holland in the seventeenth century pursued different, more tolerant,...

  15. ELEVEN Censorship
    (pp. 139-144)

    In its broadest sense, the term “censorship” is applied to any kind of suppression or regulation, by government or other authority, of a writing or other means of expression, based on its content. The authority need not apply to a whole judicature, and the effects of its censorship may be local. The term is sometimes used polemically by critics of a practice which would not be described as “censorship” by those who approve of it: in the United States the term has often been applied in this way to the activities of school or library boards in preventing the use...

  16. TWELVE Humanitarianism and the Right to Intervene
    (pp. 145-153)

    My title needs one or two explanations. I hope that these will not be too fiddly and tedious.

    As some publications of the Oxford Refugee Studies Programme have very helpfully pointed out, many discussions of these areas, and indeed no doubt many interventions themselves, have not been clear about what sort of situation is in question. I confess that I am not altogether clear about what kind of situation is in question in my discussion either, but let me start with saying a little about that. It will not be a precise demarcation, but it will lay down, I hope,...

  17. THIRTEEN Truth, Politics, and Self-Deception
    (pp. 154-164)

    There are social practices and virtues which, if we are to characterize them, require us to mentionthe truth. This is not the same as mentioning what other people hold true (their beliefs); or just mentioning what we regard as true (our own beliefs). We may contrast in this respect two different virtues of truth, which may be labelledsincerityandaccuracy. Sincerity (at the most basic level) merely implies that people say what they believe to be true—that is, what they believe. Accuracy implies care, reliability, and so on, in discovering and coming to believe the truth.


  18. Bernard Williams: Writings of Political Interest
    (pp. 165-170)
  19. Index
    (pp. 171-174)