Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline

Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline

Bernard Williams
Selected, edited, and with an introduction by A. W. Moore
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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    Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline
    Book Description:

    What can--and what can't--philosophy do? What are its ethical risks--and its possible rewards? How does it differ from science? InPhilosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, Bernard Williams addresses these questions and presents a striking vision of philosophy as fundamentally different from science in its aims and methods even though there is still in philosophy "something that counts as getting it right." Written with his distinctive combination of rigor, imagination, depth, and humanism, the book amply demonstrates why Williams was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.

    Spanning his career from his first publication to one of his last lectures, the book's previously unpublished or uncollected essays address metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, as well as the scope and limits of philosophy itself. The essays are unified by Williams's constant concern that philosophy maintain contact with the human problems that animate it in the first place. As the book's editor, A. W. Moore, writes in his introduction, the title essay is "a kind of manifesto for Williams's conception of his own life's work." It is where he most directly asks "what philosophy can and cannot contribute to the project of making sense of things"--answering that what philosophy can best help make sense of is "being human."

    Philosophy as a Humanistic Disciplineis one of three posthumous books by Williams to be published by Princeton University Press.In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argumentwas published in the fall of 2005.The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophyis being published shortly after the present volume.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2709-1
    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-xx)
    A. W. Moore

    Bernard Williams (1929–2003) was one of the greatest twentieth-century British philosophers. His work, which was unusual in its range, was always marked by an equally unusual combination of rigour, imagination, and depth, as well as by a thorough humanity. The essays published here bear copious witness to these and other facets of his extraordinary intellect.

    Between them they span Williams’s entire career. Essay 1, “Tertullian’s Paradox,” was his first publication. It appeared half a century ago. Essay 13, “The Human Prejudice,” was given as a lecture shortly before he died.

    Williams himself brought out three collections of essays during...

  5. Part One: Metaphysics and Epistemology
    • ONE Tertullian’s Paradox (1955)
      (pp. 3-21)

      This paper does not deal directly either with Tertullian or with his paradox. In considering the most famous and most widely misquoted of Tertullian’s paradoxes, I do not try to explain it, still less to explain it away; but take it as the starting-point and end of a discussion of religious language and of its relations to theology and to the kind of philosophical inquiry with which this book* is principally concerned. In particular, I try to bring out a certain tension, a pull between the possible and the impossible, a sort of inherent and necessary incomprehensibility, which seems to...

    • TWO Metaphysical Arguments (1957)
      (pp. 22-33)

      Metaphysicians do not just assert their positions. They attempt to support them by argument, and to give proofs of their conclusions. Some consideration of these proofs must form part of any enquiry into the nature of metaphysics; for it is the attempt to give a proof for his conclusion, to show by logical argument that such-and-such must be so, that chiefly distinguishes the philosophical metaphysician from the mystic, the moralist and others who express or try to express a comprehensive view of how things are or ought to be.

      It may well be that the thorough-going metaphysician does not often,...

    • THREE Pleasure and Belief (1959)
      (pp. 34-46)

      We can be as pleased by what we only believe to be the case and is not, as by what we know to be the case. Thus I may be pleased because (as I suppose) I have inherited a fortune, when I have not. This fact deserves consideration, in particular because it raises the question of the relation of pleasure to its objects; it is with this question that this paper will be principally concerned.

      If anyone is tempted to think that the object of my pleasure—what I am pleased by, or at—is thecauseof my pleasure,...

    • FOUR Knowledge and Reasons (1972)
      (pp. 47-56)

      One aim of this paper is to make some suggestions about the role of reasons in knowledge. The other is to sketch an approach to the nature of knowledge which will put that question into a correct perspective. That sketch will indeed be sketchy, and most of what I shall say schematic. My aim is to put the main issues into what seems to me the right overall shape.

      I shall be concerned only with what I shall callpropositionalknowledge, knowledge whose paradigmatic expression in language-users is the confident assertion of truths, and where the claim that it is...

    • FIVE Identity and Identities (1995)
      (pp. 57-64)

      In 1955, there appeared an ingenious and enjoyable novel by Nigel Dennis calledCards of Identity. It introduced an organization called the ‘Identity Club’, which engaged in making people over, giving them a new past and a new character—a new identity. There was much discussion of thenamethat any given character should have. This gives the flavour:

      ‘Has he been with us for long?’

      ‘A good many years. He came straight here from the Navy. I found him, dead-drunk, in a Portsmouth gutter.’

      ‘And he likes his name?’

      ‘He took to it immediately. Would you care to construe?’...

  6. Part Two: Ethics
    • SIX The Primacy of Dispositions (1987)
      (pp. 67-75)

      There are several ways of understanding a philosophical search for what is primary or fundamental in ethics. The search might be for conceptual priority or dependence; and one way of understanding such a priority would be in terms of definitions. Moore,¹ for a while, thought thatrightwas to be defined asproductive of the greatest good, and he understood this not as a stipulative definition but as an account of what the term actually meant. This implied that an evidently contentious position, generalized utilitarianism or consequentialism, was to be found not only in language, but on the surface of...

    • SEVEN The Structure of Hare’s Theory (1988)
      (pp. 76-85)

      I hope that Dick Hare is disposed to accept seriously intended criticism as an expression of interest and respect, since I have expressed in this form my interest in and respect for his work at what he may reasonably regard as excessive length. Trying in a recent book (Williams, 1985)* to describe moral philosophy and some significant modern contributions to it, I found it appropriate to criticize his views at various points of the argument. Here I shall try to examine the structure of his theory as I understand it, and in the course of this I shall make some...

    • EIGHT Subjectivism and Toleration (1992)
      (pp. 86-96)

      Bertrand Russell said more than once that he was uncomfortable about a conflict, as he saw it, between two things: the strength of the conviction with which he held his ethical beliefs, and the philosophical opinions that he had about the status of those ethical beliefs—opinions which were non-cognitivist, and in some sense subjectivist. Russell felt that, in some way, if he did not think that his ethical beliefs were objective, he had no right to hold them so passionately. This discomfort was not something that Ayer noted or discussed in his account of Russell’s moral philosophy and ethical...

    • NINE The Actus Reus of Dr. Caligari (1994)
      (pp. 97-108)

      Michael Moore’s book is subtitled “the philosophy of action and its implications for criminal law.”¹ For much of his discussion, this formulation does express the way in which he proceeds: an account of action that is philosophically (as he often puts it, “metaphysically”) motivated yields the kinds of distinctions and conclusions that are needed in order to support central principles of the criminal law, particularly as these have been formulated in the tradition reaching back to Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. In particular, three fundamental principles of the criminal law are defended, on the basis of philosophical considerations, from philosophical...

    • TEN Values, Reasons, and the Theory of Persuasion (1996)
      (pp. 109-118)

      The distinction that I shall discuss under this title is not, strictly speaking, a distinction between two kinds of reason, but rather a distinction between two kinds of claim that can be made about what an agent A has reason to do. The statement ‘Ahas reason toX’ receives an internal interpretation if it is taken to mean ‘Acould arrive at a decision toXby sound deliberation from his existingS’, whereSisA’s existing set of desires, preferences, evaluations, and other psychological states in virtue of which he can be motivated to act. An external...

    • ELEVEN Moral Responsibility and Political Freedom (1997)
      (pp. 119-125)

      In the phrase “moral responsibility”, the term “moral” can register two different ideas. On the one hand, it may introduce a particular field of application and a corresponding class of consequences, which are informal and social rather than formal and supported by force. Used in this way, “moral responsibility” is distinguished from legal responsibility. A quite different use of the term is involved when “moral” is introduced to imply a certain basis of assessment, one that places particular emphasis on the voluntary. In this sense, moral responsibility can be proposed as a basis of assessment even when what is in...

    • TWELVE Tolerating the Intolerable (1999)
      (pp. 126-134)

      The difficulty with toleration is that it seems to be at once necessary and impossible. It is necessary where different groups have conflicting beliefs—moral, political or religious—and realise that there is no alternative to their living together; no alternative, that is to say, except armed conflict, which will not resolve their disagreements and will impose continuous suffering. These are the circumstances in which toleration is necessary. Yet in those same circumstances it may well seem impossible.

      If violence and the breakdown of social co-operation are threatened in these circumstances, it is because people find others’ beliefs or ways...

    • THIRTEEN The Human Prejudice (unpublished)
      (pp. 135-152)

      Once upon a time there was an outlook called “humanism.” In one sense there still is: it is a name given these days to a movement of organized, sometimes militant, opposition to religious belief, in particular to Christianity. What was more or less the same movement used to go under a name equally inherited from the past of philosophy, which was “Rationalism.” In Britain atheist organizations under these different names have existed at the same time, and I believe that one man, who wrote indefatigably to the newspapers, may once have been secretary of them both.

      It is not “humanism”...

  7. Part Three: The Scope and Limits of Philosophy
    • FOURTEEN Political Philosophy and the Analytical Tradition (1980)
      (pp. 155-168)

      There was a time, not very long ago, when analytical philosophy had more or less given up on political philosophy. The introductions to successive volumes ofPolitics, Philosophy and Societyexpressed anxiety about whether the subject could continue to exist, or amazement that it still did; at least one international symposium had as its title “La philosophie politique, existe-t-elle?” and many others had the same theme. There is no need to stress that that time is now past. I do not intend to spend time myself worrying exactly what philosophy is analytical, nor in encouraging discussion on that unrewarding topic,...

    • FIFTEEN Philosophy and the Understanding of Ignorance (1995)
      (pp. 169-179)

      Our subject is what we do not know; and this is a meeting under the auspices of philosophy—a meeting, indeed, designed to advance UNESCO’s programme in philosophy. The conjunction of this subject and these auspices already confronts us with certain questions. How is philosophy related to ignorance?

      One question I shall not pursue is whether philosophy itself just is a kind of ignorance, and whether there is such a thing as philosophical knowledge at all. It has often been said, particularly by positivists, that philosophy is virtually by definition a home of ignorance, that it consists of questions which...

    • SIXTEEN Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (2000)
      (pp. 180-199)

      In the formula ‘humanistic discipline’ both the elements are meant to carry weight. This is not a lecture about academic organisation: in speaking of philosophy as a ‘humanistic’ enterprise, I am not making the point that philosophy belongs with the humanities or arts subjects. The question is: what models or ideals or analogies should we look to in thinking about the ways in which philosophy should be done? It is an application to our present circumstances of a more general and traditional question, which is notoriously itself a philosophical question: how should philosophy understand itself?

      Similarly with the other term...

    • SEVENTEEN What Might Philosophy Become? (unpublished)
      (pp. 200-214)

      If we are going to have labels in philosophy, this is a good time to have a new one, and “post-analytic philosophy” is an attractive label.¹ However, it immediately raises one or two points of intellectual policy.

      First, I am sure that no time should be spent on trying to define the “analytic” that post-analytic philosophy is post-. That could lead one back to sterile controversies reminiscent of Supplementary Volumes of theProceedings of the Aristotelian Societyin the 1930s, with titles such as “Is Philosophy the Analysis of Commonsense?”, and this would be all the more inappropriate when the...

  8. Bernard Williams: Complete Philosophical Publications
    (pp. 215-227)