Ideas of Bernard Williams, by Theme

[British, 1929 - 2003, Professor at Oxford, London, Cambridge, and in America]

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13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 6. Relativism Critique
Our ability to react to an alien culture shows that ethical thought extends beyond cultural boundaries
It is very confused to deduce a nonrelativist morality of universal toleration from relativism
16. Persons / A. Concept of a Person / 1. Existence of Persons
'Dead person' isn't a contradiction, so 'person' is somewhat vague
You can only really love a person as a token, not as a type
16. Persons / E. Self as Mind / 2. Psychological Continuity
The memory criterion has a problem when one thing branches into two things
16. Persons / G. Free Will / 1. Free Will / c. Free will critique
It is an absurd Kantian idea that at the limit rationality and freedom coincide
There is only a problem of free will if you think the notion of 'voluntary' can be metaphysically deepened
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 8. Dualism of Mind Critique
Homer does not distinguish between soul and body
20. Action / B. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / c. Reasons as causes
Reasons are 'internal' if they give a person a motive to act, but 'external' otherwise
20. Action / C. Preliminaries of Action / 3. Willed Action / a. Will to Act
The 'will' doesn't exist; there is just conclusion, then action
20. Action / C. Preliminaries of Action / 3. Willed Action / c. Weakness of will
We judge weakness of will by an assessment after the event is concluded
20. Action / D. Explaining an Action / 4. Justifying an Action
Responsibility involves cause, intention, state of mind, and response after the event
22. Metaethics / B. Basis of Ethics / 1. Morality
In bad actions, guilt points towards victims, and shame to the agent
22. Metaethics / B. Basis of Ethics / 2. Moral Theory
Philosophers try to produce ethical theories because they falsely assume that ethics can be simple
22. Metaethics / B. Basis of Ethics / 4. Is/Ought
Some ethical ideas, such as 'treachery' and 'promise', seem to express a union of facts and values
22. Metaethics / B. Basis of Ethics / 7. Moral Motives
Plato found that he could only enforce rational moral justification by creating an authoritarian society
22. Metaethics / C. Sources of Ethics / 2. Human Nature
We can't accept Aristotle's naturalism about persons, because it is normative and unscientific
The category of person is a weak basis for ethics, because it is not fixed but comes in degrees
22. Metaethics / C. Sources of Ethics / 3. Intuitionism
Intuitionism has been demolished by critics, and no longer looks interesting
22. Metaethics / C. Sources of Ethics / 5. Prescriptivism
The weakness of prescriptivism is shown by "I simply don't like staying at good hotels"
22. Metaethics / D. Consequentialism / 1. Consequentialism
It is an error of consequentialism to think we just aim at certain states of affairs; we also want to act
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 3. Promise Keeping
Promise keeping increases reliability, by making deliberation focus on something which would be overlooked
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 5. Free Rider
A weakness of contractual theories is the position of a person of superior ability and power
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / a. Nature of virtue
Greek moral progress came when 'virtue' was freed from social status
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / c. Motivation for virtue
A crucial feature of moral thought is second-order desire - the desire to have certain desires
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 1. Deontology
'Deon' in Greek means what one must do; there was no word meaning 'duty'
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 2. Duty
"Ought implies can" is a famous formula in connection with moral obligation
Obligation and duty look backwards (because of a promise or job), although the acts are in the future
The modern idea of duty is unknown in archaic Greece
Not all moral deliberations lead to obligations; some merely reveal what 'may' be done
The concept of a 'duty to myself' is fraudulent
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 3. Universalisability
Why should I think of myself as both the legislator and the citizen who follows the laws?
If the self becomes completely impartial, it no longer has enough identity to worry about its interests
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 5. Motivation for Duty
If the moral self is seen as characterless, then other people have a very limited role in our moral lives
If reason cannot lead people to good, we must hope they have an internal voice
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 3. Motivation for Altruism
Utilitarian benevolence involves no particular attachments, and is immune to the inverse square law
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 1. Existentialism
Ethical conviction must be to some extent passive, and can't just depend on the will and decisions
We can't cure ethical uncertainty by taking responsibility for decisions; we are uncertain what to decide
24. Applied Ethics / B. Moral Rights / 3. Animal Rights
Speciesism isn't like racism, because the former implies a viewpoint which belongs to no one
24. Applied Ethics / C. Death Issues / 3. Abortion
Most women see an early miscarriage and a late stillbirth as being very different in character
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 3. Social Equality / a. Grounds of equality
Equality seems to require that each person be acknowledged as having a significant point of view
Equality implies that people are alike in potential as well as in needs
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 3. Social Equality / b. Political equality
Equality of opportunity without equality of respect would create a very inhuman society
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 3. Social Equality / d. Economic equality
It is a mark of extreme exploitation that the sufferers do not realise their plight
25. Society / E. State Functions / 5. Education / b. Aims of education
It is a mark of our having ethical values that we aim to reproduce them in our children
29. Religion / F. Problem of Evil / 1. Problem of Evil
There is a problem of evil only if you expect the world to be good