Ideas of Bernard Williams, by Theme

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

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7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 1. Realism
In the realist view, the real external world explains how it (and perceptions of it) are possible
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 / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / b. Self as mental continuity
The memory criterion has a problem when one thing branches into two things [Macdonald,C]
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 5. Against Free Will
There is only a problem of free will if you think the notion of 'voluntary' can be metaphysically deepened
It is an absurd Kantian idea that at the limit rationality and freedom coincide
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 2. Willed Action / d. Weakness of will
We judge weakness of will by an assessment after the event is concluded [Cottingham]
20. Action / C. 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. Motives for Action / 4. Responsibility for Actions
Responsibility involves cause, intention, state of mind, and response after the event
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / b. Fact and value
Some ethical ideas, such as 'treachery' and 'promise', seem to express a union of facts and values
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / f. Ultimate value
Maybe the unthinkable is a moral category, and considering some options is dishonourable or absurd
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / g. Consequentialism
Consequentialism assumes that situations can be compared
For a consequentialist massacring 7 million must be better than massacring 7 million and one
It is an error of consequentialism to think we just aim at certain states of affairs; we also want to act
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / d. Ethical theory
Philosophers try to produce ethical theories because they falsely assume that ethics can be simple
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / f. Ethical non-cognitivism
Moral conflicts have a different feeling and structure from belief conflicts [Foot]
We tolerate inconsistency in ethics but not in other beliefs (which reflect an independent order) [Foot]
If moral systems can't judge other moral systems, then moral relativism is true [Foot]
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / g. Moral responsibility
Blame partly rests on the fiction that blamed agents always know their obligations
Blame usually has no effect if the recipient thinks it unjustified
In bad actions, guilt points towards victims, and shame to the agent
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / c. Ethical intuitionism
Intuitionism has been demolished by critics, and no longer looks interesting
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / e. Human nature
We can't accept Aristotle's naturalism about persons, because it is normative and unscientific [Hursthouse]
The category of person is a weak basis for ethics, because it is not fixed but comes in degrees
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / i. Prescriptivism
The weakness of prescriptivism is shown by "I simply don't like staying at good hotels"
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 / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / h. Respect
Equality of opportunity without equality of respect would create a very inhuman society
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
Not all moral deliberations lead to obligations; some merely reveal what 'may' be done
Obligation and duty look backwards (because of a promise or job), although the acts are in the future
The concept of a 'duty to myself' is fraudulent
The modern idea of duty is unknown in archaic Greece
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 3. Universalisability
We don't have a duty to ensure that others do their duty
If the self becomes completely impartial, it no longer has enough identity to worry about its interests
Why should I think of myself as both the legislator and the citizen who follows the laws?
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 6. 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 / 1. Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism cannot make any serious sense of integrity
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 / 7. Existential Action
Ethical conviction must be to some extent passive, and can't just depend on the will and decisions
Taking responsibility won't cure ethical uncertainty by; we are uncertain what to decide
24. Applied Ethics / A. Decision Conflicts / 2. Dilemmas
Many ethical theories neglect the power of regretting the ought not acted upon
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 / C. Social Justice / 4. Social Equality / a. Grounds of equality
Equality implies that people are alike in potential as well as in needs
Equality seems to require that each person be acknowledged as having a significant point of view
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 4. 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 / 4. Education / b. Aims of education
It is a mark of our having ethical values that we aim to reproduce them in our children
27. Natural Reality / A. Classical Physics / 1. Mechanics / a. Explaining movement
If the more you raise some earth the faster it moves, why does the whole earth not move?
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 3. Problem of Evil / a. Problem of Evil
There is a problem of evil only if you expect the world to be good