Bernard Williams

It’s been about 18 months since my last posting on Bernard Williams. Having worked my way through Bryan Magee’s excellent series (Men of Ideas and The Great Philosophers) my original perception that BW was the best performer of both series, remains in tact 25 years on (Searle being the other good performer though I think BW has the clear edge). And I had the distinct sense that BM felt that way as well. Despite BW being in decline, his dazzling, cutting and deep brilliance is still very much evident. Unlike others who have courted the life as public intellectual, BW never did stop doing real philosophy. Check out the talk called The Human Prejudice.

Many people think that “humanity” is an ethical idea, and that it makes a basic moral difference whether a creature they are dealing with is another human being or not. This is implicit in such as ideas as “human rights”, and in one sense of “human values”. Some philosophers attack this outlook as a prejudice, similar to racism or sexism. I shall argue that their view is based on a deep misconception, which itself involves an attempt to project human attitudes on to the universe. The only way forward is to argue out from what we care about, and to consider who might belong with “us”.

Bernard Williams portrait