Ethics Beyond the Limits: New Essays on Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy [Book Review]

Mind 132 (525):234-243 (2023)
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Bernard Williams’ books demand an unusual amount of work from readers. This is particularly true of his 1985 magnum opus, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (ELP)—a work so charged with ideas that there seems to be nothing more to say, and yet at the same time so pared-down and tersely argued that there seems to be nothing left to take away. Reflecting on the book five years after its publication, Williams writes that it is centrally concerned with a Nietzschean question: the question of philosophy’s authority, in particular when it comes to telling us how to live (1990, p. XIX). Some ethical theories seem implicitly committed to the idea that philosophy has everything to tell us about how to live. This Williams rejects. But the question then is how much philosophy has to tell us, and as critical as Williams may be of philosophy’s ambitions in this regard, his answer in ELP is certainly not nothing. The book even suggests some things that philosophy might say. But what Williams emphatically insists on, both in the book and in his later reflection on it, is that the question needs to be taken more seriously than it has been.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern


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