Williams’s Pragmatic Genealogy and Self-Effacing Functionality

Philosophers' Imprint 18 (forthcoming)
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Abstract
In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams sought to defend the value of truth by giving a vindicatory genealogy revealing its instrumental value. But what separates Williams’s instrumental vindication from the indirect utilitarianism of which he was a critic? And how can genealogy vindicate anything, let alone something which, as Williams says of the concept of truth, does not have a history? By reading Williams’s genealogy as a pragmatic genealogy and clarifying the relation between truth and truthfulness, this paper resolves these puzzles and offers a novel reading of Williams’s project. It shows how Williams’s genealogy forms a direct answer to the question of why we should cultivate our sense of the value of truth. Using various criticisms of this genealogical method as a foil, the paper then develops an understanding of pragmatic genealogy which shows it to be uniquely suited to dealing with practices exhibiting self-effacing functionality—practices that are functional only insofar as and because we do not engage in them for their functionality. The paper concludes with an assessment of the wider significance of Williams’s genealogy for his own oeuvre and for further genealogical inquiry.
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Archival date: 2018-01-10
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2018-01-10

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