Hume’s Optimism and Williams’s Pessimism From ‘Science of Man’ to Genealogical Critique

In Sophie Grace Chappell & Marcel van Ackeren (eds.), Ethics Beyond the Limits: New Essays on Bernard Williams' Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. London, UK: Routledge. pp. 37-52 (2018)
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Bernard Williams is widely recognized as belonging among the greatest and most influential moral philosophers of the twentieth-century – and arguably the greatest British moral philosopher of the late twentieth-century. His various contributions over a period of nearly half a century changed the course of the subject and challenged many of its deepest assumptions and prejudices. There are, nevertheless, a number of respects in which the interpretation of his work is neither easy nor straightforward. One reason for this is that both his views and his methods evolved and shifted in significant ways, especially around the time that he wrote and published Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (i.e. the early 1980s). One way of gauging and assessing these changes in Williams’ views and outlook is to consider his relationship and attitude to other philosophers during this period. Of particular interest is his changing attitude to the moral philosophy of David Hume. This relationship is of considerable importance, not only because it serves as a useful tool for the interpretation of Williams’ views but also because it provides us with some critical insight into the respective strengths and weaknesses of both Hume’s and Williams’ contributions.

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Paul Russell
Lund University


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