- Williams, Bernard
- (1929– )English philosopher. Born in Essex, Williams was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and held Fellowships at All Souls and New College. He was professor of philosophy at Cambridge from 1967 to 1979 and Provost of King's College, Cambridge from 1979 to 1987, when he accepted a chair at Berkeley, returning to the chair of moral philosophy at Oxford in 1990. Williams is known for a subtle relativistic position in moral philosophy that rejects both Aristotelian and Kantian promises that virtue arises from the exercise of rational propensities in the mind. He also rejects expressive and projective theories, arguing instead that ethics cannot be what it seems to be, if it is based purely on contingent sentiments and passions. He has argued influentially that Kantian ethics, and utilitarianism, impose an unnatural emphasis on purely impersonal concerns, ignoring the personal projects that necessarily occupy the foreground of people's practical lives (see also agent-centred morality, integrity, Stoicism, universalizability ). Williams's principal books include Descartes: the Project of Pure Inquiry (1978), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), and Shame and Necessity (1993). Collections of papers include Problems of the Self (1973) and Moral Luck (1981).
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.