requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘williams

Williams on Internal and External Reasons

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I’m not sure I entirely understand Bernard Williams’s views on internal and external reasons.  Fortunately, I’m not sure that most people who read his work (even publish on it) understand those views either.  (Maybe that’s just further blindness on my part but I think his work is rather more complex than is usually admitted.)  I do think that what I understand of his account usefully connects to some of his thoughts about history and how we can best make sense of ourselves and others.  (I proceed with the caveat that what follows is just notes and ramblings and may well be misguided [but I am committed to using this blog to just experiment more rather than to ‘be right’ or ‘show off’].)

Williams’s views are about reasons for actions and when we take reasons for actions to be explanatory of actions.  Here is a key claim in his 1979 piece on the matter: “nothing can explain an agent’s (intentional) actions except something that motivates him to act” (107).  This is reasons internalism, the idea that reasons for actions are internally related to being motivated to act.  The contrast view is reasons externalism, which suggests that sometimes there are reasons for actions which are normatively binding but which have no internal relations to agents’ motivations.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

Pluralism via Williams

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The first few draft paragraphs of a piece on Bernard Williams I am working on are below.  Also (just to self-advertise) my piece “Bernard Williams on Philosophy’s Need for History” just came out in the last issue of Review of Metaphysics (v64n1, Sept. 2010).

On pluralism and liberalism.  One of the most important, and indeed also most interesting, features of twentieth-century philosophical thinking about politics and morals concerns the increasing centrality of value pluralism for political philosophers working across a range of traditions: analytical, phenomenological, pragmatist, genealogical.  It is not entirely clear why value pluralism should have emerged as a topic of such concern at this time.  Of course, concern over pluralism had always been a feature of modern political philosophy.  But whereas canonical political philosophy in past centuries tends to sublimate pluralism in favor of a given philosophical conception of order or justice, the problem of pluralism itself became canonical over the course of the twentieth century, such that no serious political philosopher can today afford to ignore the problem, brush it aside, or dismiss it as either trivial or easily addressed as a purely practical matter.  But pluralism itself, deep conflict over values or ideals or interests as characteristic of both intercultural political life and intrapersonal moral life, has always been a feature of modern moral life.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 7, 2010 at 4:00 am

Challenging Philosophy: Richard Rorty, Bernard Williams, Michel Foucault

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The three most important philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century were Bernard Williams, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty. The importance of each can in large part be attributed to the profound challenges they posed to entrenched assumptions about philosophy, its role in our lives, and its place midst our liberal democratic cultures. I insist on referring to the challenges posted by these three thinkers as profound—for their challenges, when taken seriously, run very deep indeed. By the time that Williams, Foucault, and Rorty had each finished laying out the intellectual projects characteristic of their mature work, it was clear that they had overturned many of the working assumptions of the philosophical tradition in which they had been reared. In this way, each of these thinkers challenged their respective traditions to move on to more ambitious and cunning conceptions of philosophy. Each exhibited inspiring levels of intellectual rigor and critical courage in provoking their respective traditions of thought to adopt a new self-image.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 19, 2009 at 6:02 am