Relativism, realism, and reflection

Inquiry 41 (4):377 – 410 (1998)
Abstract
The paper undertakes a critical examination of three key strands- relativism, antirealism, and reflection- in Bernard Williams's sceptical interpretation of ethical thought. The anti-realist basis of Williams's 'relativism of distance' is identified and the way this threatens to render his relativism more subversive than initially appears. Focusing on Williams's anti-realism, the paper argues that it fails because it is caught on the horns of a dilemma: either it draws on a conception of reality that is metaphysically incoherent, or else it employs a 'best explanation' criterion that question-beggingly excludes from further consideration the sort of reason-based explanations that disclose ethical properties to be real. Finally, it is noted that Williams's relativism and anti-realism destabilize his picture of ethical reflection.
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