This collection is a festschrift prepared for Williams on his retirement from the White’s Professorship of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. The topics covered include equality, consistency, comparison between science and ethics, integrity, moral reasons, the moral system, and moral knowledge. Most of the chapters combine exegetical and critical ambitions. With contributions by J. E. J. Altham, Jon Elster, Nicholas Jardine, Ross Harrison, Christopher Hookway, John McDowell, Martin Hollis, Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, and Charles Taylor, and replies by Bernard Williams.
Arnold Burms: Professor Williams has said that he is willing to answer some of our questions about his work. Given the amount of work he has to do here in a few days, this was a generous decision for which we are genuinely grateful. Professor Van de Putte will start the discussion with some questions about the relation between theory and practice.André Van de Putte: In Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy you situate ethical thought in the context of a (...) movement of reflection. To quote from page 112: “It is too late at this stage to raise the prior question: `Why reflection?' — too late in terms of this inquiry, and always too late in terms of the question itself, since one could answer it without prejudice only by not considering it.” And just before that quotation you also said that “the drive to theory has roots in ethical thought itself” and a little bit further you say: “The important question at this point is why reflection should be taken to require theory.” Now I would like to elaborate a little bit on these remarks and ask you to comment on what I'm going to say.Three things should be stressed concerning ethical reflection which are important for moral philosophy and for our understanding of moral philosophy. The first one is this: the person who is reflecting is already part of a concrete society when he or she starts reflecting. That means that he or she has been socialized in a concrete ethos and has already an experience of a substantive ethical life. In this sense he or she does not need to invent ethical life.The second remark is this: ethical reflection is in itself already the expression of an ethical intention. By asking the question `How should one live?', one shows that one is interested in living an ethical life. In this sense I can agree with what I think you say in Ethics, namely that the question `Why should I be moral?' is not meaningful for a moral thinker. The answer to the moral question, the results of his reflection are not meant to convince him or his readers to be moral. On the contrary, he starts precisely from this interest in morality and tries to understand what it means to be moral, what his wish to be moral implies.My third point is the most important. In starting his reflection the thinker has as it were decided that his answer will only be acceptable if it is valid for all, if it can be justified for all. In the moral question itself, a norm of universality is implied. And given the fact that the moral question is itself the expression of an ethical intention, this is important. If he would not assume this norm, he would in my view not really be posing the question. We can immediately understand this if we consider the alternative.Suppose a moral thinker who assumes that an answer to the moral question will be valid only when it suits him. Would we say in this case that this person is really asking the moral question? I do not think so. To put this another way, my thesis is that in the reflection the person who reflects is subjecting himself to the law of thinking itself, to the law of reason, in other words, to the law of universality, of non-contradiction. In the question he discovers this law as a norm for himself asking the moral question and thus as a norm inherent in moral intention. I think that this is precisely what Kant discovered and why for so many there is an important link between ethics and reason and why we are, as you say, driven to theory: since we want a universal answer, since a moral norm implies universality, we are looking for a theory, for a universal justification. But this is not yet the full story. All that I have said only becomes visible on the reflective level. It is only visible, as it were, once one starts reflecting.This means that the norm of universality cannot and must not be understood as a concrete norm which can and should replace the norms of the concrete ethos we all already live in when we start reflecting. I think rationalism in ethics is precisely that: the belief that this norm and what one hopes to deduce from it can and should replace the concrete ethos. I think it must be clear that this cannot be done. As we all know the Kantian imperative is formal and negative and does not produce any content. If we need content — and of course we need it — it should come from our historical ethos. (shrink)
Ellis argues that certain essential properties of objects in the world not only determine the nature of these objects but also how they will behave in any situation. In this paper I will critique Ellis's essentialism from the perspective of the philosophy of chemistry, arguing that our current knowledge of chemistry in fact does not lend itself to essentialist interpretations and that this seriously undercuts Ellis's project. In particular I will criticize two key distinctions Ellis draws between internal vs. external (...) properties and essential vs. accidental properties, showing that at the chemical level such distinctions are insupportable. If essential properties only exist at the level of sub-atomic physics, then Ellis's hopes that essentialism will provide a theoretical basis for a philosophy of chemistry are at best hopes for a very distant future, since the argument that chemical structure and dynamics can be explained at the quantum level derived is purely from analogy to much simpler systems than those chemists actually study. This suggests that we have very little scientific evidence that scientific essentialism is a viable ontology. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556; e-mail: [email protected] (shrink)
There is widespread agreement that the most serious and debilitating contemporary social problem in the developed capitalist world is the problem of enforced or involuntary unemployment. The growth in mass unemployment in the 1970s and 80s has produced a renewal of the demand by the labour and trade union movement1 for the implementation of a ‘right to work’; presumably in the belief that the official recognition and legal enforcement of such a right would lead to the increased availability of jobs. (...) This campaigning slogan has sometimes emanated from the most unlikely sources. In his introduction to a published account of the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation and work-in, entitled The Right to Work, Mr Harold Wilson declared that ‘what the men of the Clyde proclaimed, and what I went to Clydeside to assert, was “the right to work”. And that principle cannot, and must not, be denied.’. (shrink)
Abraham ibn Ezra the Spaniard was one of the foremost transmitters of Arabic science to the West. His astrological and astronomical works, written in Hebrew and later translated into Latin, were considered authoritative by many medieval Jewish and Christian scholars. Some of the works he translated from Arabic are no longer extant in their original form, and on occasion his treatises provide information about earlier sources that is otherwise poorly preserved, if at all. Ibn Ezra seems to be the earliest (...) scholar to record one of the seven methods for setting up the astrological houses, and this method was subsequently used by Levi ben Gerson in southern France. (shrink)
Discussions of objectivity often start from considerations about disagreement. We might ask why this should be so. It makes it seem as though disagreement were surprising, but there is no reason why that should be so. The interest in disagreement comes about, rather, because neither agreement nor disagreement is universal. It is not that disagreement needs explanation and agreement does not, but that in different contexts disagreement requires different sorts of explanation, and so does agreement.