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)
Patricia Williams made a number of claims concerning the methods and practise of cladistic analysis and classification. Her argument rests upon the distinction of two kinds of hierarchy: a divisional hierarchy depicting evolutionary descent and the Linnean hierarchy describing taxonomic groups in a classification. Williams goes on to outline five problems with cladistics that lead her to the conclusion that systematists should eliminate cladism as a school of biological taxonomy and to replace it either with something that is philosophically coherent (...) or to replace it with pure methodology, untainted by theory (Williams 1992, 151). Williams makes a number of points which she feels collectively add up to insurmountable problems for cladistics. We examine Williams' views concerning the two hierarchies and consider what cladists currently understand about the status of ancestors. We will demonstrate that Williams has seriously misunderstood many modern commentators on this subject and all of her five persistent problems are derivable from this misunderstanding. Some persons believe and argue, on grounds approaching faith it seems to me, that phylogeny comes from our knowledge of evolution. Others have found to their surprise, and sometimes dismay, that phylogeny comes from our knowledge of systematics. Nelson (1989, 67). (shrink)
The Williams Report on Obscenity and Film Censorship provoked predictably strong reactions in Britain when it first appeared, both from those who had read it and from those who had not. It is reissued here, in an abridged form, in the belief that it ought to be more widely read and more fully discussed. The practical issues and political principles examined in the Report are certainly of very general and continuing interest, and the report will remain a crucial point of (...) reference for all future public discussion of the subject, whether in Britain or elsewhere. This edition presents all the main findings and arguments of the full report, omitting only the length appendices. There is a preface which explains the background and briefly comments on the reception of the report. (shrink)
The essays are arranged in two sections of ethical topics and a section on philosophy, evolution, and the human sciences that includes the title essay, “Making Sense of Humanity.” In World, Mind and Ethics, excellent pieces by Elster, Sen, Jardine, Hookway, McDowell, Nussbaum, Charles Taylor, Altham, and Hollis range even more widely: over ethics, political philosophy, and epistemology, reflecting some of the breadth of Williams’s interests.
This article builds on the tradition of attitudinal measures of religiosity established by Leslie Francis and colleagues with the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity by introducing a new measure to assess the attitudinal disposition of Pagans. A battery of items was completed by 75 members of a Pagan Summer Camp. These items were reduced to produce a 21-item scale that measured aspects of Paganism concerned with: the God/Goddess, worshipping, prayer, and coven. The scale recorded an alpha coefficient of 0.93. (...) Construct validity of the Williams Scale of Attitude toward Paganism was demonstrated by the clear association with measures of participation in private rituals. (shrink)
Williams, Ron As I consider the list of previous AHOY recipients since the inaugural award in 1983, I can only say that this is an immeasurable honour. It means much to me because, for almost ten years now, Humanism has been there for my family. In 2005-2006, when separation of church and state school issues first crept into our lives, the Humanist Society of Queensland was to appear as the only beacon of secularist activism upon the deep northern horizon. So (...) in 2006 Andrea and I joined the HSQ. (shrink)
When it first appeared in 1979, the Williams Report on Obscenity and Film Censorship provoked strong reactions. The practical issues and political principles examined are of continuing interest and remain a crucial point of reference for discussions on obscenity and censorship. Presented in a fresh series livery for the twenty-first century, and with a specially commissioned preface written by Onora O'Neill, illuminating its continuing importance and relevance to philosophical enquiry, this abridged edition of Bernard Williams's Report presents all the main (...) findings and arguments of the full report, central to which is the application of Mill's 'harm principle' and the conclusion that restrictions are out of place where no harm can be reasonably thought to be done. (shrink)
This article criticizes Mathias Risse and Richard Zeckhauser's recent utilitarian defense of racial profiling. I use a novel thought-experiment to argue that even if a negative phenomenon could be reduced by profiling members of certain groups who happen to be disproportionately associated with it, the practice can be implausible. Specifically, I explore the possibility that in a given society, platinum blondes have a higher per capita incidence of a serious sexually transmitted disease, D. And I argue that doctors and health (...) officials in the society would not be justified in profiling such blondes, given that there is nothing about being a platinum blonde that causes one to have D. (shrink)
The larger topic which interests me is the general influence of the Greeks on Mill but here I shall concentrate on one aspect of this larger problem – can some of the difficulties which Mill is seen as getting into with his modified utilitarianism be better understood through an appreciation of the primacy of Greek views on happiness instead of the usual emphasis given to the Benthamite starting-point? The traditional objections to Mill's version of utility hardly need rehearsing: how can (...) he admit a qualitative element into a scale which only objectively measures quantity? How can he include the higher nature of man in a scheme which only recognizes pleasures and pains? Whether these and other criticisms lead the commentator to condemn Mill's attempt or whether they act as a springboard to discover a plausible defence of Mill, there is today a consensus that Mill's trouble arises from tampering with Bentham as a result of later alien influences. (shrink)
The most common view of Mill sees him as the classic liberal and one key element in this liberalism is said to be that his thought ‘rests on the belief that the use of reason can settle fundamental social conflicts’. He is seen by a leading authority as ‘the rationalist, confident that social change could be effected by the art of persuasion and by the simple fact that men would learn from bitter experiences’. To point out that at various times (...) in his life Mill supported the use of violence in political life is insufficient in itself to challenge this basic view. However, if it can be shown that Mill's support for political violence adds up to a coherent justificatory theory then Mill's standing as the model liberal upholder of reason might need to be revised. Or at least the commonly assumed opposition between reason and violence will need to be re-examined. Are there circumstances in which the use of violence rather than persuasion is the rational course? In looking at Mill's response to events in France, America, Ireland, and Canada as well as his attitude to British politics it is clear that there are numerous examples of his support for the use of violence: ‘I do not scruple to say that I have sympathised more or less ardently with most of the rebellions, successful and unsuccessful, which have taken place in my time’. Our present concern is to see whether he developed any general principles whereby such violence could be shown to be legitimate. (shrink)
In a discussion-note in Mind, Father P. M. Farrell, O.P., gave an account, in what he admitted to be an embarrassingly brief compass, of the Thomist doctrine concerning evil. There is one sentence in this discussion which at first glance appears paradoxical. Father Farrell has been arguing that a universe containing ‘corruptible good’ as well as incorruptible is better than one containing ‘incorruptible good’ only. He continues: ‘If, however, they are to manifest this corruptible good, they must be corruptible and (...) they must sometimes corrupt.’ The final words, despite Father Farrell's italics, strike one as expressing, not a self-evident truth, but a non sequitur. The fact that I am capable of committing murder does not entail that I will at some time commit it. It is not immediately obvious that a similar entailment holds in the case of corruption and corruptibility. (shrink)
Christology seems to fall fairly clearly into two divisions. The first is concerned with the truth of the two propositions: ‘Christ is God’ and ‘Christ is a man’. The second is concerned with the mutual compatibility of these propositions. The first part of Christology tends to confine itself to what is sometimes called ‘positive theology’: that is to say, it is largely given over to examining the Jons revelationis —let us not prejudge currently burning issues by asking what this is—to (...) see what evidence can be found for the truth of these propositions. Clearly, the methods used will be above all those of New Testament exegesis. The second part of Christology will necessarily consist entirely of that speculative theology which is contrasted with positive theology. Even if the earliest speculation on this topic is to be found in the New Testament itself and thus becomes fair game for the exegetes, any attempt to relate the primary truths, ‘Christ is God’ and ‘Christ is a man’, to eachother is a work of reflection, and in the terminology I am using speculative. (shrink)
Tractatus , 5.62 famously says: ‘… what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said but makes itself manifest. The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language mean the limits of my world.’ The later part of this repeats what was said in summary at 5.6: ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world’. And the key to the problem ‘how much truth there is in solipsism’ (...) has been provided by the reflections of TLP , 5.61. (shrink)
The Dalai Lama is fond of quoting a statement in which the Buddha is said to have asserted that no one should accept his word out of respect for the Buddha himself, but only after testing it, analysing it ‘ as a goldsmith analyses gold, through cutting, melting, scraping and rubbing it’. The Dalai Lama is often referred to as the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet, but in truth as a spiritual figure His Holiness, while respected, indeed revered by (...) almost all Tibetans, usually speaks from within the perspective of one particular tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, that of the dGe lugs . Founded in the late fourteenth century by Tsong kha pa, the dGe lugs has always stressed the importance of reasoning, analytic rationality, on the spiritual path. This dGe lugs perspective is by no means shared by all Buddhists, at least not in the form it there takes. Nevertheless it does represent an important direction in Buddhist thinking on reasoning and the spiritual path which can be traced back in Indian Buddhism a very long way indeed, and it is in the light of dGe lugs thought that I want to contemplate two points which seem to be crucial in Raimundo Panikkar's approach to interreligious dialogue and understanding: first, that Reality, Being, transcends the intelligible, the range of consciousness, and second, that understanding this is the only basis for tolerance, not seeking in one way or another to overcome the other. (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.
The claim that happiness and virtue ought to be proportionate to one another has often been expressed in the idea of a future world of divine justice, despite many moral difficulties with this idea. This paper argues that human efforts to enact such a proportionment are, ironically, justified by the same reasons that make the idea of divine justice seem so problematic. Moralists have often regarded our frailty and fallibility as reasons for abstaining from the judgment of others; and doubts (...) about our deserving some proportionment of happiness or unhappiness often arise insofar as virtue and vice may be explained on a causal basis. This paper argues that our fallibility and our susceptibility to social influence render judgment and response indispensable, because – given these characteristics – our actions and responses decide the morality that we actually share with one another. In this situation, to ‘judge not’ is to abandon the field to those with no such scruples. (shrink)
The Dalai Lama is fond of quoting a verse attributed to the Buddha to the effect that as the wise examine carefully gold by burning, cutting and polishing it, so the Buddha's followers should embrace his words after examining them critically and not just out of respect for the Master. A role for critical thought has been accepted by all Buddhists, although during two and a half millennia of sophisticated doctrinal development the exact nature, role and range of critical thought (...) has been extensively debated. In general doctrinal difference in Buddhism has been seen as perfectly acceptable, reflecting different levels of understanding and therefore different stages on the path to enlightenment. Buddhism has tended not to look to or expect doctrinal orthodoxy, although there has always been a much stronger impetus towards orthopraxy, and common code and behaviour has perhaps played a comparable role in Buddhism to common belief and creed in some other religions. Nevertheless an acceptability of doctrinal divergence has not lessened the energy and vigour devoted to lengthy and sometimes fiercely polemical debate between teachers and schools. This was nowhere more so than in Tibet, where doctrinal debates—sometimes lasting all night—to the present day form the central part of a monastic education in most of the largest Tibetan monastic universities. (shrink)
The purpose of this article should become plain during the reading of it, but perhaps some prior explanation is needed. Almost from the beginning of my study of the paṭiccasamuppāda I have had the notion that it could not have come into existence in the form the usual twelvefold formulation takes. For reasons which I try to make clear this twelvefold formulation is not a satisfactory statement of what it is supposed to explain, namely the reasons for each individual's continued (...) rebirths. I feel - and sadly I have to emphasize, before someone else does it for me, that in the final analysis I am relying more or less on intuition for my attitude towards the twelvefold formulation - that if one person alone had been responsible for the usually referred to formulation, and especially if that one person had been the Buddha, then those anomalies that now prevail would never have existed. (shrink)
In this paper on Karl Barth's conception of truth I shall try to state his position regarding the nature of truth and the criterion of truth, and secondly I shall draw from his position some propositions which I believe exhibit a pattern in his theology which brings it into close relationship to a philosophical tradition.
This paper is concerned with the notion of ambiguity—or what I shall refer to more generally as homonymy—and its bearing upon various familiar puzzles about intensional contexts. It would hardly of course be a novel claim that the unravelling of such puzzles may well involve recourse to something like ambiguity. After all, Frege, who bequeathed to us one of the most enduring of the puzzles, proposed as part of his solution an analysis of intensional contexts according to which all expressions (...) change their sense when embedded in such contexts. And many contemporary philosophers who have discussed the puzzles, while not perhaps endorsing Frege's own somewhat extreme view, nevertheless take ambiguities in the contained sentences to be the key to the puzzles. In this paper, however, I wish to follow those who take the crucial source of homonymy, at least in the most difficult of the puzzles, to lie primarily not in the embedded sentences, but rather in the intensional verbs that embed them. I begin with a brief examination of certain aspects of ambiguity and homonymy. (shrink)
We can try to imagine a people who in circumstances of hardship and danger—in hunting and warfare, for instance—show endurance, persistence, indifference to pain, and an unflinching readiness to accept death. Yet it may be that these qualities do not have any important place in their picture of themselves. Their courage is simply something they take for granted and it does not go with any practice of praise and blame. They are not proud of themselves when they act bravely, nor (...) ashamed of themselves if they fail to do so. This would be a courage that would be independent of the social practices of praise and blame, admiration and contempt, pride and shame. It would be a courage that did not fit into a scheme of values. This raises the question whether it could properly be regarded as an ethical quality, as a virtue. (shrink)
In his Aesthetic Croce makes some remarks upon the subject of sincerity: Artists protest vainly: ‘Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba’. They are merely taxed with lying and hypocrisy. How far more prudent you were, poor women of Verona, when you founded your belief that Dante had really descended to Hell upon his blackened countenance. Yours was at any rate an historical conjecture.
Â‘First. That on October 23, in the city of New York, your relator was arrested by divers persons claiming to be acting by authority of the government of the United States, and was by said persons conveyed to the United States immigration station at Ellis island, in the harbor of New York, and is now there imprisoned by the commissioner of immigration of the port of New York.