Bernard Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the last fifty years, but he was also a distinguished critic and essayist with an elegant style and a rare ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide public. This is the first collection of Williams's popular essays and reviews, many of which appeared in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. In these pieces, Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy and political philosophy to religion, science, the humanities, economics, socialism, feminism, and pornography.
Included here are reviews of major books such as John Rawls's Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Alastair MacIntyre's After Virtue, Richard Rorty's Consequences of Pragmatism, and Martha Nussbaum's Therapy of Desire. But many of these essays extend beyond philosophy and together provide an intellectual tour through the past half century, from C. S. Lewis and Umberto Eco to Noam Chomsky. No matter the subject, Williams probes and challenges arguments, teases out their implications, and connects them to the wider intellectual scene. At the same time, readers see a first-class mind grappling with landmark books in "real time," before critical consensus had formed and ossified.
In his foreword, Michael Wood discusses Williams's style and sensibility and his concern that philosophy contribute to the larger intellectual conversation.
Bernard Williams was Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge (1967-1979) and Provost of King's College. He held the Monroe Deutsch Professorship of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley (1998-2000) and was White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford (1990-2003). He was Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford until his death in 2003.
"This collection is the work of an exceptional thinker--an insightful philosopher who was also an acute observer of the world. Williams has a virtually unerring eye for the specious, for the concealed premise, and for overblown rhetoric, which he brings to light with a mordant wit, tinged at times with a wry sympathy for his target."--Charles Taylor, McGill University
"Bernard Williams lit up philosophy; teaching us what it is, what it has been, and what it might become. In these essays, he takes a stand on the major intellectual currents of his time. With his characteristic clarity, insight, and humor, Williams is here the philosopher-witness, offering us a penetrating view of an age."--Jonathan Lear, University of Chicago
"'How clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!' George Orwell wrote of Gandhi. The same could be said of Bernard Williams, and with the same touch of wonder. Great minds--and Williams stood at the pinnacle of intellectual distinction--often veer into positions that come to seem, with the passage of time, extravagant, self-indulgent, or cruel. But Williams's acute intelligence--high-spirited, supple, and wide-ranging--was unfailingly in the service of decency, clarity, and an ethical life rooted not in abstract principles but in the tangled circumstances of the everyday. These elegant, witty essays and reviews, still astonishingly alive, are at once deeply pleasurable and deeply important."--Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Bernard Williams:
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Michael Wood: