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In the Beginning Was the Deed:
Realism and Moralism in Political Argument
Bernard Williams
Selected, edited, and with an introduction by Geoffrey Hawthorn

Paperback | 2007 | $31.95 | £26.95 | ISBN: 9780691134109
200 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Bernard Williams is remembered as one of the most brilliant and original philosophers of the past fifty years. Widely respected as a moral philosopher, Williams began to write about politics in a sustained way in the early 1980s. There followed a stream of articles, lectures, and other major contributions to issues of public concern--all complemented by his many works on ethics, which have important implications for political theory.

This new collection of essays, most of them previously unpublished, addresses many of the core subjects of political philosophy: justice, liberty, and equality; the nature and meaning of liberalism; toleration; power and the fear of power; democracy; and the nature of political philosophy itself. A central theme throughout is that political philosophers need to engage more directly with the realities of political life, not simply with the theories of other philosophers. Williams makes this argument in part through a searching examination of where political thinking should originate, to whom it might be addressed, and what it should deliver.

Williams had intended to weave these essays into a connected narrative on political philosophy with reflections on his own experience of postwar politics. Sadly he did not live to complete it, but this book brings together many of its components. Geoffrey Hawthorn has arranged the material to resemble as closely as possible Williams's original design and vision. He has provided both an introduction to Williams's political philosophy and a bibliography of his formal and informal writings on politics.

Those who know the work of Bernard Williams will find here the familiar hallmarks of his writing--originality, clarity, erudition, and wit. Those who are unfamiliar with, or unconvinced by, a philosophical approach to politics, will find this an engaging introduction. Both will encounter a thoroughly original voice in modern political theory and a searching approach to the shape and direction of liberal political thought in the past thirty-five years.


"A splendid expression of Williams's distinctive outlook, which joined a conviction that moral argument is important in politics with an insistence that we keep our eyes firmly fixed on the real political world. . . . [S]harp, funny and incisive."--Thomas Nagel, Times Literary Supplement

"In this collection, as in all of his other works, Bernard Williams shows how much more interesting our philosophic reflections on the problems of human life can be when they begin with life's most mundane and unavoidable experiences."--Bernard Yack, Ethics

"Characteristically, all of the essays are closely argued, elegantly written, and strongly engaging. The book is a welcome addition to the literatures on the many issues it addresses."--Richard E. Flathman, Perspectives on Politics

"This collection of essays is well-written, challenging and highly enjoyable. It has the searching, inquisitive and witty style typical of its author, with scores of ideas and insights briefly alluded to without further development, making for engaging reading."--Chris Nathan, Oxonian Review


"Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the late twentieth century. He managed to combine an extraordinary sense for a real philosophical problem with an equally impressive gift for keeping in touch with the deepest issues of human life. Each of the essays here identifies a topic on which one longs to hear Williams's views, articulated with his characteristic combination of humane learning and intellectual rigor."--Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University

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Table of Contents:

Preface by Patricia Williams vii Introduction by Geoffrey Hawthorn xi CHAPTER ONE: Realism and Moralism in Political Theory 1
CHAPTER TWO: In the Beginning Was the Deed 18
CHAPTER THREE: Pluralism, Community and Left Wittgensteinianism 29
CHAPTER FOUR: Modernity and the Substance of Ethical Life 40
CHAPTER FIVE: The Liberalism of Fear 52
CHAPTER SIX: Human Rights and Relativism 62
CHAPTER SEVEN: From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value 75
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Idea of Equality 97
CHAPTER NINE: Con .icts of Liberty and Equality 115
CHAPTER TEN: Toleration, a Political or Moral Question? 128
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Censorship 139
CHAPTER TWELVE: Humanitarianism and the Right to Intervene 145
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Truth, Politics, and Self-Deception 154
Bernard Williams:Writings of Political Interest 165
Index 171

This book has been translated into:

  • Spanish
  • Italian

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Bernard Williams:

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