Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
In this book Bernard Williams delivers a sustained indictment of moral theory from Kant onward. His goal is nothing less than to reorient ethics toward the individual. He deals with the most thorny questions in contemporary philosophy and offers new ideas about issues such as relativism, objectivity, and the possibility of ethical knowledge.
count it as an ethical consideration, for instance, that a certain act will probably lead to the best consequences is explained in terms of our having one duty, among others, to bring about the best consequences. Theories of this kind are called “deontological.” (This term is sometimes said to come from the ancient Greek word for duty. There is no ancient Greek word for duty: it comes from the Greek for what one must do.) Contrasted with these are theories that take as primary the idea of
destroy religion. The center of the matter does not lie in purely logical questions. In fact, the logical or structural questions about religious ethics, like many questions about God, are interesting only if you believe in God. If God exists, then arguments about him are arguments about the cosmos and of cosmic importance, but if he does not, they are not about anything. In that case, the important questions must be about human beings, and why, for instance, they ever believed that God existed.
to intuition as a faculty explained nothing. It seemed to say that these truths were known, but there was no THEORY AND PREJUDICE way in which they were known. “Intuition” is not much of an explanation when it is applied to what are necessary truths, but with ethical beliefs it is worse, for reasons that once more have to do with cultural disagreement. Little as we know about it, we already know too much about the explanation of ethical beliefs and their cultural differences to accept a model
considerations, using that word in a general way, which corresponds to what is, irremovably, one name for the subject: moral philosophy. But there is another name for the subject, “ethics,” and corresponding to that is the notion of an ethical consideration. By origin, the difference between the two terms is that between Latin and Greek, each relating to a word meaning disposition or custom. One difference is that the Latin term from which “moral” comes emphasizes rather more the sense of social
beliefs and theories. In reflecting on the world that is there anyway, independent of our experience, we must concentrate not in the first instance on what our beliefs are about, but on how they represent what they are about. We can select among our beliefs and features of our world picture some that we can reasonably claim to represent the world in a way to the maximum degree independent of our perspective and its peculiarities. The resultant picture of things, if we can carry through this task,