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The View from Here and Now

Thomas Nagel: A Tribute to Bernard Williams

11 May 2006
The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy 
by Bernard Williams, edited by Myles Burnyeat.
Princeton, 393 pp., £26.95, March 2006, 0 691 12477 9
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In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument 
by Bernard Williams, edited by Geoffrey Hawthorn.
Princeton, 174 pp., £18.95, October 2005, 0 691 12430 2
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Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline 
edited by Bernard Williams and A.W. Moore.
Princeton, 227 pp., £22.95, January 2006, 0 691 12426 4
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... BernardWilliams had a very large mind. To read these three posthumously published collections of essays (there will be a fourth, on opera) is an overwhelming reminder of his incandescent and all-consuming ...

Letting it get out

Bernard Williams

18 October 1984
Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation 
by Sissela Bok.
Oxford, 332 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 19 217733 8
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TheSecrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today 
edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel.
Heinemann, 166 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 9780435839390
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... It is often said that the British are obsessively interested in secrecy. It is less often said how deep and peculiar this obsession is, and how much more there is to it than the well-known fact that British authorities are exceptionally secretive. Our interest is in secrecy as much as in secrets: it is the process, the practices and irregularities of keeping and revealing secrets, that concerns us ...

Knocking Through

Bernard Williams

6 March 1980
Rubbish Theory 
by Michael Thompson.
Oxford, 229 pp., £7.50, July 1979, 0 19 217658 7
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... The author of this book was once a builder, working particularly for the ‘knockers through’, as he calls them, who turn two rooms into one in terrace houses and make other well-known changes to convert a collapsing slum into a thing of pride and a joy for ever. Thompson’s sharp descriptions of these operations, and of the contrasts between the attitudes of those who own these gentrified residences ...

Pornography and Feminism

Bernard Williams

17 March 1983
... John Sutherland has produced ‘a calendar following a series of events (mostly trials) from 1960 to the present day’, which deals briefly and brightly with obscenity cases from Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fanny Hill to The Romans in Britain.* The aim is to investigate changes in public attitudes to ‘offensive literature’. It is a lively survey, but is not the useful history of that process ...
1 May 1980
Logic and Society 
by Jon Elster.
Wiley, 244 pp., £12.65, March 1978, 0 471 99549 5
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Ulysses and the Sirens 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 240 pp., £9.75, May 1979, 0 521 22388 1
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... There are some pieces of logical or theoretical jargon which are marks of ideological allegiance – intellectual windsocks to display which way the wind is blowing the author. While linguistic philosophers, at least of the older sort, ‘analyse’ some intellectual object, structuralists and their neighbours ‘deconstruct’ it. For Marxists, a set of interrelated problems is usually ‘problematic ...

Consequences

Bernard Williams

17 April 1986
A Matter of Principle 
by Ronald Dworkin.
Harvard, 425 pp., £19.95, May 1985, 0 674 55460 4
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... on obscenity that I mentioned earlier. It is called, revealingly, ‘Do we have a right to pornography?’ The criticism is very detailed, but it has a central target, which Dworkin calls the ‘Williams strategy’ – that of considering primarily whether laws directed against pornography are likely to curb any harm which it is the business of the law to curb. Against this strategy, which thinks in ...
2 April 1981
Religion and Public Doctrine in England 
by Maurice Cowling.
Cambridge, 475 pp., £20, December 1980, 0 521 23289 9
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... This peculiar book belongs to a series called ‘Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Polities’, but one should not be misled by the name either of the series or of the book: there is very little about the history of politics and nothing about its theory, and not much direct light is thrown on the subject of the title. Cambridge, however, it very much is. The acerbic parochialism, dislike ...

Modern Discontent

Bernard Williams

17 July 1980
The Culture of Narcissism 
by Christopher Lasch.
Norton, 288 pp., £6.95, February 1980, 0 393 01177 1
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Nihilism and Culture 
by Johan Goudsblom.
Blackwell, 213 pp., £15, May 1980, 9780631195702
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... All around him in American society Lasch sees intellectual and moral feebleness, cultural decay, despair and inner rage. There is no personal love, only a snatching at gratification, or domestic skirmishes in the war of all against all. There is no politics, only manipulation; no radical protest, only street theatre; no education, only organised illiteracy. The ‘elitism’ of earlier educational ...

Nietzsche’s Centaur

Bernard Williams

4 June 1981
Nietzsche on Tragedy 
by M.S. Silk and J.P. Stern.
Cambridge, 441 pp., £27.50, March 1981, 0 521 23262 7
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Nietzsche: A Critical Life 
by Ronald Hayman.
Weidenfeld, 424 pp., £18.50, March 1980, 0 297 77636 3
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Nietzsche. Vol. 1: The Will to Power as Art 
by Martin Heidegger, translated by David Farrell Krell.
Routledge, 263 pp., £11.50, March 1981, 0 7100 0744 2
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... Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was published in 1872, when he was 27, and while he was a Professor of Classics at Basel. It had the unusual effect, for him, of attracting some attention at the time of its appearance: after that, Nietzsche’s writings virtually ceased to be noticed until the 1890s, by which time he was, for the last 11 years of his life, insane, virtually without speech ...

Ryle Remembered

Bernard Williams

22 November 1979
On Thinking 
by Gilbert Ryle, edited by Konstantin Kolenda.
Blackwell, 160 pp., £7.95
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... Gilbert Ryle, who died in 1976, was for many years a professor of philosophy in Oxford. He was a man of genially military appearance, with a knobbly, cubic head; rather soldierly in speech and manner, he punctuated his sentences with an abrupt half-cough, highly characteristic of him and much imitated. He was an exceptionally nice man, friendly, generous, uncondescending, unpretentious, and, for a ...

Resisting the avalanche

Bernard Williams

6 June 1985
Ordinary Vices 
by Judith Shklar.
Harvard, 168 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 674 64175 2
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Immorality 
by Ronald Milo.
Princeton, 273 pp., £24.70, September 1984, 0 691 06614 0
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... Judith Shklar’s Ordinary Vices is a wise, clever, thoughtful book about the danger and the value of various personal vices – cruelty, hypocrisy, snobbery and others. Professor Shklar asks how important they are; which are worse than others; what they can positively do for society, and how their meanings differ from one society to another. She uses a wide range of writers, but her book gives far ...

Modernity

Bernard Williams

5 January 1989
Whose justice? Which rationality? 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 410 pp., £35, March 1988, 9780715621981
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... In a previous book, After Justice, which came out in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre claimed that the ideas of justice available in the modern world are like a pile of ruins, historical fragments that can make no coherent sense. Politicians, reformers, administrators, appeal in a haphazard way to items in this deposit. Philosophers and social theorists toil away trying to make sense of it, but they cannot ...

What Philosophers Dream Of

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Bernard Williams

1 July 2015
Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 435 pp., £24.95, January 2014, 978 0 691 15985 0
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... He​ ‘understands what you’re going to say better than you understand it yourself’, Gilbert Ryle said of the young BernardWilliams, ‘and sees all the possible objections to it, all the possible answers to all the possible objections, before you’ve got to the end of your sentence’. Williams’s declared enemies in ...

Are we any better?

Gisela Striker

19 August 1993
Shame and Necessity 
by Bernard Williams.
California, 254 pp., £25, May 1993, 0 520 08046 7
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... The Sather lecturers are invited by the Department of Classics at Berkeley, but they are not always Classicists in a narrow sense. BernardWilliams rightly and proudly points to the precedent of one of his teachers, E.R. Dodds, whose The Greeks and the Irrational, published in 1951, remains one of the glories of the series. When Williams says in ...

Drawing lines

Bernard Williams

12 May 1994
Only Words 
by Catharine MacKinnon.
HarperCollins, 128 pp., £9.99, June 1994, 0 00 255497 6
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... questions, to speak for women. But many women may not want to be spoken for in such tones. It is not only that they may take a more positive view of some pornography than MacKinnon allows (as Linda Williams, for one, does in her book Hardcore). They may wonder whether pornography can be quite the all-consuming, omnipresent and supremely important threat to their freedom and autonomy that MacKinnon makes ...

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