The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy

Princeton University Press
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Before his death in 2003, Bernard Williams planned to publish a collection of historical essays, focusing primarily on the ancient world. This posthumous volume brings together a much wider selection, written over some forty years. His legacy lives on in this masterful work, the first collection ever published of Williams's essays on the history of philosophy. The subjects range from the sixth century B.C. to the twentieth A.D., from Homer to Wittgenstein by way of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Sidgwick, Collingwood, and Nietzsche. Often one would be hard put to say which part is history, which philosophy. Both are involved throughout, because this is the history of philosophy written philosophically. Historical exposition goes hand in hand with philosophical scrutiny. Insights into the past counteract blind acceptance of present assumptions.

In his touching and illuminating introduction, Myles Burnyeat writes of these essays: "They show a depth of commitment to the history of philosophy seldom to be found nowadays in a thinker so prominent on the contemporary philosophical scene."

The result celebrates the interest and importance to philosophy today of its near and distant past.

The Sense of the Past is one of three collections of essays by Bernard Williams published by Princeton University Press since his death. In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, selected, edited, and with an introduction by Geoffrey Hawthorn, and Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, selected, edited, and with an introduction by A. W. Moore, make up the trio.

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About the author

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. Myles Burnyeat is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, All Souls College, Oxford. His books include The 'Theaetetus' of Plato (Hackett, 1990) and A Map of Metaphysics Zeta (Mathesis Publications, 2001).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2009
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9781400827107
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Bernard Williams
What does it mean to be truthful? What role does truth play in our lives? What do we lose if we reject truthfulness? No philosopher is better suited to answer these questions than Bernard Williams. Writing with his characteristic combination of passion and elegant simplicity, he explores the value of truth and finds it to be both less and more than we might imagine.

Modern culture exhibits two attitudes toward truth: suspicion of being deceived (no one wants to be fooled) and skepticism that objective truth exists at all (no one wants to be naive). This tension between a demand for truthfulness and the doubt that there is any truth to be found is not an abstract paradox. It has political consequences and signals a danger that our intellectual activities, particularly in the humanities, may tear themselves to pieces.

Williams's approach, in the tradition of Nietzsche's genealogy, blends philosophy, history, and a fictional account of how the human concern with truth might have arisen. Without denying that we should worry about the contingency of much that we take for granted, he defends truth as an intellectual objective and a cultural value. He identifies two basic virtues of truth, Accuracy and Sincerity, the first of which aims at finding out the truth and the second at telling it. He describes different psychological and social forms that these virtues have taken and asks what ideas can make best sense of them today.

Truth and Truthfulness presents a powerful challenge to the fashionable belief that truth has no value, but equally to the traditional faith that its value guarantees itself. Bernard Williams shows us that when we lose a sense of the value of truth, we lose a lot both politically and personally, and may well lose everything.

Bernard Williams
“I marched with the Eight Army” An excerpt from comments made by Winston Churchill at Tripoli on 5 Feb, 1943. “I must tell you that your fame, the fame of the desert army, has spread throughout the world. After Tobruk surrendered there were very dark hours, and many people who do not know about us were ready to take a discouraging view. But the events you have achieved have put the British Army on the map and won the admiration of all the troops now engage against the common enemy. When I was in Casablanca with the President of the United States, it was the arrival of the desert army on Tripoli and the Fact that it had come into play as a great new factor the more than anything else influenced the course of our discussions and opened up hopeful prospects for the future. Your are entitled to dwell on this fact with that satisfaction which men can feel in their hearts when great work has been finally done. You have rendered great services to your country and to the common cause. It must have been a tremendous experience, driving them further say after day over this dessert which it has taken me six and a half hours to fly across. And the lines come to me of a hymn which you must know: “You nightly pitched your moving tents A day’s march nearer home.” Yes, not only in the geographic sense, but in the sense that what you have done undoubtedly gives goof grounds for the home that the war itself may be shortened and home may come nearer to all than before could have been hoped. I am here to thank you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, of the people of the British Isle and of all those people throughout the British Empire and the and the world who have followed your marches and your actions. I do so from the bottom of my heart.”
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