In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument

Princeton University Press
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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This new collection of essays, most of them previously unpublished, addresses many of the core subjects of political philosophy: justice, liberty, and equality; the nature and meaning of liberalism; toleration; power and the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.

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About the author

Bernard Williams's books include Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton); Making Sense of Humanity; Morality; and Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. At the time of his death in 2003, he was Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Geoffrey Hawthorn is Professor of International Politics at the University of Cambridge.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2009
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Pages
200
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ISBN
9781400826735
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / Political
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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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