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Bernard Williams Biography

(1929–2003), Imagination and the Self, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics

philosophy moral ethics professor

British philosopher, born at Westcliffe, Essex, educated at Balliol College, Oxford. He became Knightsbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge in 1967. He was Provost of King's College, Cambridge, from 1979 to 1987, when he was appointed Monroe Deutsch Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1990 he became White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. Williams is highly regarded for his work on personal identity, out of which he has developed challenging critiques of utilitarianism and traditional theories of ethics. Among his earlier publications are Imagination and the Self (1966) and Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (1972). His questionings of fixed concepts of identity in Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers, 1956–1972 (1973) form the basis of his arguments in Utilitarianism: For and Against (1973), in which his co-author J. J. C. Smart defends the doctrine. Williams's objections to the prescriptive assumptions of moral philosophy are strongly presented in Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers, 1973–1980 (1981), which describes his view of the essentially subjective nature of human motivation and ethical choice, and Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985). His stated intention in the latter work is ‘to give a new picture of ethical life and to redefine philosophy's relation to it’; the ensuing review of moral philosophy from Aristotle to R. M. Hare suggests to Williams that philosophers cannot supply convincing answers to the Socratic question ‘How should man live?’ Thomas Nagel referred to him as ‘the leading contemporary disparager of transcendent ambitions in moral philosophy’. Making Sense of Humanity appeared in 1995.

C. K. Williams (Charles Kenneth Williams) Biography - (1936– ), (Charles Kenneth Williams), Lies, I Am the Bitter Name, With Ignorance, Tar, Flesh and Blood [next]

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