Stephen Darwall (Yale University)
TITLE: Williams, Kant, and Morality's "Peculiarity"
ABSTRACT: Bernard Williams's critique of the "peculiar institution" of morality emphasized morality's connection to the concept of obligation and to the attitude of blame. At the center of Williams's critique was Kant, "the philosopher" who, in Williams's view, gave morality its "purest, deepest, and most thorough representation." I shall argue that Williams was right about the role of obligation and blame in morality, but wrong about what he thought was its "ubiquity" and tendency to shackle the pursuit of valuable personal projects and relationships. I will also explore idiosyncrasies of Kant's own views that make him vulnerable to Williams's critique, though a philosophy of morality grounded in Kantian insights about the dignity of persons need not be.
Miranda Fricker (The Graduate Center, CUNY)
TITLE: Postscript: On having a reason
ABSTRACT: Williams' conception of practical reasons is fundamental to his ethical philosophy in the sense that other key commitments all emanate from it. His conception of reasons as 'internal' affirms a certain individual freedom against those who would pretend to a bogus objectivity and dictate our reasons. This dialectical purpose influenced how he presented the issue in his early work. But attention to later work should prompt us to re-read the doctrine of internal reasons in the light of a more dialogical and more diachronic approach. What emerges from such a re-reading is that what counts as a reason of mine is not only quite often less than fully determinate at a given time - a point made explicitly, if elliptically, by Williams - but also less fixed in time and altogether less individualistically conceived than is commonly supposed.
Ulrike Heuer (University College London)
TITLE: Williams on Moral Luck and Justification
ABSTRACT: In this paper, I will investigate Williams' view of justification and its dependence on intrinsic and extrinsic luck in his seminal paper on Moral Luck. I hope that Williams' account will provide the tools for explaining (the limits of) responsibility for failed actions.
Brian Leiter (University of Chicago)
TITLE: Williams's Debt to Nietzsche: Real or Illusory?
ABSTRACT: Bernard Williams was one of the few Anglophone philosophers of his generation (along with Philippa Foot) to take Nietzsche seriously. But how seriously did he take him? I shall try to assess that "debt" with reference to Williams's views about the Greeks and about aspects of "the morality system," arguing that in each case Williams was far more "timid" than Nietzsche. Some may, of course, regard this as a virtue of Williams's approach, but I shall try to suggest some of the ways in which Nietzsche's less "timid" approach has merit.
Gideon Rosen (Princeton University)
TITLE: Agency and the Absolute Conception of the World
ABSTRACT: In Chapter 8 of Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy and elsewhere Bernard Williams offers an account of the place of value in a world of fact according to which the evaluative domain with which ethics is concerned is real but somehow less real than the domain of fact with which the natural sciences are concerned. This talk aims to restate Williams' main claims in that discussion and then to ask whether the normative domain - if not the ethical domain in all its concrete glory - must be reckoned as real and objective by Williams' lights as anything in the scientific image.
Abstracts from our selected speakers can be found here: