Bernard Williams


Biography of Bernard Williams

Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams (21 September 1929 – 10 June 2003) was an English moral philosopher, described by The Times as the most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time. His publications include Problems of the Self (1973), Moral Luck (1981), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), and Truth and Truthfulness (2002). He was knighted in 1999.

As Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and Deutsch Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, Williams became known internationally for his attempt to reorient the study of moral philosophy to history and culture, politics and psychology, and in particular to the Greeks. Described as an analytic philosopher with the soul of a humanist, he saw himself as a synthesist, drawing together ideas from fields that seemed increasingly unable to communicate with one another. He rejected scientism, and scientific or evolutionary reductionism, calling "morally unimaginative" reductionists "the people I really do dislike." For Williams, complexity was irreducible, beautiful, and meaningful.

He became known as a supporter of women in academia, seeing in women the possibility of a synthesis of reason and emotion that he felt eluded analytic philosophy.[citation needed] The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum said he was "as close to being a feminist as a powerful man of his generation could be." He was also famously sharp in conversation. Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle once said of him that he "understands what you're going to say better than you understand it yourself, 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."

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