CultureLab  EPLab
The formation of the moral point of view – The legacy of Bernard Williams 20 years after his passing
Call for papers

Guest Editors: Ana Falcato and Susana Cadilha (NOVA University Lisbon)

We are inviting submissions of papers for a Special Issue of the journal Topoi, entitled The formation of the moral point of view – The legacy of Bernard Williams 20 years after his passing. The volume aims to focus on Bernard Williams’s conception of morality, broadly understood.

Papers, which should not exceed a maximum of 8500 words, should be written in English and be fit for blind review. The deadline for paper submission is July 15, 2023.

For more information on how to submit the paper, click here.

For any questions, please contact Guest Editor, Susana Cadilha.


One of Bernard Williams’ original insights was to point out a schism or, at the very least, a mismatch between the ambitions of moral philosophy and what the unique moral lives experienced from the first-person standpoint comprise. For instance, Williams famously drew attention to how the moral emotions have always been neglected in attempts to characterise moral agency. Many consider that Williams was above all a sceptic about what can be achieved in moral philosophy: scepticism about any systematic ethical theory’s ability to capture anything of real importance about ethics; about the possibility of objective knowledge in ethics; and about the powers of practical rationality (to which his seminal article on internal and external reasons contributed much). In fact, he clearly outlined the limitations of an objective foundation for ethics and of an objective point of view, but he did so mainly by arguing that this is not the vocation nor the purpose of ethics. Rather, the focal point of ethics for BW are concrete experiences and situations perceived from a particular point of view. Objectivity cannot be attained because ethical considerations stem from individual lives, personal projects. This is simply a consequence of the nature of ethical life, not a built-in ‘flaw’ in ethical thought.

All the above suggests that for Bernard Williams what matters most in ethics is of a personal, concrete, non-transmissible, often untranslatable nature. This idea underlies all of his writings on ethics, and specially his insights on how reason and emotions are brought together to form the ethical point of view. On his view, reasons for acting morally do not form a separate class, nor can they be separated from everything else that gives importance to our lives. That is why, for Williams, in properly characterising the ethical point of view, it is senseless to pull apart what is rational and universal, what arises from the so-called moral obligations, and that which is of a personal, emotional, contingent order. In a way, philosophy distorts actual moral experience, especially when it comes to the role of moral emotions. Emotions are an important element in understanding life and moral experience: they shed light not on the supposedly objective reasons why people do what they do, but on the subjective reasons, translated into reasons-for-us, since these are always emotionally charged, and determine not only what we do, but how we do it.

It is this broad range of topics – all understood in light of the constitution of the moral point of view –, which we aim to address in this new Special Issue, but there are several angles from which they can be addressed, namely:

  • The role of moral emotions;
  • The role of thick concepts in the formation of the moral point of view;
  • The connection between moral psychology and ethics;
  • The connection between the ‘ethical’ and the ‘rational’;
  • The disparity of moral motivations;
  • First-person morality and the idea of authenticity;
  • The genetic constitution of specific moral emotions, such as shame or guilt;
  • Non-standard moral responses to particular situations or events;
  • Historical vs systematic treatment of ethical problems

Invited Contributors

  • Adrian Moore (St Hugh’s College, Oxford)
  • Sophie-Grace Chappell (The Open University – UK)
  • Roger Teichmann (University of Oxford)
  • Alan Thomas (University of York)
  • Sofia Miguens (University of Oporto)
  • Alessandra Fussi & Margherita Giannoni (Università di Pisa)