CultureLab  EPLab
The Formation of the Moral Point of View
Eds. Ana Falcato & Susana Cadilha

A Special Issue of the journal Topoi has just been published on “The Formation of the Moral Point of View — The Legacy of Bernard Williams 20 years After his Passing“, edited by CultureLab member Ana Falcato and EPLab member Susana Cadilha. The Introduction, written by the editors, is available in open access, among other articles.

Bernard Williams’s contributions to philosophy are rich and manifold — including metaphysics, moral or political philosophy — and his interests in the history of philosophy range from classical antiquity to the more technical subtleties of contemporary analytic philosophy. Therefore, it is not easy to fit him into a single philosophical tradition, for he never looked at philosophical problems from the entrenched viewpoint of a narrow perspective. He devoted himself to the study of the most diverse problems and authors — including Descartes, Nietzsche, Homer, or the Greek tragedians — always from unusual and original angles. This is, first and foremost, the signature of his thought; and now, almost twenty years after his death, it is still this originality and relentless ability to produce fresh insights that we are intent on paying homage to.

In this Special Issue, we want to focus on Bernard Williams’s conception of morality. One of his original insights in this area 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.