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Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973-1980 (Cambridge Paperback Library) [Paperback]

Bernard Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

3 Dec 1981 Cambridge Paperback Library
A new volume of philosophical essays by Bernard Williams. The book is a successor to Problems of the Self, but whereas that volume dealt mainly with questions of personal identity, Moral Luck centres on questions of moral philosophy and the theory of rational action. That whole area has of course been strikingly reinvigorated over the last deacde, and philosophers have both broadened and deepened their concerns in a way that now makes much earlier moral and political philosophy look sterile and trivial. Moral Luck contains a number of essays that have contributed influentially to this development. Among the recurring themes are the moral and philosophical limitations of utilitarianism, the notion of integrity, relativism, and problems of moral conflict and rational choice. The work presented here is marked by a high degree of imagination and acuity, and also conveys a strong sense of psychological reality. The volume will be a stimulating source of ideas and arguments for all philosophers and a wide range of other readers.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reissue edition (3 Dec 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521286913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521286916
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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First Sentence
Much of the most interesting recent work in moral philosophy has been of basically Kantian inspiration; Rawls' own work and those to varying degrees influenced by him such as Richards and Nagel are very evidently in the debt of Kant, while it is interesting that a writer such as Fried who gives evident signs of being pulled away from some characteristic features of this way of looking at morality nevertheless, I shall suggest later, tends to get pulled back into it. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in how to do, and write, philosophy. 20 Mar 2001
By A Customer
Taking its title from one of Williams' most influential, and best, essays, this collection touches on just about every philosophically interesting topic you could hope for. But, as always, Williams' thought is never less than completely rigorous and stimulating.
Williams' primary focus is ethics and the ethical life, although there is also some insightful writing on matters relating to epistemology and personal identity. He certainly has some interesting things to say on the latter topic - indeed many of the 'identity-crisis' scenarios he offers here and in PROBLEMS OF THE SELF are now standard in philosophical discussions of personal identity, and are excellent examples of how to use hypothetical cases to really engage the reader.
But it is when he touches on ethical topics that he really shines. The title essay offers a fascinating critique of broadly Kantian moral thinking, and provides the foundations which he builds upon in ETHICS AND THE LIMITS OF PHILOSOPHY. It also manages to offer the reader some genuinely original ideas, and is responsible for giving the important, and intriguing, notion of 'moral luck' to the philosophical world. Similar flashes of inspiration can be found throughout the rest of the essays, and make reading this collection a truly exciting prospect - a real rarity in philosophical writing
Williams may not be the most concise of philosophy writers, but his almost conversational, meandering tone fits perfectly with his style of philosophy. For all of his rigorousness and depth of thought, he is careful not to stray too far from our everyday thinking patterns, and is deeply critical of philosophers who take readers out on a hypothetical limb. It is this last property which makes this a rarity in philosophy - a collection of essays which never fails to grab the interest and attention of the reader.
This is, like most of Williams' writing, required reading for philosophy students everywhere. Buy it now.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking collection of essays on various topics. 21 Nov 2000
By DocCaligari - Published on
Bernard (pronounced BER-nerd -- he's a Brit) Williams is one of the leading Anglo-American philosophers of the late 20th century. He has written a number of seminal essays on ethics and personal identity. The essays in this collection include several of his classic pieces.
"Persons, character and morality" is an insightul critique of Kantianism in ethics. Williams argues that ethics should not demand of us that we take a completely impartial view of the world. Our own personal commitments and values do, and should, make a difference to how we should act.
"Moral luck" makes several challenging suggestions about the inescapability of the role of good luck in justifying some of our decisions. I am tempted to paraphrase one point Williams makes by saying, "The only difference between the genius and the fanatic is that the genius turned out to be right."
"Internal and external reasons" is a technical, but very influential, essay. Williams notes that a person sometimes has a reason to do something because she has some motivation that will be served by that action (i.e., an internal reason). He explores whether one can also have a reason to do something when she does not have a motivation that would be served by that action (i.e., an external reason).
This is a little abstract. One non-technical way of getting at the issue Williams is discussing in this essay is this: Suppose someone doesn't care about morality. In other words, she has no motivation to act morally. Does she then have any reason to act morally?
Some of these essays are a little technical, and may be hard for the general reader to follow. However, many may be enjoyed by any bright person, and I think you can walk away with something from all of them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Internal and External Reasons 22 Jun 2010
By T. Tubach - Published on
Bernie was in a league of his own. "Internal and External Reasons" is, without reservation, reason enough to buy Moral Luck.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applicable Ethics 26 Aug 2005
By lost causes - Published on
I had the good furtune of taking classes from Bernard Williams. In a field where utility formulas and arguments between ethical commitments choke the focal point out of Ethics - the person and their value of living. Bernard Williams brings it back amd makes it a focal point of his thought.

After his passing I find his books to be a testament, this one included, to his greatness of thought and humanity.

He is very thick to read, but rewards those who are slow and careful with his ideas. A read that with the proper back ground will enrich your understanding and possibly the way you live your life.
3 of 86 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I don't know what it would MEEEAAAANNNN! 21 Feb 2001
By Jillian Hopper - Published on
I just don't know what it would mean for moral principles to be relative to one's subjective motivational set. Williams thinks that most of just "just do" have reason to be moral, given our psychology, and that if one does not have the "typical" human pyschology, well, that person has no reason to be moral. THERE IS no reason to be moral. C'mon Bernie, you can do better than that!
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