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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An illuminating approach to reasoning in ethics
This is a very interesting book. It is very sceptical about the role of philosophy in ethics, but still shows confidence about the possibility of thinking about important things in ethics. The style is very different from the typical philosophical book; Williams focuses on the topics he finds important, rather than giving an elaborate discussion of every aspect in the...
Published on 29 Jan 2001 by Amazon Customer

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought provoking - but unnecessarily hard to read
This is an interesting book in which Williams makes some profound and deep observations, not just about ethics but, as the title implies, about the ability of philosophy to understand, create or comment on ethics. In the end I got a lot from it, but it does have one very major flaw. Williams has a flowery style of writing that make some sections impenetrable until you...
Published on 31 July 2012 by R. Newton


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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An illuminating approach to reasoning in ethics, 29 Jan 2001
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This is a very interesting book. It is very sceptical about the role of philosophy in ethics, but still shows confidence about the possibility of thinking about important things in ethics. The style is very different from the typical philosophical book; Williams focuses on the topics he finds important, rather than giving an elaborate discussion of every aspect in the history of Morality. Thereby we are given insight into how the subject should be discussed according to Williams. His main target are universalistic moral philosophers who try to give an ultimate foundation for ethics - for instance Immanuel Kant, R.M. Hare, John Rawls and Aristoteles. The aim of philosophy shouldn't be to establish moral principles, but to find good reasons and thereby confidence for living a good and flourishing life. The most important question throughout the book is Socrates': How should one live. The result is a fascinating, mostly critical, book about moral philosophy. Since its publication in 1985 it has had immense influence on the philosophy of ethics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought provoking - but unnecessarily hard to read, 31 July 2012
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This is an interesting book in which Williams makes some profound and deep observations, not just about ethics but, as the title implies, about the ability of philosophy to understand, create or comment on ethics. In the end I got a lot from it, but it does have one very major flaw. Williams has a flowery style of writing that make some sections impenetrable until you have read them several times. His habit of writing elongated sentences with lots of sub clauses can make it difficult to follow and reminded me of reading 19th century French novels. It takes some time to get used to and I could not help feeling it could all be so much easier to read!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How one should live: Reflection and practice, 25 Jan 2008
This review is from: Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Paperback)
A short, powerful and accessible book that succeeds in articulating both a (selective) history of the "peculiar institution" of morality and its continued failure to secure for itself the foundations - or Archimedean point - upon which it can ground itself.

A strangely negative reviewer has written above that "Describing Osama Bin Laden as unethical just doesn't seem to capture everything we would want to say". Well, that may well be true but such a complaint is not an argument - only yet another voice asking for an apparently unobtainable ethical foundation from which we can utter the most stringent of our moral judgments with the confidence that what we are doing has some meaning above and beyond an expression of emotion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars great, 16 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
great book living up to my execptations. It arrived at the correct time, so i cant complain, just love it.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Williams's masterpiece, 11 Aug 2009
This review is from: Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Paperback)
I know that many people say that it is Shame and Necessity (Sather Classical Lectures) but this is the indispensable Williams book in my opinion. Best overview of his thought and now with a superb commentary.
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21 of 50 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Overrated, overwritten and wrong, 2 Nov 2004
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Thomas - See all my reviews
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It is unlikely that you would be shopping for this book unless it was already on your reading list and in that case I assume reviews by amazon readers will not make much difference to you. Your tutors/professors expect you to read it and that's the end of the matter. Fair enough and good luck. This review is written for anyone looking for something to read about 'moral philosophy' or 'ethics'. My advice is try *anything else*. This book is unnecessarily overwritten and extremely hard to follow.
The author, Bernard Williams, is fond of flashy turns of phrase. In discussing moral theories based on notions of duty he considers how these theories sometimes deal with the conflict between duty and desire by using the concept of a duty to oneself. "These serve a number of functions in that economy [i.e. the interaction between all duties and desires]. One is to encourage long-term investment as against consumption; another is merely to launder the currency of desire." Ho ho.Once you have gasped at his wit it is really a not very interesting thought after all. He has a certain languid magisterial style. Look at the sample pages on amazon.com to see what I mean. If you want to read 202 pages like that be my guest. I reckon life is too short. Usually but not always you can see what he is getting at. Is it worth the effort? Not really.
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy is a history of the failures of various ethical theories. Williams attributes these failures to over-ambition, hence 'limits' in the title. His thesis is that we should reject the concept of morality and that we should distinguish it from ethics which has (he argues) a much more limited scope. There is an awful lot of twaddle spoken about Williams' influence. Look him up in the Guardian newspaper's archives. Granted, there is an epidemic of 'ethics' these days- business studies courses offer 'business ethics', my student union had an ethics committee (which decided it was OK to gag the local pro-life organisation, very ethical) and so on. But still the old concepts of immoral/evil and so forth survive quite well. Describing Osama Bin Laden as unethical just doesn't seem to capture everything we would want to say.
Private Eye might describe the top ten influences Williamshas exerted as follows: (1) Chaired a parliamentary committee on obscenity and film censorship whose recommendations have never been implemented. (2) Caused Oxford University to change the 'Moral and Political Philosophy' course into two courses, 'Ethics' and 'Political Philosophy'. (3) Erm... (4) That's it.
Philosophically Williams' greatest mistake - in my opinion - is to deny the idea (derived at several removes from Aristotle) that a man only seeks to get something because he thinks it is good, in Latin omne appetitum appetitur sub specie boni. He might be wrong in a given case (it's a glass of poison not a glass of water) or be wrong that a certain aim is worth achieving (although this is definitely a life-time's supply of LSD perhaps a life of blowing your own mind is not worth doing) but nobody, so the argument goes seeks bad things *as such*. There is a lot that can be said on both sides but Williams simply denies 'omne appetitum' with a sneer about medieval philosophy (p.58). No proof, no argument, just chronological snobbery.
This leads him to say something very surprising. "...I can distinguish between the merits of a hotel and what I, for perfectly good reasons, happen to prefer 'I simply don't like staying at good hotels' is an intelligible thing to say." (p.125). Au contraire. I can imagine someone relishing staying in a seedy, flea-ridden pit in preference to the local representative of some sterilised, bland chain. But that is in itself an expression of preference which means that he actually thinks fleas are better than clean sheets. He is still seeking something that is a good (for him) as opposed to something that is a bad (for him). Maybe Williams is right to deny 'omne appetitum' but he does not provide any argument in doing so. Sweeping statements from the ivory tower (he was a Fellow of All Souls at Oxford) will not do.
Much more can be said for and against but this is not the place. Williams is unnecessarily obscure and once you get through the high style it turns out not to be worth the effort. If you want to come to grips with ethics read anything else.
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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy by Bernard Williams (Paperback - 28 Mar 2006)
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