Bernard Williams (1929–2003) was Deutsch Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. His books include Problems of the Self, Moral Luck, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, and Truth and Truthfulness.

Wagner & Politics

How should we think about Wagner? Those who are troubled by that question, as I am, presumably think that as an artist he is worth being troubled about: that his works, or some of them, are demanding, inviting, seductive, powerful. Not everyone who cares about music need share that opinion.

The End of Explanation?

This discussion will be concerned with an issue that runs through practically every area of inquiry and that has even invaded the general culture—the issue of where understanding and justification come to an end. Do they come to an end with objective principles whose validity is independent of our point …

The Riddle of Umberto Eco

At the beginning of Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum, there are two epigraphs. Every chapter of this book also has an epigraph, so these are particularly prominent—they come before everything else. One is a quotation from an occultist writer, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. The other is from a contemporary …

Republican and Galilean

Charles Taylor is concerned with the ways in which we can and should think of ourselves as people who have—or lack—a sense of what is important to us, of what we most care about, and of what is valuable. This sense of our moral identity, for most of us, is …

Bad Behavior

Paul Johnson is a prolific British writer who has produced histories of the Jews, Christianity, the modern world, and the English people. He is, I believe, a Catholic (if so, it commendably did not discourage him, in his substantial and very readable history of Christianity, from admitting that the religion, …

Leviathan’s Program

Psychologists make models of the mind in order to explain what we say and do. Some particularly want to explain our abilities: how do we build a tower from toy blocks, or recognize a goldfinch? How do we manage to get across a room without hitting the furniture? Like many …

Private Faces and Public Places

The more time that citizens spend thinking about public matters, Rousseau said, and the less about their own private affairs, the better a society is. One good test of political sentiments is whether you find this thought invigorating or repellent. Either reaction to it, however, implies that you have an …

Auto-da-Fé

Richard Rorty’s recent book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature[^*] is an original and sustained attack on the idea that it can be the aim of philosophy, or even of science, to represent the world accurately. Neither activity can reveal, as he sometimes puts it, a vocabulary in which the …

Cosmic Philosopher

Toward the end of his talented, diverse, and very long book, Robert Nozick embraces the idea of philosophy as an art form, and of the philosopher as a literary creator who works with ideas. This reinforces an idea that may have already occurred to the reader; if this book is …

Where Chomsky Stands

Since the publication of Syntactic Structures nineteen years ago the general shape of Chomsky’s position in linguistic theory has become familiar. The subject, as he conceives it, is a branch of cognitive psychology; its basic problem is posed by the human capacity to acquire a natural language, something which Chomsky …

The Passions of Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography (which was published in three volumes in the 1960s) is a work that leaves one in more than one way winded. It is not altogether a book, bringing together a rather random collection of letters with a sketchy account of the author’s life which, though sometimes alarmingly …

How Smart Are Computers?

Electronic machines of the kind generically called “computers” can now do a number of things at least as well as human beings, and in some cases better. Many of these tasks are boring, such as finding addresses or counting things. Immunity to boredom is one thing that helps to give …

Willey Thinking

This book has emerged from a course of lectures which the author gave, as he rather dauntingly informs us in the Preface, for more than thirty years in the University of Cambridge. The course of lectures and the examination paper that it serves were conceived at a time—as Willey mentions—when …