chapter  8
WILLIAMS AND THE PHENOMENOLOGICAL TRADITION
ByCHARLES GUIGNON
Pages 23

At first blush, it would seem that nothing could be more inimical to Bernard Williams’ own aims than connecting his thought to any philosophical schools, movements or “-isms.” In his view, subscribing to a movement means letting one’s thoughts and observations be forced into the grids of the school’s official doctrines and outlook, with the result that oversimplification and doctrinaire pronouncements come to replace careful and truthful examination of the issues. So I doubt he would be pleased with what I hope to accomplish in this essay. For my goal here is to see how Williams’ thought has affinities to some of the best thought of the phenomenological tradition, a tradition that comes down from us from Martin Heidegger and has been developed by such continental thinkers as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur and by Anglophone philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Bert Dreyfus and Harry Frankfurt. My hope is that comparing Williams’ work with the phenomenological tradition will give us a wider framework for understanding what Williams has to say while at the same time sharpening and filling in some of the wideranging generalizations and occasionally oracular sayings emerging from that tradition. When I talk about phenomenology in what follows, I will be using the

term in a very loose and broad sense. It is the sense in which Aristotle talks about our need to be true to the phenomena, where that means describing the things we do and the way our lives show up as accurately as possible, without forcing the phenomena into prior assumptions drawn from highlevel theoretical considerations. Aristotle’s aim, in Martha Nussbaum’s words, is to describe “the world as it appears to, as it is experienced by, members of our kind.”1