chapter  4
WILLIAMS ON REASONS AND RATIONALITY
ByJOSHUA GERT
Pages 21

Given the bloom of responses, defenses, and clarifications touched off by Bernard Williams’ seminal paper “Internal and External Reasons,” it may seem silly to attempt to shed any new light on the views he expresses there.1

However, it is surprising how little effort is typically made to fit this paper into the large and complex context of Williams’ views. It is generally treated as if it were a one-off contribution by an anonymous philosopher who emerged from the mists and disappeared again, returning at intervals only to attempt to deliver virtually the same message. Another surprising fact, consistent with this myopic focus, is the following: no advocate of external reasons has attempted to answer the distinctive concern about external reasons that Williams presents in his oft-cited “Internal Reasons and the Obscurity of Blame.” This concern is not that the external reasons theorist cannot deal with the phenomenon of blame at all (for example, by justifying it) but that she cannot account in particular for a certain obscurity in the point and appropriateness of blame. And there is another important reason to be hopeful about the possibility of bringing some increased clarity to the debate that Williams has touched off: a debate that is sometimes characterized as one between internalism and externalism. For, somewhat surprisingly, the view with which Williams’ internalism is typically contrasted, and which goes by the misleading name of ‘externalism,’ is in fact a version of a view that has also been, appropriately, called ‘internalism’. A more genuinely externalist view is available, but is hardly represented in the literature, and discussions of Williams have not benefited from an exploration of the contrast it can provide. This view is one that I have presented in a number of other places, and I hope I will be forgiven for giving those views another airing here. My excuse is that it will allow me to focus attention on a number of Williams’ overlooked concerns. My aim will not be to offer new arguments for my own view, but only to show that it would allow Williams to say a great deal that he was concerned to say, while also allowing – contrary to what one might expect – for a more radical externalism about

reasons than even critics of Williams have attempted to defend. The central claim that allows for this surprising conclusion is that Williams’ internalism is not best interpreted as an internalism about reasons, but as an internalism about overall rational status. I will close with some remarks about another overlooked feature of Williams’ initial paper: a list of nine questions and answers that appear in its final pages.