chapter  11
21 Pages

The inevitability of inauthenticity

Bernard Williams and practical alienation
WithNicholas Smyth

In Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Bernard Williams declared that “ethical thought has no chance of being everything it seems.” Reflective inquiry into our beliefs and practices involves adopting a perspective that Williams termed the “outside” perspective. It is important to distinguish this perspective from Henry Sidgwick’s “point of view of the universe,” a perspective Williams consistently derided as a philosopher’s fiction. Williams may have been tempted to say that ethics “naturally” appears to agents under the guise of evaluative judgments which appear to simply be true without qualification, but this claim would surely rely on an overly simplistic picture of ethical experience. Williams certainly meant, in the quoted passages, to highlight the distinction between a direct vindication and an indirect vindication of some ethical judgment. Ordinary human commitments can be psychologically undermined if the outside, reflective mode is given priority, as Jim’s commitment to nonviolence may be destroyed by his wholehearted acceptance of indirect utilitarianism.