chapter  14
13 Pages

Moral authority and the limits of philosophy

WithCatherine Wilson

The threat needing to be dispelled is what might be called ‘Moral Exceptionalism.’ Morality, the Exceptionalist says, may be necessary for the masses. Moral theory lectures the Exceptionalist that he is actually no more important than anyone else and that his pains and pleasures do not count for more. The moralist may assume and appeal rhetorically to a desire to meet the qualifications of being a full human being rather than a wanton or an animal. The apparent demonic potential in Bernard Williams’s denial that moral theory furnishes external reasons that are binding on Gauguin whether he acknowledges them or not can thereby be contained. In arguing for the ‘limits of philosophy,’ epistemically and prescriptively, Williams intended to show how moral discourse and argument actually function and – equally controversially – to enter a plea for relief from moral aggression for the more put-upon members of moral community.