chapter  3
16 Pages

Hume’s optimism and Williams’s pessimism

From “Science of Man” to genealogical critique
WithPaul Russell

The most important and influential contribution that Williams made to ethics is his critique of “the morality system”. It is presented, most explicitly, in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. A final feature of the morality system that needs highlighting is its aspiration for some view of human life and ethical life in particular that reveals humans to be “in harmony with their world”. The morality system is strongly oriented towards this optimistic assumption – however varied its modes and forms may be. Its proponents include the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and Hegel. The Hume-Williams contrast reflects much the same contrast researchers find between David Hume and F. Nietzsche, with Williams coming down decisively on the side of Nietzsche. Williams is historically well “downstream” from Hume’s project of a “science of man”. His investigations begin, substantially, with materials that were provided by Hume.