chapter  4
19 Pages

Williams (on) doing history of philosophy

A case study on Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
WithMarcel van Ackeren

Bernard Williams’ “leading influence in philosophical ethics” can hardly be overestimated. “Contemporary moral philosophy has been so profoundly altered by Williams that if one subtracted his influence, it is hard to imagine the shape of what would be left”. A thorough investigation of Williams’ usage of the historical perspective would, contribute to a better understanding of his many contributions to specific contemporary debates. At the beginning of Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Williams introduces two distinctions that both seem very trivial, but are vital for the understanding of the book’s main thesis. To Williams, assuming transhistorical identity of questions is leading to a mode of doing history of philosophy that has the right aim insofar as the dialogue model is about studying the history of philosophy for a philosophical purpose, namely to contribute to current debates in philosophy. However, by assuming transhistorical identity, the dialogue model fails to provide a reason of studying the history of philosophy.