chapter  5
12 Pages

The good life and the unity of the virtues

Some reflections upon Williams on Aristotle
WithA.W. Price

Reading the little that Bernard Williams published about Aristotle’s ethics – whether passingly, in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, or selectively, in three papers republished posthumously in The Sense of the Past – one may be suffused by a sense of nostalgia. Williams was writing as a member of a generation of Oxford philosophers for whom Plato and Aristotle were a familiar and central part of the philosophical curriculum. When he raised the question, central to their ethics, of the unity of the virtues, he was taking up an issue that at once related intimately to ancient texts and engaged with current concerns. The ethical theories of Plato and Aristotle contrast with ones in that they are egocentric. Williams puts this in terms of reasons: They suppose that they have to show to each person that he has good reason to live ethically; how and what he will be if he is a person with that sort of character.