chapter  6
20 Pages

Humanism and cruelty in Williams

WithLorenzo Greco

Bernard Williams identifies a “‘first’ political question” on which political reflection should be based. He frames it “in Hobbesian terms as the securing of order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation,” and crucially adds that, as “a solution to this first question required all the time, it is affected by historical circumstances.” Notwithstanding Williams’ dismissal of moral principles in politics, and his sharp criticism of political moralism, it has been observed that he can avoid this impasse only by referring to a moral principle of some sort. Williams subscribes to a “relativism of distance”. Williams’ humanism is a way of conceiving philosophy in general. But it is also an ethical position that attributes value to human beings considered as fragile creatures, both physically and mentally vulnerable to other people’s cruelty. Philosophical reflection on the human condition can be successful only if its picture of human beings is of them as seen in their concrete existence.