Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline

Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline

Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline

Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline


What can--and what can't--philosophy do? What are its ethical risks--and its possible rewards? How does it differ from science? InPhilosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, Bernard Williams addresses these questions and presents a striking vision of philosophy as fundamentally different from science in its aims and methods even though there is still in philosophy "something that counts as getting it right." Written with his distinctive combination of rigor, imagination, depth, and humanism, the book amply demonstrates why Williams was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. Spanning his career from his first publication to one of his last lectures, the book's previously unpublished or uncollected essays address metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, as well as the scope and limits of philosophy itself. The essays are unified by Williams's constant concern that philosophy maintain contact with the human problems that animate it in the first place. As the book's editor, A. W. Moore, writes in his introduction, the title essay is "a kind of manifesto for Williams's conception of his own life's work." It is where he most directly asks "what philosophy can and cannot contribute to the project of making sense of things"--answering that what philosophy can best help make sense of is "being human." Philosophy as a Humanistic Disciplineis one of three posthumous books by Williams to be published by Princeton University Press. In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argumentwas published in the fall of 2005. The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophyis being published shortly after the present volume.


Patricia Williams

It is sad, but appropriate, that my final, practical gesture of appreciation and love for Bernard should be to help with the publication of the last three collections of his philosophical writings. The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy, Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, and In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument will be published by the Princeton University Press three years after his death in June 2003. Bernard helped and encouraged me in countless ways in my publishing career, bearing out my conviction that editors in university presses should be judged by their choice of advisers as well as by the authors they publish.

Like many who knew him, I thought Bernard was indestructible—and so, I think, did he! But when he was recovering from the drastic effects of his first bout of treatment for cancer in 1999, we talked for the first, and almost the only, time about what should happen to his papers if he could not finish Truth and Truthfulness. Thankfully, he published it in 2002, although he would have expanded it in several ways if time had not seemed so pressing. What I learned from this conversation was that Bernard had no faith in his, or any philosopher's, ability to predict whose work would be of any lasting interest to their successors. That was for the future to decide. So, although he was totally against what he called posthumous “laundry lists,” he refused to express any other opinion about what should be published after his death. Fortunately for me, he did specify that, although I should handle the practicalities of publishing as I thought fit, he would ask “a young philosopher of gritty integrity and severity of judgement who understood the sorts of things he had been trying to do in philosophy” to keep me on the philosophical straight and narrow. That was Adrian Moore. I am deeply grateful to him for the careful consideration he has given to the complicated, general issues of publication and re-publication, and for his friendship. He is the sole architect of this particular volume.

My heartfelt thanks, also, to Walter Lippincott, the Director of the Princeton University Press, and his staff in Princeton and Oxford, whose commitment to Bernard as an author and to high standards of editing, design, production, and marketing is so valuable at a time when scholarly publishing faces complex financial challenges.

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