Williams, Sir Bernard

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Williams, Sir Bernard

Sir Bernard Williams (Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams), 1929–2003, English philosopher, grad. Oxford (1951). One of the most important philosophers of his era, he is credited with reviving the field of moral philosophy and making it relevant to modern life. He taught at Oxford (1952–59; 1990–96), London (1959–64), and Cambridge (1967–79) universities, was provost at King's College, Cambridge (1979–87), and a professor at the Univ. of California, Berkeley (1988–90). Rejecting ethical doctrines positing a single principle as the basis of morality, Williams argued that ethics are inseparably inverwoven with culture and history, one of the concepts examined in his influential Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985). He also explored such subjects as moral identity, rational action, the idea of equality, the history of philosophy, and the nature of truth. Noted for their exceptional erudition, clarity, and wit, his books include Morality (1972), Problems of the Self (1973), Moral Luck (1981), Shame and Necessity (1993), and Truth and Truthfulness (2002). Also active in public life, he was a member of several commissions that investigated education, pornography and censorship, gambling, drug addiction, and other areas of community concern. He was married to Shirley Williams from 1955 to 1974 and was knighted in 1999.

See study by J. E. J. Altham and R. Harrison, ed. (1995).

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