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Chapter 3 Foundations: Well Being From Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy Bernard Williams


Contractual theory is inadequate for Plato. Why It represented as ethically basic a desriable or useful practice, the conventions of justice. Might we first have to go inside the agent? The demand to show to each person that justice was rational for that person meant that the answer had to be grounded first in an account of what sort of person it was rational to be.

So they need internalist reasons? How is Williams using the word practical here? They sought self primary to ethics. Williams thinks that if God is dead, we must write his biography. How does this point fit in to the rest of?


This requirement brings the charge of egoism. Perhaps their moral consciousness had not maturedthey had yet to discover the morality system. Ethical consciousness = the collapse of religion. Why? If the self-understanding of religion is not to be left behind by the ethical consciousness, it has to move in a direction that will destroy religion. Become aware of its con ventionality or collapse. Well-being is tied up with what it is rational to do and be. Socrates: accounts for it in terms of knowledge, because of his soul/body dualism. This grounds his idea that the good man cannot be harmed. Aristotle introduces embodiment by introducing practical reason as distinct from theoretical reason. virtue (A): internalized dispositions of aciton, desire, and feeling. Two issues: the unity of virtue, and assessing others. The disposition involves also a way of reacting Why is reaction neglected? The morality systems construes the only relevant moral reactions as judgment, assessment, approval, disapproval. (Its too easy!) Binary judgment. Judge. Law conception! There are non-moral reactions: dislike, resentment, contempt, sensing that someone is creepy, etc. A problem: Well-being is partly constituted by a life of virtue. Habituation makes us good or bad before we are even able to deploy our practical reasoning effectively.








A problem for the practical reason requirement. Williams does not think that Aristotles teachings can be formative. pp 40-41 could be relevant to a treatment of moral psychology in the Gorgias


Summarize the problem: the answer to Socrates question cannot be used by those who (from the perspective of the rest) most need it. The bad man, why is he bad? A nuisance? An aberration? We have to say that this mans wellbeing is threatened. We need naturalism, that is. Very many political and ethical questions emerge from the gap between ones real and apparent interests. The problem: more than a lack of information. The sources are the desires and motivations from which [one] deliberates. (41) The inability to see ones interest is one of the symptoms. (42) Not that he does not acknowledge but that there is an incapacity to acknowledge. This normative conception of human functioning . . . invite[s] the terms cure and symptom. Williams challenge for this criterion: If it is not to be purely ideological, the idea of real interests needs to be provided with a theory of error, a substantive account of how people may fail to recognize their real interests.




Is this the task of moral psychology?


Williams doubts the evolutionary biology is able to demonstrate that the ethical life can bring well-being for each person. At most sociobiology might be able to suggest that certain institutions or patterns of behavior are not realistic options for human societies.

nisus = effort or endeavor to realize an aim.


This psychological theory, whatever it is, will be predictive rather than prescriptive. Williams does not think that the ethical life cannot be grounded in psychological health (46).

I wonder if he is guilty of the non-congnitivist demand for the deductive paradigm that McDowell talks about. This quote reminds me of Taylors narrative of the rise of therapeutic ethics! Has overtones of Protestantism Also seems structurally to line up with a two-party system?


Simply not accepting anything as valuable except the ethical dispositions to turn, that is to say, the conception of psychological health in the direction of renouncing the other values would be a reversion to Socratic asceticism and would need a reconstruction of the self to suit it. It would need also a utopian politics of renunciation by everyone; or else it would have to admit that virtue as purity of heart, while it was the only good, could be only a minority accomplishment, and this would need another politics in its turn, in order to construct the relation of that virtue to unregenerate society.


We need to stop being so pent up about ethical considerations. It is not contra Thrasymachus more natural to live outside them. Natural does not mean spontaneous and needing to upbringing in order to shape it. It is natural for human beings to live by convention! Socrates question about the applicability to justice to every person is displaced by Aristotle in admitting that the answer to the question will not regenerate ones life This means that ethical value must lie in some state of the self (49). The morality system sets up obligation in opposition to the self. To egoism and well-being. Will seems to be in favor of some kind of eudaimonism, but emptied of a theory of metaphysical teleology. What does Williams mean by laundering the currency of desire? Is it related at all to Callicles?




The line between self-concern and other-concern in no way corresponds to a line between desire and obligation. To line these up only serves to launder the curreny of desire or to discourage consumption

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So the charge of egoism is tied up to misconception about desire and about pleasure. Ethical dispositions are in the self. And agent thinks from a point of view. Does all ethical value lie in dispositions of the self? Yes and no.


No. From the internal perspective the perspective will not be the only thing of value. But yes, from the external perspective, the perspective will be the only thing of value. These dispositions partly constitute the self. For Aristotle, when the agent reflects, even from the outside, on all his needs and capacities, he will find no conflict with his ethical dispositions. He is virtuous. He sees in ethics that his humanity flourishes. BUT Artistotle had an absolute understanding of nature. Without this, there is a potential gap between the internal and the external perspective. What does it mean to reflect from the outside?



A concluding thesis: we must admit that the Aristotelian assumptions which fitted together the agents perspective and the outside view have collapsed. No one has yet found a good way of doing without those assumptions.

What about Wittgensteins disavowal of the deductive paradigm?