bernard williams essay moral luck ..

Description : A new volume of philosophical essays by Bernard Williams. The book is a successor to Problems of the Self, but whereas that volume dealt mainly with questions of personal identity, Moral Luck centres on questions of moral philosophy and the theory of rational action. That whole area has of course been strikingly reinvigorated over the last deacde, and philosophers have both broadened and deepened their concerns in a way that now makes much earlier moral and political philosophy look sterile and trivial. Moral Luck contains a number of essays that have contributed influentially to this development. Among the recurring themes are the moral and philosophical limitations of utilitarianism, the notion of integrity, relativism, and problems of moral conflict and rational choice. The work presented here is marked by a high degree of imagination and acuity, and also conveys a strong sense of psychological reality. The volume will be a stimulating source of ideas and arguments for all philosophers and a wide range of other readers.

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. Harmondsworth, UK: Pelican, 1978.

Shirley Williams said of her marriage to Williams: "[T]here was something of a strain that comes from two things. One is that we were both too caught up in what we were respectively doing – we didn't spend all that much time together; the other, to be completely honest, is that I'm fairly unjudgmental and I found Bernard's capacity for pretty sharp putting-down of people he thought were stupid unacceptable. ... He can be very painful sometimes."


↑ Bernard Williams, Moral Luck.

Williams, Bernard. Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers, 1973–1980. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981. DOI:

Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams, (21 September 1929 – 10 June 2003) was an English , described by as the "most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time." His publications include (1973), (1981), (1985), and (2002). He was knighted in 1999.


"This is a major, wide-ranging, and comprehensive book. A philosophical investigation that is also a literary and historical study, asks how and why we have come to think of accuracy, sincerity, and authenticity as virtues. Bernard Williams' account of their emergence is as detailed and imaginative as his defense of their importance is spirited and provocative. Williams asks hard questions, and gives them straightforward and controversial answers. His book does not simply describe and advocate these virtues of truthfulness; it manifests them."--Alexander Nehamas, author of

Bernard Williams is Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University, and also teaches philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Making Sense of Humanity, Morality, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Shame and Necessity, and Moral Luck.
"In this exceptionally brilliant book, ranging effortlessly from Herodotus and Thucydides to Diderot and Nietzsche, Bernard Williams daringly asks--and still more daringly answers--one of the central questions of philosophy: what is the point of telling the truth? Lucid, penetrating, and profound, Williams' reflections are vitally important not for philosophers alone but for anyone interested in human thought and creativity."--Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

"This is a major, wide-ranging, and comprehensive book. A philosophical investigation that is also a literary and historical study, asks how and why we have come to think of accuracy, sincerity, and authenticity as virtues. Bernard Williams' account of their emergence is as detailed and imaginative as his defense of their importance is spirited and provocative. Williams asks hard questions, and gives them straightforward and controversial answers. His book does not simply describe and advocate these virtues of truthfulness; it manifests them."--Alexander Nehamas, author of


In thinking about why it is a fantasy, it’s worth returning to a point made the philosopher Bernard Williams in his essay, “Moral Luck.” In that piece, Williams takes the story of Paul Gauguin, who famously abandoned his wife and children, along with his life as a prosperous bourgeois businessman, to pursue his dream of painting in Tahiti. Most people who care much about art, Williams argues, feel uneasily that Gauguin was justified in his decision, however unethical, because he turned out to be a great painter. The success of that decision, however, was dependent on luck in all sorts of ways he never could have foreseen. Gauguin’s ship could have crashed before he ever reached Tahiti. He might have abandoned everything, only to discover he produced bad, derivative paintings. He might have lacked the conviction in his own talent to try. He was lucky none of those events came to pass, and, most importantly for our present moment, he was lucky that his self-assessment was accurate. He could have possessed the same artistic vision, the same drive, the same conviction in his talent, and been deluded.