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The limits of Bernard William's critique of political moralism

Hall, Edward (2013) The limits of Bernard William's critique of political moralism. Ethical Perspectives, 20 (2). pp. 217-243. ISSN 1370-0049

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In this article I question the persuasiveness of Bernard Williams's critique of political moralism. The realist critique promises to have important repercussions for political theory, but I argue that Williams's critique of 'political moralism' is compromised, because the approach favoured by some contemporary normative political philosophers, who I call political ethicists is compatible with the thrust of his reminders about the first political question and his historicism. I then examine the extent to which there are other resources in Williams's thought that explain his opposition to such approaches by examining his warnings about the dangers of wishful thinking, his claim that political moralism ignores various platitudes of politics, and his views about the limitations of the role that theory can play in politics. I argue that although Williams articulates various important correctives they can be incorporated by political ethicists without this derailing their approach. To this end, I conclude that Williams's political realism and the kind of political-ethics pursued by certain contemporary political philosophers are conceptually closer, and their relation more complicated than the realist critics of post-Rawlsian political moralism concede.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Centre for Ethics, KU Leuven
Divisions: Government
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2013 15:08
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:41

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