Bernard Williams was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of his age. He also won most of the big prizes of British academia, including a fellowship of All Souls, a spell as provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and election to the White’s Chair of Moral Philosophy at Oxford – he was even knighted. He also enjoyed the more ambiguous honour of being asked by the government to participate in a number of prominent commissions of public inquiry: he chaired the committee that produced an important and enlightened report about pornography in 1979 and he sat on several other committees established to cogitate upon issues of ethical perplexity, such as gambling, drugs, social injustice and English public schools. ‘I did all the major vices,’ he is reported to have said.
Williams’s readiness to spend time concerning himself with real-life moral quandaries reflects not only the public-spiritedness of his personality but also, more generally, the whole disposition of his extraordinarily large intelligence. His approach to moral philosophy is characterised, more than anything else, by an