Thomas Nagel on Bernard Williams

Nagel in the London Review of Books:

200pxbernardwilliamsBernard Williams had a very large mind. To read these three posthumously published collections of essays (there will be a fourth, on opera) is an overwhelming reminder of his incandescent and all-consuming intelligence. He brought philosophical reflection to an opulent array of subjects, with more imagination and with greater cultural and historical understanding than anyone else of his time.

The collections have been brought to publication by Williams’s widow, Patricia, in each case with the help of one of his friends, who has added an informative introduction. Some of the essays have not been published before, and most of them are not easily available, so these books are of great value. The Sense of the Past was largely planned by Williams himself before his death in 2003; In the Beginning Was the Deed treats topics he would have addressed more systematically in the book on political philosophy he planned but didn’t live to write; Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline brings together the most important essays not collected elsewhere, including the fullest statement of Williams’s conception of philosophy, its purpose and its relations to science, to history, and to human life.

In each of the collections there are some slight pieces, and some that overlap, but all three are marvellous books. While they range over many topics, they are held together by Williams’s acute sense of historical contingency and his resistance to the aspiration of so much philosophy to be timeless.

More here.  [Photo shows Williams.]