Tijdschrift voor Filosofie vol:67 issue:2 pages:273-306
The aim of this paper is to study Williams’s relativism of distance and to examine the conception of the history of ethics that follows from it. Relativism of distance, applied to the history of ethics, can be understood as saying that the language of appraisal is inappropriate in confrontations with ethical outlooks of the past; no real judgments are made. The author argues that this view does not follow from Williams’s general meta-ethical position. Moreover, he tries to show that it rests on an implicit but implausible view of the hermeneutics of history. More in particular, it rests on the premise that we should set aside our ethical convictions while studying the past. In the concluding section, an alternative view is explored with regard to the attitude that we should adopt towards the historical processes that have shaped our own ethical outlook. This analysis, purged of Williams’s implausible view of the hermeneutics of history as it is, is actually more in line with his meta-ethics than his own relativism of distance.