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Shame and Necessity

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  99 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
We tend to suppose that the ancient Greeks had primitive ideas of the self, of responsibility, freedom, and shame, and that now humanity has advanced from these to a more refined moral consciousness. Bernard Williams's original and radical book questions this picture of Western history. While we are in many ways different from the Greeks, Williams claims that the differenc ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published October 19th 1994 by University of California Press (first published March 24th 1993)
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Aug 05, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is based on the Sather Lectures that Williams, the English moral philosopher who died in 2003, gave at Berkeley in 1989. Broadly speaking, in this work Williams explores ethics and its relationship to Greek literature and philosophy. He says, “To learn about the Greeks is more immediately a part of self-understanding…The Greek past is specially the past of modernity.” He focuses “on ethical ideas of the Greeks: in particular, ideas of responsible action, justice, and the motivations th ...more
B.t. Newberg
Dec 06, 2011 B.t. Newberg rated it it was amazing
Did the Greeks of Homer's era have a complete sense of self and agency? Some critics have said no, claiming that these concepts were not developed till later (some say as late as modern times). Bernard Williams counters these arguments, and further claims that early Greek ethical ideas were in some ways in better condition than ours today.

Shame and Necessity is an exploration of the working theory of action informing the works of Homer and the playwrights of his day. In order to make his point,
Sep 17, 2008 Nat rated it it was amazing
Williams writes: "No one expects to write, or be, like Plato. Aristotle, though, even when one has dimly recognized the extent of his genius, can seem to provide a comforting assurance to philosophers about the possibility of their subject, in the form of an omnipresent judiciousness, which, in itself, is only too easy to imitate" (p.111).

Williams avoids the omnipresent judiciousness that washes out a lot of contemporary moral philosophy, and instead says very sensible and convincing things abo
Aug 21, 2016 Gabriel rated it liked it
I wish I could rate this book with 3,5 stars. Sometimes it is good and captures all your attention, and sometimes it is not very interesting.

Compelling, eloquent and provocative.
Billie Pritchett
Bernard Williams's Shame and Necessity is a work of philosophy about what we could learn from the ancient Greeks. The book addresses moral concerns as well as issues of identity and human freedom. What is clear from the book is that the ancient Greek mind is not terribly different from our own but there have been changes and progress of course both in the sciences and our moral reasoning. Nevertheless, changes that have been made from the time of the Greeks to our time have not necessarily follo ...more
Engrossing and confusing. To begin with there is only a short section about Oedipus and nothing relating to the Sphinx or the conversation pictured. Having said that--this is a provocative study of our understanding of what it means to confront shame and necessity both in antiquity and now. How we choose to act in situations which require us to make choices between evils. Did the gods give us no choice but to fail? What is the meaning of free will? Do we ever have the opportunity to act just for ...more
Jake Wojtowicz
Nov 07, 2013 Jake Wojtowicz rated it it was amazing
This is a stunning book. It, for me, brings to the fore the importance of character and how much that can do to shape us as humans, both egoistically and with regards to others. The sections on Ajax, who cannot live with himself anymore, are particularly powerful. This book made a great impression on me, I think it's important and I imagine I'll read it again and again and again. And I have no interest in Greek Drama and until last year couldn't see any value in Greek Philosophy whatsoever. But ...more
May 10, 2016 Jesse rated it liked it
difficult to fully appreciate without substantial knowledge of the Greek plays discussed
Nov 30, 2012 Derek rated it it was amazing
This is a superb treatment of some key issues in classical thought. The issues of will, shame, and autonomy are treated in great depth from a philosophical perspective. Addressing such fundamental and important issues, Williams explains modern conceptions so that the reader can more clearly discern the differences between ancient and modern modes of perception. This is one of the best, most informative, and most thought-provoking books that I've ever read and I will never part with it.
May 21, 2008 Ed rated it liked it
illuminative essays but I side with Rorty in their philosophical disputes.
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Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams FBA (21 September 1929 – 10 June 2003) has been described as the most important British moral philosopher of his time.

Williams spent the bulk of his career at four academic institutions: Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, and the University of California, Berkeley. Early in his career at Cambridge, Williams became known internationally for his attempt to
More about Bernard Williams...

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