From Scepticism to Liberalism? Bernard Williams, the Foundations of Liberalism and Political Realism

PAUL SAGAR
POLITICAL STUDIES (2014): ADVANCED ONLINE PUBLICATION. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9248.12173

Abstract: Bernard Williams was an ethical sceptic, but he was also a proponent of liberalism. To what extent can one finally be both? This article explores this question through a particular emphasis on Williams, but seeks to draw wider lessons regarding what ethical scepticism should and should not amount to. It shows how ethical scepticism can be reconciled with a commitment to what Williams, following Judith Shklar, called ‘the liberalism of fear’, which is revealed as an ecumenical outlook for different stripes of ethical sceptic. The article concludes by drawing some lessons for the recent ‘realist’ turn in political theory.