Bernard Williams's Debt to Nietzsche: Real or Illusory?

22 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2019 Last revised: 4 Jan 2020

Date Written: July 22, 2019


Bernard Williams was one of just two prominent figures within the mainstream of Anglophone moral philosophy in the second half of the 20th-century to devote serious attention to Nietzsche. (Philippa Foot was the other comparably famous figure to do so, and she, unsurprisingly, shared with Williams skepticism about many orthodoxies of analytic moral philosophy during this time.) My aim is to assess the Williams-Nietzsche relationship, and the extent to which Williams learned from Nietzsche, and the extent to which he retreated from or ignored Nietzsche’s actual views. I argue that the alleged influence is mostly superficial, and that Williams’s limited engagemet with Nietzsche tells us something about the distinctive and conservative nature of Anglophone philosophy over the last century. I focus mainly on ETHICS AND THE LIMITS OF PHILOSOPHY (1985) and SHAME AND NECESSITY (1993), as well as some of Williams's articles.

Keywords: Bernard Williams, Nietzsche, historicism, Thomas Nagel, Homer, Burckhardt

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Bernard Williams's Debt to Nietzsche: Real or Illusory? (July 22, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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