Williams’s Pragmatic Genealogy and Self-Effacing FunctionalitySkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams sought to defend the value of truth by giving a vindicatory genealogy revealing its instrumental value. But what separates Williams’s instrumental vindication from the indirect utilitarianism of which he was a critic? And how can genealogy vindicate anything, let alone something which, as Williams says of the concept of truth, does not have a history? In this paper, I propose to resolve these puzzles by reading Williams as a type of pragmatist and his genealogy as a pragmatic genealogy. On this basis, I show just in what sense Williams’s genealogy can by itself yield reasons to cultivate a sense of the value of truth. Using various criticisms of Williams’s genealogical method as a foil, I then develop an understanding of pragmatic genealogy which reveals it to be uniquely suited to dealing with practices exhibiting what I call self-effacing functionality—practices that are functional only insofar as and because we do not engage in them for their functionality. I conclude with an assessment of the wider significance of Williams’s genealogy for his own oeuvre and for further genealogical inquiry.