The opening chapters of Bernard Williams' Truth and Truthfulness are an appetizing invitation, which I here gratefully accept, to reflect on a question which in its most general form is of very wide application indeed: what kinds of light can one shed on something by recounting its history? Restricted to the philosophical tradition this becomes a question about the nature and effectiveness of what are nowadays often called “genealogies” and “state-of-nature theories,” and it is on these that Williams' attention is concentrated. The same is true of mine in this essay; but I shall not bother too much about the limits set by those terms as they are usually applied, in the belief that since this is an aspect of a broader issue a broader approach is desirable, at least so long as there is any suspicion that our present borderlines, which are certainly fuzzy, may be arbitrary, too.
Much that I shall say Williams has said already – rather more succinctly and deftly, the reader may feel – and I doubt whether anything of mine conflicts with anything of his, once a few terminological matters are sorted out. But his purpose in these chapters was to prepare the ground for a specific exercise of the state-of-nature and genealogical methods: his own application of them, which forms the rest of the book, to the twin virtues of truthfulness, sincerity, and accuracy.
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