Value Pluralism vs Realism in the Political Thought of Bernard Williams

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3 Citations (Scopus)


The current wave of political realism has a complex relationship with ethics. On the one hand, realism is often defined in opposition to moralism, or the idea that “political theory is something like applied morality”.1 According to realists, moralists exaggerate the authority of morality and underestimate the distinctiveness of the political sphere and its characteristic concerns. On the other hand, recent commentary has stressed that realism is not opposed to morality or ethics itself.2 Indeed, realism has an ethic of its own, which emphasizes the claims of social order above other considerations. The starting point is the permanent reality of social conflict. “If conflict is ineliminable,” William Galston writes, “it is natural to see the ordering and channeling of conflict as the core of politics from which the rest radiates.”3 Consequently, the dominant realist commitment is to the achievement and preservation of social and political order.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-550
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Value Inquiry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Bernard Williams
  • Value pluralism
  • realism
  • Isaiah Berlin
  • Liberalism
  • history


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