Bernard Williams on regarding one's own action purely externally

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I explore what Bernard Williams means by regarding one’s action “purely externally, as one might regard anyone else’s action”, and how it links to regret and agent-regret. I suggest some ways that we might understand the external view: as a failure to recognise what one has done, in terms of Williams’s distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic luck, and as akin to Thomas Nagel’s distinction between an internal and external view. I argue that none of these captures what Williams was getting at, because they do not allow one to take a view on one’s action. I offer two alternative accounts. One turns around what we identify with, the other concerns what we care about. Both accounts capture how I might regret, rather than agent-regret, my own action. I demonstrate that these can explain the relationship between an insurance payout and the external view, and explain the agent-relativity of agent-regret.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-66
JournalJournal of the American Philosophical Association
Issue number1
Early online date6 Sept 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Sept 2018


  • Bernard Williams
  • Ethics
  • Thomas Nagel
  • External View
  • Agent-Regret


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