Howard Williams is a Distinguished Honorary Professor in the School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University. From 1979-2011 he taught Political Philosophy at Aberystwyth University where he is Emeritus Professor. He studied at London University and Durham University. His first post was in Bangor University in Wales.
What excites you about philosophy?
What’s good about philosophy is that it is something I am always doing anyway. I suffer from what Hobbes calls the ‘lust of the mind’: curiosity. This curiosity is driven by thinking about thinking, reflecting on what I and others ought to do and inevitably focusing on what Kant took to be the third main concern of philosophy: what may I hope? It is extreme good fortune to do for a living what one does anyway and wants to do. And to do this in the company of young people who are seeking to make their way in life and are looking for guidance is a great privilege. What is exciting about philosophy is the seeking to ask the right questions and maybe then being able to rule out what might be the least good answers.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?
Quite often it is the very last piece I have written and published. This was an article on the philosophy of a leading Welsh poet of the twentieth century T. H. Parry-Williams. The article explored the ethics and theory of knowledge that I discerned in his poetry in the light of Kant’s aesthetics, and especially the analysis of poetry in the Critique of the Power of Judgement. The article was written in Welsh and will appear in the series Philosophical Studies (Astudiaethau Athronyddol).
Over my career as a whole I would say that my book Kant’s Critique of Hobbes (2003) pleases me most, since it comes as the middle book of a kind of trilogy I have written on Kant: Kant’s Political Philosophy (1983) Kant and the End of War (2012). In this middle book I was able to improve greatly on what I had set out in the first volume on Kant and I think to bring to light some less well known dimensions of his political philosophy. The comparison and contrast with Hobbes I think makes Kant’s political and legal philosophy more accessible to the English speaking world. It is also the book which complements best my non-Kant interests in political philosophy and international relations. International Relations in Political Theory (1992) is an example of my work in this area. I am hoping soon to bring out a second edition of the Kant and Hobbes book soon.
What are you working on right now?
The major project I am working on now is a study of the legacy of Kant’s Political Philosophy. This is a long term project on the impact of Kant’s legal and political thinking on subsequent work in the field. I am about half way through the project. It is in series that is being comissioned by Oxford University Press and the books are envisaged as lengthy works of around 400 pages. Even with this generous allowance of space, I am being forced to be highly selective. It’s not going to be an exhaustive history of the topic, but rather a philosophically focussed work which looks at the arguments (the logical structures) of the principal interventions in the Kantian mode in political philosophy. In recent decades Kant’s views on politics, law and international relations have come under greater scrutiny.
What are you reading right now? Would you recommend it?
I have recently been reading my way through Maya Angelou’s multi-volume autobiography. She has a very clear writing style, and as I have recollections of many of the times she lived through, I find it nice to compare. She is to me the model of an independent, life-affirming, person. Usually too I have a Welsh novel or autobiography on the go. I like the work of Kate Roberts who is regarded as the doyen of Welsh language fiction in the twentieth century.
Which books have changed your life? In what ways?
It is interesting how books can change your view of yourself and motivate you to undertake some new direction. I found Marx’s Capital brilliant when I first read it in the late 1960s. Kant’s three Critiques, especially the first and the last, alter my thinking each time I read them. I read a good deal of fiction Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina thoroughly impressed me with its insights into the human condition.
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
I think it is between 4-6 in the afternoon. But I have not been able to test this one hundred per cent, since it is a very busy time of day in family life! I find that in the mornings I am extremely self-critical, and I am very likely wholly to deconstruct what I may have written the previous day. My self-doubt also extends to what I have read. I am often surprised at my failure to comprehend a text that I thought familiar. By about lunchtime I become a bit more positive and may believe I have made some progress. In the early afternoon I find I am less productive: catching up with e-mails, other corresondence and maybe reading something new for the topic I am working on. This leaves the later afternoon to try to be genuinely creative.
Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled and why?
The Lofoten islands near the Arctic Circle in Norway are truly stunning. I went there in mid-Summer and found it remarkably warm. They are little like Switzerland on the oceanside, a striking combination of pretty settlements, water and mountains.
Find out more about Howard here!
This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here to nominate yourself or a friend.