(A snippet from some further reflections...am I being fair enough to Williams? Update: Read the next post above.)
Conviction and reflection might seem to be awkward partners, their relationship constantly strained. Although Socrates claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living, Bernard Williams suggested that “reflection can destroy knowledge” by undermining the foundations upon which one’s convictions stand. I have always thought that Williams must be wrong—or at least that he only wins the point by abusing language. Reflection can undermine convictions, for it can uncover bad reasoning, hidden motives, ignorance, and blind spots in one’s sensibility. If that is what reflection destroys, then I would not say that it destroys knowledge but rather the semblance of knowledge.
If reflection destroys a conviction, then it was either a bad conviction or a bad act of reflection. Where reflection destroys a bad conviction there is no loss in its destruction. On the other hand, if one were to destroy a worthy conviction because one had engaged in poor reasoning and reflection, then a real loss has occurred. Perhaps for this reason those who were never taught how to reflect—how to navigate the maze of philosophical questioning without losing their patience or their way—are better off not reflecting. But equally, perhaps those who are better off not reflecting are also better off not having any convictions.
Even better: perhaps one who is inclined toward some conviction should learn how to reflect, so that she can better know what it is she has, and neither destroy what is truly precious nor become accustomed to living with fool’s gold. And the first thing one should learn is that true reflection does not destroy knowledge, but rather unsettles comfortable and merely convenient illusions.