G. E. M. Anscombe

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G. E. M. Anscombe

G. E. M. Anscombe (18 March 19195 January 2001), born Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, and also known as Elizabeth Anscombe, was an Irish-born British analytic philosopher. A student of Ludwig Wittgenstein, she became an authority on his work, and edited and translated many books drawn from his writings, above all his Philosophical Investigations. She wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and ethics. Her monograph Intention (1957) is generally recognized as her greatest and most influential work.

Anscombe also supports and takes a modern approach to Virtue Ethics, an ethical theory originated in Aristotle and developed by St Thomas Aquinas which focuses on the development of a virtuous (moral) AGENT rather than on performing moral ACTS. Anscombe approved of Aristotelian thinking, especially of the concept of eudamonia and of causes rather than reasons.

Quotes[edit]

Modern Moral Philosophy (1958)[edit]

  • The denial of any distinction between foreseen and intended consequences, as far as responsibility is concerned, was not made by Sidgwick in developing any one 'method of ethics'; he made this important move on behalf of everybody and just on its own account; and I think it plausible to suggest that this move on the part of Sidgwick explains the difference between old-fashioned Utilitarianism and the consequentialism, as I name it, which marks him and every English academic moral philosopher since him.
    • Here Anscombe coined the word "consequentialism".

Contraception and Chastity (1975)[edit]

  • Those who try to make room for sex as mere casual enjoyment pay the penalty: they become shallow. At any rate the talk that reflects and commends this attitude is always shallow. They dishonour their own bodies; holding cheap what is naturally connected with the origination of human life.
  • You can argue truly enough, for example, that general respect for the prohibition on murder makes life more commodious. If people really respect the prohibition against murder life is pleasanter for all of us - but this argument is exceedingly comic. Because utility presupposes the life of those who are to be convenienced, and everybody perceives quite clearly that the wrong done in murder is done first and foremost to the victim, whose life is not inconvenienced, it just isn't there any more. He isn't there to complain; so the utilitarian argument has to be on behalf of the rest of us. Therefore, though true, it is highly comic and is not the foundation: the objection to murder is supra-utilitarian.
  • The trouble about the Christian standard of chastity is that it isn't and never has been generally lived by; not that it would be profitless if it were. Quite the contrary: it would be colossally productive of earthly happiness. All the same it is a virtue, not like temperance in eating and drinking, not like honesty about property, for these have a purely utilitarian justification. But it, like the respect for life, is a supra-utilitarian value, connected with the substance of life, and this is what comes out in the perception that the life of lust is one in which we dishonour our bodies. Implicitly, lasciviousness is over and over again treated as hateful, even by those who would dislike such an explicit judgment on it. Just listen, witness the scurrility when it's hinted at; disgust when it's portrayed as the stuff of life; shame when it's exposed, the leer of complicity when it's approved. You don't get these attitudes with everybody all of the time; but you do get them with everybody. (It's much too hard work to keep up the façade of the Playboy philosophy, according to which all this is just an unfortunate mistake, to be replaced by healthy-minded wholehearted praise of sexual fun.)
  • A severe morality holds that intercourse (and may hold this of eating, too) has something wrong about it if it is ever done except explicitly as being required for that preservation of human life which is what makes intercourse a good kind of action. But this involves thoroughly faulty moral psychology. God gave us our physical appetite, and its arousal without our calculation is part of the working of our sort of life. Given moderation and right circumstances, acts prompted by inclination can be taken in a general way to accomplish what makes them good in kind and there's no need for them to be individually necessary or useful for the end that makes them good kinds of action. Intercourse is a normal part of married life through the whole life of the partners in a marriage and is normally engaged in without any distinct purpose other than to have it, just as such a part of married life.
  • If a kind of love cannot be commanded, we can't build our moral theology of marriage on the presumption that it will be present. Its absence is sad, but this sadness exists, it is very common. We should avoid, I think, using the indicative mood for what is really a commandment like the Scout Law ("A Boy Scout is kind to animals" - it means a Boy Scout ought to be kind to animals). For if we hear: "a Christian couple grow in grace and love together" doesn't the question arise "supposing they don't?" It clears the air to substitute the bite of what is clearly a precept for the sweetness of a rosy picture. The command to a Christian couple is: "Grow in grace and love together." But a joint command can only be jointly obeyed. Suppose it isn't? Well, there remains the separate precept to each and in an irremediably unhappy marriage, one ought still to love the other, though not perhaps feeling the affection that cannot be commanded. Thus the notion of the "marriage debt" is a very necessary one, and it alone is realistic: because it makes no assumption as to the state of the affections.
    Looking at the rightness of the marriage act like this will help in another way. It will prevent us from assuming that the pleasant affection which exists between a happy and congenial pair is the fulfilment of the precept of love. (It may after all only be a complacent hiving off together in a narrow love.) We ought absolutely not to give out a teaching which is flattering to the lucky, and irrelevant to the unhappy. Looked at carefully, too, such teaching is altogether too rigorist in a new direction. People who are not quite happily married, not lucky in their married life, but nevertheless have a loyalty to the bond, are not, therefore, bound to abstain from intercourse.
  • But we lay people are not less called to the Christian life, in which the critical question is: "Where does the compass-needle of your mind and will point?" This is tested above all by our reactions when it costs or threatens to cost something to be a Christian. One should be glad if it does, rather than complain! If we will not let it cost anything; if we succumb to the threat of "losing our life", then our religion is indistinguishable from pure worldliness.
  • There is no such thing as a casual, non-significant sexual act; everyone knows this. Contrast sex with eating - you're strolling along a lane, you see a mushroom on a bank as you pass by, you know about mushrooms, you pick it and you eat it quite casually - sex is never like that. That's why virtue in connection with eating is basically a matter only of the pattern of one's eating habits. But virtue in sex - chastity - is not only a matter of such a pattern, that is of its role in a pair of lives. A single sexual action can be bad even without regard to its context, its further intentions and its motives.

External links[edit]

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