Sunday, May 10, 2009

21b Elizabeth Anscombe

When I ploughed my way through the essay "Modern Moral Philosophy" by Elizabeth Anscombe and reached the final lines, I ended reading with a smile. Her last sentence is "And that is my complaint."

My first reaction was " WHAT is your complaint?" because the reading of the essay wasn't easy. And after a first go I honestly couldnt say what her complaint exactly meant.

She defends three theses in the paper:
1. that moral philosophy cannot be done until we have an adequate philosophical psychology;
2. that the concepts of moral obligation, moral duty, and moral “ought” are survivals from a now largely abandoned conception of ethics, are incoherent outside that framework, and should therefore be abandoned if possible;
3. and that English moral philosophers from Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900) on differ only in superficial ways. In explaining the third thesis, the term “consequentialism” is introduced.

The first thesis is understandable. Only a few decennia before philosophy and psychology had become independent disciplines, but concepts like : "action," "intention," "pleasure," "wanting." are still in need of philosophical analysis.

And then Anscombe remarks: "Eventually it might be possible to advance to considering the concept "virtue"; with which, I suppose, we should be beginning some sort of a study of ethics." Just keep in mind the concept of 'Virtue". I'll get back to that later.

The second thesis needs some more elaborate explanation. Roughly speaking philosophers have suggested a number of starting points for ethical principles:

1. virtue ethics: this is a typical Greek approach especially formulated by Aristotle and in the quote you can read that Anscombe holds this view on ethics too. It emphazises the character in man.

2. deontic ethics: this is what the second thesis dismisses. It is the view that there is a sense of duty, independent of the individual, to which everyone has to obey. That can range from god to Kant's "Categorische Imperative".

3. intuitionist ethics: you could call it a naturalistic interpretation of this sense of duty. There are different options, from rational insights to natural congenital drives.

4. utility ethics: the maximalisation of happiness, the basic utilitarian idea, where you look at the consequences of your actions.

About thesis 3: What Elizabeth Anscombe doesnt mention is, that Sidgwick's ideas were in fact a combination of 3. and 4. She attacks him only pretty hard on this aspect of consequentialism. Not altogether fair, in my opinion.

Her view on ethics is best illustrated by the next quote:
"It is a necessary feature of consequentialism that it is a shallow philosophy. For there are always borderline cases in ethics. Now if you are either an Aristotelian, or a believer in divine law, you will deal with a borderline case by considering whether doing such‑and‑such in such‑and‑such circumstances is, say, murder, or is an act of injustice;

and according as you decide it is or it isn't, you judge it to be a thing to do or not.This would be the method of casuistry; and while it may lead you to stretch a point on the circumference, it will not permit you to destroy the center.

But if you are a consequentialist, the question "What is it right to do in such‑and‑such circumstances?" is a stupid one to raise. The casuist raises such a question only to ask "Would it be permissible to do so‑and‑so?" (...) Now the consequentialist has no footing on which to say "This would be permissible, this not";

because by his own hypothesis, it is the consequences that are to decide, and he has no business to pretend that he can lay it down what possible twists a man could give doing this or that; the most he can say is: a man must not bring about this or that; he has no right to say he will, in an actual case, bring about such‑and‑such unless he does so‑and‑so.

Further, the consequentialist, in order to be imagining borderline cases at all, has of course to assume some sort of law or standard according to which this is a borderline case, Where then does he get the standard from? In practice the answer invariably is: from the standards current in his society or his circle.

And it has in fact been the mark of all these philosophers that they have been extremely conventional; they have nothing in them by which to revolt against the conventional standards of their sort of people; it is impossible that they should be profound."

In my former lecture I said it was a disgrace that Elizabeth Anscombe was not mentioned, not even in a footnote, in the extensive article on Consequentialism in the Stanford Encyclopedia.

That was BEFORE I had read her essay. Now you can see for yourself that she pleads for an Aristotelian virtue ethics and is pretty unkind against consequentialism: "shallow philosophy", "it is impossible that they should be profound." Yet she should have been mentioned.

Her last sentence was "And that is my complaint." And now I understand: it is about the fact that all British philosophers since 1900 had abandoned the Aristotelian appraoch in ethics.

I think they did right. The Aristotelian virtue ethics presupposes a special interpretation of the human being, a kind of sporty upperclass Greek aristocrat.

I dont believe that that is a realistic description of the inner self. With our current knowledge of evolution, psychology, neurobiology, psychology, biology and ethology the world looks quite different from a world of 1958 and thence philosophically I come to other conclusions than Elizabeth Anscombe.

The Discussion

[13:23] herman Bergson: So much on ELizabeth Anscombe :-)
[13:23] hope63 Shepherd: so what are your conclusions herman..
[13:24] herman Bergson smiles
[13:24] herman Bergson: this is primarily about the ideas of Anscombe :-)
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:24] herman Bergson: But I'll give you a few of my ideas
[13:24] hope63 Shepherd: lol.. stick to what you said.. i want an answer..:)
[13:25] herman Bergson: Basically it is my opinion that this virtue ethics is an outdated approach
[13:25] hope63 Shepherd: what would be a not-outdated approach
[13:25] herman Bergson: As I mention a series of sciences in my last statement, I tend to start thinking of the human being as just an organism
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: ty..
[13:26] herman Bergson: and from that point on I try to 'reconstruct' what is called a human being....its behavior, its mind and so on
[13:27] herman Bergson: in fact also a kind of aristotelian approach
[13:27] herman Bergson: starting with the most general genus and then looking for the differentia specifica time and again
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: the sciences have made a profound affect on the modern philosophical thinking i believe that make is almost a new beginning of thought
[13:27] herman Bergson: to go from 'species' to 'species'
[13:28] hope63 Shepherd: unique- not universal..
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes Gemma, that is what I intended to express...
[13:28] herman Bergson: When I compare this with the world of 1958
[13:29] herman Bergson: I am glad you don't ask me for all the answers....
[13:29] hope63 Shepherd: no more questions from my side:)
[13:30] herman Bergson: Well, I am planning a new project for after this series of women philosophers
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: but do you feel that elizabeth had a real effect on the new thoughts?
[13:30] herman Bergson: A more systematic approach..not philosophers but philosophical issues
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: or more debate
[13:31] herman Bergson: Well....I dont is said that this essay had an impact....
[13:31] herman Bergson: and honestly I dont see the gunpowder in it...
[13:32] herman Bergson: I see an essay from a catholic who dislikes the materialist and hedonistic utilitarians
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:32] herman Bergson: I think this essay means hardly anything now
[13:32] herman Bergson: It is history, I would say
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: one day everything wil be history:)
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: but she was a teacher.. wasn't she?
[13:34] herman Bergson: Yes ..all her working life..and a brilliant one, I think
[13:34] herman Bergson: Besides she was socially involved
[13:34] herman Bergson: She and her daughters were arrested posting in front of an abortion clinic, if I am not mistaken
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: but then she must have tried to put people into thinking and discussing about her issues
[13:36] herman Bergson: I think so yes, but I think that she was a real philosopher, an open mind and an honest debater
[13:36] herman Bergson: setting high standards
[13:36] Corona Anatine: she was a pro lifer then ?
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: very much so
[13:37] herman Bergson: I'd love to have met her in RL...she must have been quite a personality
[13:37] Corona Anatine: if she was protesting in front of clinics
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: she was well known for that!!
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes..Corona....she had a belief and kept to it all her life
[13:37] Anne Charles: Also against contraception
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: nobody is perfect ...
[13:38] Corona Anatine: that is also an argument for pro choice hope
[13:38] herman Bergson: I think it is not correct to be judgemental about personal believes which fall outside philosophy
[13:38] hope63 Shepherd: agreed. corona..
[13:39] herman Bergson: It is a tricky business to discuss personal believes, that is something else from personal opinions
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: one could discuss personal believes and ethics though..
[13:40] Corona Anatine: belief is not opinion ?
[13:40] herman Bergson: yes, I agree...there always is a grey area inthe relation between believes and moral consequences
[13:41] Alarice Beaumont: i wuold say that believe is much stronger then opinion
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes Alarice
[13:41] herman Bergson: with belief I mean a personal conviction about the meaning of life for instance
[13:41] Corona Anatine: but are they not of the same basic kind of stuff
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: opinion is the personal appreciation of something.. believe is a generalisation for all..
[13:42] herman Bergson: In a way they are, but I would say that they differ in connotation
[13:42] Corona Anatine: but that cannot be done
[13:43] Corona Anatine: even a belief cannot be generalised to all
[13:43] herman Bergson: I think that the issue is much more complex..
[13:43] Corona Anatine: they are essentailly interchaneable
[13:43] Alarice Beaumont: no .. but i think if you "believe" you live the way you believe..
[13:44] herman Bergson: it is not so that you have a belief and on the other hand an opinion
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: a belief does mean that it has general opinion states personal ideas..
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: if you have an opinion that is not a life style
[13:44] herman Bergson: that is the typical binary approach
[13:44] herman Bergson: it is a continuum I would say
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: well.. no belief without an opinion at the vbbasis:)
[[13:45] herman Bergson: interesting subject for a lecture: Opinion and belief
[13:45] Corona Anatine: : )
[13:45] herman Bergson: I'll keep it in mind :-)
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well Hope, I hope I scratched more than the surface today :-)
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: you though i am sorry to talk tooo much..
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: made me itchy too
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:47] herman Bergson: At least I can say that I am not altogether happy with consequentialism...
[13:47] Corona Anatine: i dont think my brain was in sharp mode tonight
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: do we talk about her next tuesday again?
[13:48] herman Bergson: when you read the Stanford article on the subject you will understand what I mean
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:48] herman Bergson: No Alarice, we'll move on :-)
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:48] bergfrau Apfelbaum: I must go:-/ Have suns in your hearts! see u all next week :-) herman
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: i hope
[13:49] herman Bergson: Ok well :-)
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: ok :-)
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: who is next?
[13:49] herman Bergson: Next Woman thinker is Irish Murdoch, a more literary person
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: Iris??
[13:50] herman Bergson: At higschool I had to read some of her books....and wasn't 'impressed'
[13:50] Alarice Beaumont: yes Gemma.. i found an Iris in the wiki
[13:51] herman Bergson: Yes Iris Murdoch
[13:51] herman Bergson: the novels were probably way over my head in those days
[13:52] herman Bergson: Anyone of you read something of Iris Murdoch?
[13:52] CONNIE Eichel: no
[13:52] Alarice Beaumont: not yet
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: not yet
[13:52] herman Bergson: Neither did I though I have had at least an extra 30 years :-)
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: but i recognise her name
[13:53] herman Bergson: YEs I know her quite well by name too
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:57] Ze Novikov: bb everyone until next week :)))

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-03-15 17:47:46

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