The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

By Amélie Oksenberg Rorty | Go to book overview

44
My Interests in Philosophy

G.E.M. ANSCOMBE

After studying at Oxford, G.E.M. Anscombe (1919–2001) came to know and to
be influenced by Wittgenstein. Her Intention (1957) framed the questions and
the terminology of subsequent work in the philosophy of mind. It addresses
such questions as: What are the criteria for the identity of actions and inten-
tions? What role do an agent's reasons and justifications play in identifying her
intentions? What is the structure and aim of practical reasoning? Her influential
essay "What's Wrong with Modern Moral Philosophy?" (1958) mounts a formi-
dable critique of contemporary moral evaluation. Instead of taking the agent's
future-oriented deliberative point of view, they mistakenly adopt the position
of an omniscient judge, evaluating the consequences of an action, all things
considered. Anscombe also wrote on moral and political issues. She opposed
granting President Truman an honorary degree at Oxford on the grounds that
he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She produced classical
essays against abortion, contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia.

As one of Wittgenstein's literary executors, Anscombe translated and co-
edited Philosophical Investigations (1958) and some of his posthumous works.
Her Introduction to Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" (1959) was a turning point in the
interpretation of that difficult work. With Peter Geach, she wrote Three Philos-
ophers
(1961). Her Collected Philosophical Papers (1981) include essays on Aris-
totle on metaphysics, and epistemology.


Causes and Beliefs
Introduction in Collected Papers

My first strenuous interest in philosophy was in the topic of causality. I didn't know that what I was interested in belonged to philosophy. As a result of my teen-age conversion to the Catholic Church—itself the fruit of reading done from twelve to fifteen—I read a work called Natural Theology by a nineteenth-century Jesuit.1 I read it with great appetite and found it all convincing except for two things. One was the doctrine of Scientia media, according to which God knew what anybody would have done if, e.g., he hadn't died when he did. This was a part of theodicy, and was also the form in which the problem of counter-factual conditionals was discussed. I found I could not believe this doctrine: it appeared to me that there was not, quite generally, any such thing as what would have happened if what did happened had not happened, and that in particular there was no such thing, generally speaking, as what someone would have done if … and certainly that there was no such thing as how someone would have spent his life if he had not died a child. I did not know at the time that the matter was one of fierce dispute between the Jesuits and the Dominicans, who took rather my own line about it. So when I was being instructed a couple of years later by a Dominican at Oxford, Fr. Richard Kehoe, and he asked me if I had any difficulties, I told him that I couldn't see how that stuff could be true. He was obvi

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