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Modern Moral Philosophy and the Problem of Relevant Descriptions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2022

Anthony O'Hear
Affiliation:
University of Buckingham
Rachael Wiseman
Affiliation:
University of Liverpool
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Summary

Anscombe’s indictment of modern moral philosophy is full-blooded. She began with three strong claims:

The first is that is not profitable to do moral philosophy… until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking. The second is that the concepts of obligation and duty… and of the moral sense of ‘ought’, ought to be jettisoned… because they are derivatives… from an earlier conception of ethics… and are only harmful without it. The third thesis is that the differences between the well-known English writers on moral philosophy from Sidgwick to the present are of little importance.1

The connections between these three thoughts are not immediately obvious, but their influence is not in doubt. Many exponents of virtue ethics take Anscombe’s essay as a founding text and have endorsed all three thoughts. Many contemporary consequentialists and theorists of justice, who may reasonably be thought the heirs of the ‘modern moral philosophy’ that Anscombe criticized, have disputed or disregarded all three. Yet I believe that Anscombe’s essay is neither as reassuring for contemporary virtue ethics, nor as damaging to other strands in contemporary moral philosophy as this snapshot account of its influence could suggest.

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Moral Philosophy , pp. 468 - 493
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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