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Modern Moral Philosophy1

  • G. E. M. Anscombe (a1)

Extract

I will begin by stating three theses which I present in this paper. The first is that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking. The second is that the concepts of obligation, and duty—moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say—and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of “ought,” ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it. My third thesis is that the differences between the wellknown English writers on moral philosophy from Sidgwick to the present day are of little importance.

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References

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page 4 note 1 The above two paragraphs are an abstract of a paper “On Brute Facts“ forthcoming in Analysis.

page 6 note 1 They did not deny the existence of divine law; but their most characteristic doctrine was that it was given, not to be obeyed, but to show man's incapacity to obey it, even by grace; and this applied not merely to the ramified prescriptions of the Torah, but to the requirements of “natural divine law.” Cf. in this connection the decree of Trent against the teaching that Christ was only to be trusted in as mediator, not obeyed as legislator.

page 8 note 1 As it is absurdly called. Since major premise=premise containing the term which is predicate in the conclusion, it is a solecism to speak of it in the connection with practical reasoning.

page 9 note 1 Oxford Objectivists of course distinguish between “consequences” and “intrinsic values” and so produce a misleading appearance of not being “consequentialists.” But they do not hold—and Ross explicitly denies—that the gravity of, e.g., procuring the condemnation of the innocent is such that it cannot be outweighed by, e.g., national interest. Hence their distinction is of no importance.

page 11 note 1 E.N. 1178b16.

page 12 note 1 Necessarily a rare case: for the positive precepts, e.g. “Honour your parents,” hardly ever prescribe, and seldom even necessitate, any particular action.

page 17 note 1 If he thinks it in the concrete situation, he is of course merely a normally tempted human being. In discussion when this paper was read, as was perhaps to be expected, this case was produced: a government is required to have an innocent man tried, sentenced and executed under threat of a “hydrogen bomb war.” It would seem strange to me to have much hope of so averting a war threatened by such men as made this demand. But the most important thing about the way in which cases like this are invented in discussions, is the assumption that only two courses are open: here, compliance and open defiance. No one can say in advance of such a situation what the possibilities arc going to be—e.g. that there is none of stalling by a feigned willingness to comply, accompanied by a skilfully arranged “escape” of the victim.

page 19 note 1 Ethics, p. 308.

1 This paper was originally read to the Voltaire Society in Oxford.

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