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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Anscombe on Justice, Sex and War

Alice C. Linsley

Elizabeth Anscombe (G.E.M. Anscombe)

G. E. M. Anscombe (1919 – 5 January 2001 ) was born Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe. She was an Irish-born British analytic philosopher. She was a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein while at Cambridge. She became an authority on his work, and after his death in 1951 became one of his literary executors. Among her early contributions to philosophy were publications of Wittgenstein's unpublished writings, including An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus and hisPhilosophical Investigations.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. It refocused attention on the role of reasons and human reasoning in decision making, choices and actions. A year later, her paper "Modern Moral Philosophy" offered a critique of dominant academic approaches to philosophical ethics that stimulated renewed interest among philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre in the ancient idea of "virtue."

In 1970, Anscombe was appointed to the professorial chair in Cambridge that had been held by Wittgenstein.

Anscombe was a devout Roman Catholic who denounced the use of unnatural methods of birth control. She and her philosopher husband Peter Geach had seven children. Her devotion to the Church and her Christian faith were profound. She wrote a remarkable pamphlet for use in teaching children the meaning of the Eucharist.

Anscombe assumes that the world is a place where the reasoning individual can be assured that concepts of justice, good, and moral obligation have meaning. She counters Heidegger’s “nothing” with a binary opposite – something, and this something potentially relieves anxiety. The logic of her argument is that when we feel the anxiety of injustice (which is negating) we should perform justice. Justice then is not a state of affairs, but a practical virtue of a good person. It is perhaps the derived virtue of being made in the image of a Good God.

In this view of justice, Anscombe replies also to Leibniz’ criticism of traditional conceptions of God as good. Leibniz wrote: “It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things, as do numbers and proportions (Reflections of The Common Concept of Justice). Anscombe’s argument is that humanity’s anxiety about death and negating injustice can only be there because humanity knows the Good. Her argument is the reverse of Heraclitus’ (540-480 BC) who said “If it were not for injustice, men would not know justice.” Essentially, Anscombe is saying that the rational study of Man as subject leads logically to the conclusion that were it not for justice, humans would not know injustice.

Anscombe quotes:

"Those who try to make room for sex as mere casual enjoyment pay the penalty: they become shallow. They dishonour their own bodies; holding cheap what is naturally connected with the origination of human life." (From here: Those who try to make room for sex as mere…)

"God gave us our physical appetite, and its arousal without our calculation is part of the working of our sort of life."

"Principles that are mistakenly high and strict are a trap; they may easily lead in the end directly or indirectly to the justification of monstrous things. Thus if the evangelical counsel about poverty were turned into a precept forbidding property owning, people would pay lip service to it as the ideal, while in practice they went in for swindling. “Absolute honesty!” it would be said: “I can respect that – but of course that means having no property; and while I respect those who follow that course, I have to compromise with the sordid world myself.” If then one must “compromise with evil” by owning property and engaging in trade then the amount of swindling one does will depend on convenience. This imaginary case is paralleled by what is so commonly said: absolute pacifism is an ideal; unable to follow that, and committed to “compromise with evil,” one must go whole hog and wage war a outrance….

[P]acifism teaches people to make no distinction between the shedding of innocent blood and the shedding of any human blood. And in this way pacifism has corrupted enormous numbers of people who will not act according to its tenets. They become convinced that a number of things are wicked which are not; hence, seeing no way of avoiding “wickedness,” they set no limits to it. How endlessly pacifists argue that all war must be a outrance! that those who wage war must go as far as technological advance permits in the destruction of the enemy’s people. As if the Napoleonic wars were perforce fuller of massacres than the French war of Henry V of England. It is not true: the reverse took place… Pacifism and the respect for pacifism is not the only thing that has led to a universal forgetfulness of the law against killing the innocent; but it has had a great share in it."
(War and Murder)

Related reading: Elizabeth Anscombe

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