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Anscombe, G. Elizabeth M., and . Modern Moral Philosophy

1958, Philosophy 33(124): 1-19.

Abstract: 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.

Comment: Classic text which raises key problems for any theory of moral obligation. Very short, although also very dense. Could be a core reading, or a futher reading to provide important background.

Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret, and . Action, Intention and ‘Double Effect’

2005, In Geach, M., Gormally, L. (eds.), Human Life, Action and Ethics. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Introduction: It is customary in the dominant English and related schools of philosophy to restrict the terms “action” or “agency.” That is, when the topic is ‘philosophy of action’. This is often done by an appeal to intuition about a few examples. If I fall over, you wouldn’t usually call that an action on my part; it’s not something that I do, it is rather something that happens to me. Donald Davidson has made a more serious attempt than this at explaining a restriction on the term “action,” or what he means by “agency.” “Intentional action” is an insufficient designation for him: it determines no class of events, because an action which is intentional under one description may not be intentional under another. And anyway there are unintentional actions, which he doesn’t want to say are not actions in the restricted sense in which he wants to apply the term. So he suggests that we have an action (in the restricted sense) if what is done (no restriction on the ordinary sense here) is intentional under some description. This allows pouring out coffee when I meant to pour out tea to be an action, being intentional under the description “pouring out liquid from this pot.” I fear, however, that it may allow tripping over the edge of the carpet to be an action too, if every part of an intentional progress across the room is intentional under that description. But Davidson doesn’t want to count tripping as an action. If this is right, then his account is wrong because it lets in what he wants to exclude. Furthermore, I don’t think it comprises omissions, which are often actions.

Comment: Useful in teaching about the doctrine of double effect in general, and about its application to ethical issues at the end of life in particular. Contains a good discussion of the difference between action and omission, which is useful in teaching about killing and letting die.

Foot, Philippa, and . The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect

1967, Oxford Review 5:5-15, reprinted in Virtues and vices. Oxford: Blackwell.

Comment: The text introduces some crucial distinctions, discussing the difference between 'doing' and 'allowing to happen' and the related negative and positive duties. Foot argues that what matters in the Doctrine is not the directness of the actor's intention, but whether they intend to follow a negative or positive duty. This paper is most useful in teaching on the ethics of abortion and euthanasia, as well as the doctrine of double effect in general.