6.11.2010

Anscombe

G. E. M. Anscombe famously held that there are some positions in ethics that are so odious that in many cases the proper way to respond to someone who holds them is, not to discuss his error with him, but rather to refuse to discuss it. Her example was someone who proposes, in all seriousness, to kill an innocent person for the sake of some allegedly greater good. In Anscombe’s view, the person who makes such a proposal manifests a “corrupt mind,” even if he is sincerely open to debating its merits; we might even say that his corruption is all the greater precisely because he sincerely wants to debate it. One way to understand the reasoning behind her view is in terms of the Aristotelian idea that moral understanding is more a matter of having the right sensibilities and dispositions than it is the having of a correct theoretical understanding. Indeed, it is on this view difficult for someone even to have a correct theoretical understanding in the first place if he does not to some extent already have the right traits of character. This seems to me an eminently conservative view to take, insofar as it reflects the insight that much of our knowledge is tacit rather than articulate, embodied in habit and tradition rather than in the explicitly formulated propositions of a philosophical theory. It is a paradigmatically anti-rationalistic conception of ethics (which, of course, does not mean that it is anti-reason).
Feser on Anscombe.

Some propositions are so odious the correct response is to refuse to discuss them! A great truth.

1 comment:

CMinor said...

I will have to remember this. And congrats on the new little one!