Sunday, October 11, 2009

Princeton Students Form Anscombe Society

Students at Princeton University have formed an organization called The Anscombe Society, which, according to the mission statement on its website, is “dedicated to affirming the importance of the family, marriage, and a proper understanding for the role of sex and sexuality.”

Read more here.

Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) was one of the 20th century's most remarkable philosophers. She and her husband Peter Geech were devout Catholics who supported the church's position on contraception and abortion.

Anscombe studied with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and upon his death in 1951 became one of his literary executors. She translated his unpublished writings, preparing them for publication after his death, and she wrote a book entitled An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus.

In 1970, Anscombe was appointed to the chair in Cambridge that had been held by Wittgenstein. Despite her loyalty to her former teacher, Anscombe was not one of Wittgenstein's true disciples. Her great intelligence and originality led her in different directions and to different conclusions.

In 1958, Anscombe produced a paper entitled “Modern Moral Philosophy” in which she offered a critique of prevailing academic approaches to ethics. In this paper she pointed out that while Aristotle had much to say about virtue and vices, he did not think of morality as people do today. Our conception of morality comes from centuries of Christianity, drawing on Jewish law (Torah). The Judeo-Christian conception of moral obligation is based on codified law. From the first century A.D., Greek-speaking converts to Christianity sought to conform to virtues and avoid vices because these were viewed as a requirement of divine law.

Anscombe’s work restored interest in the Aristotelian idea of virtue. Her paper on modern moral philosophy advanced “virtue ethics” in the 20th century. Her influence is seen in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue (1985) and Onora O'Neill’s Towards Justice and Virtue (1996).

It was in the area of moral philosophy that Anscombe countered Heidegger’s bleak existentialism. She argued that since 20th century western society is no longer Christian, the terms “good” and “evil” or “right” and “wrong” are no longer useful. These terms are only meaningful as they are attached to the Judeo-Christian concept of a law-giving Creator God. Anscombe believed that in the post-Christian world most philosophers have become consequentialists, judging a right action by the best possible consequences. She pointed out that consquentialism is incompatible with the Judeo-Christian ethic, since the latter insists that there are some actions that are always forbidden regardless of the consequences. She then proposed a way forward. She recommended discarding the notions of duty and of moral right and wrong in favor of the notions of justice and injustice.

Let us consider Anscombe’s argument. First, she assumes that the world is a place where the reasoning individual can be assured that concepts of justice, good, and moral obligation have meaning. This suggests that Heidegger’s “nothing” which causes us anxiety has 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 her view of justice, Anscombe also replies 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. Anscombe's argument is the reverse of Heraclitus’ (540-480 BC) who said “If it were not for injustice, men would not know justice.” Essentially she is saying that the study of Man leads logically to the conclusion that were it not for justice, humans would not know injustice.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Perhaps these students are sick of the toll they have seen sin taking on their families and friends. Perhaps they have tasted the pure holy joy of the Lord and realize that mere sensual pleasure is a poor substitute.

May the Lord bless and help this to become a movement that spreads across the US and world. May these groups be springs of righteousness and holiness to provide living water and sparkling witness to the freedom, righteousness, peace and joy that comes from living in God's Holy Kingdom."