Thursday 8th June  | 4:30 – 6pm  | St Aidan’s College, Lindisfarne 1 & 2
Sophie-Grace Chappell
Sophie-Grace Chappell

Open University

The Philosophical Quarterly since 2021. Her books include Aristotle and Augustine on Freedom (Macmillan, 1995), Understanding Human Goods (Edinburgh University Press, 2003), The Inescapable Self: an Introduction to Philosophy (Orion, 2005), Reading Plato’s Theaetetus (Hackett, 2005), Ethics and Experience (Acumen, 2009), Knowing What to Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2014), and Epiphanies: an Ethics of Experience (Oxford University Press, 2022). She is a published poet (Songs For Winter Rain, Ellipsis Imprints 2021) and an active mountaineer, mainly in Scotland. She is currently writing Trans Figured: How to survive as a transgender person in a cisgender world, and A Philosopher Looks At Friendship (for Cambridge University Press). She makes frequent media appearances as an advocate for transgender people.

Anscombe’s Three Theses After Sixty Years: modern moral philosophy, polemic, and “Modern Moral Philosophy”

Anscombe begins her 1958 polemic “Modern Moral Philosophy” (MMP) by presenting three theses: (MMP1) We should stop doing moral philosophy, “at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking”; (MMP2) We ought, “if this is psychologically possible”, to jettison the concepts of moral obligation, moral duty, the morally right, the morally wrong, and the moral ought; and (MMP3) “The differences between the well-known English writers on moral philosophy from Sidgwick to the present day are of little importance.” My question in this essay is how MMP1-3 have held up in the sixty years since Anscombe published “Modern Moral Philosophy”. One upshot will be exegetical: it is MMP3 that bears the main emphasis in MMP. So in this discussion MMP3 will come first, and get the lion’s share of space; I won’t even get to MMP1 and MMP2 till Section VII. Contrary to what is probably the majority reading of MMP (see e.g. Crisp 2004), I see MMP1 and MMP2 as little more than auxiliary theses, and MMP3 as—to echo the essay’s very last sentence—her main complaint.

The main upshot of my inquiry will be an answer to the question how MMP1-3 have held up since 1958. My answer will be that they have held up remarkably well.