Thursday 8th June | 12 – 1:30pm | St Aidan’s College, Shincliffe Room
Chair: Evgenia Mylonaki
with John Hacker-Wright and Gary Jones
Introduction to Action
The Action panel comprises two papers about action as conceived by two of the leading figures of the quartet: Philippa Foot and Elizabeth Anscombe. John Hacker Wright’s paper is entitled “Foot and Wittgenstein on the Will” and it offers an interpretation of Philippa Foot’s conception of the will in line with a Wittgensteinian return to human life and its rough ground and in contrast to the abstract Kantian notion of the will. Gary Jone’s paper is entitled “An Anscombean Perspective on so-called ‘Deviant Causal Chains’” and it attempts to give an Anscombean perspective on the problem of deviant causal chains that causal theories of action famously face.
Foot and Wittgenstein on the Will
Philippa Foot’s ethical naturalism focuses emphatically on the evaluation of the will, but what does she mean by will? In this paper, I argue that Foot’s views on the will are best understood through considering Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will. In the Philosophical Investigations, we find an attack on views of the will informed by a “grammatical fiction” that we can identify an inner object designated by the term “will.” This in turn gives rise to the idea of the will as an “extensionless point” that is at our command “without inertia.” In its place, Wittgenstein suggests that the will needs to be understood in the context of human life and language, as part of our description of competent human adults who typically know what they are doing. Foot takes up this approach from Wittgenstein to argue that views that the evaluation of the human will depends on “essential features of specifically human life,” rejecting the abstract Kantian notion of the rational will.
An Anscombean Perspective on so-called ‘Deviant Causal Chains’
A very popular and highly influential theory of human action, the Causal Theory of Action, has been plagued by the problem of ‘deviant causal chains’. Solving the problem of deviant causal chains has been said to be at the cutting edge of the attempt to rebut a historically and currently influential source of scepticism about the place of persons in nature. Elizabeth Anscombe makes remarks which suggest it is a philosophical error to even try to solve this alleged problem. I will attempt to support these remarks by explaining how they flow naturally from her view of action as a very special category of event, and from her views on the nature of causality, specifically her views that there are many types of causes and that the concept of cause itself is a highly abstract categorical notion.
I am assistant professor at the University of Patras, Greece. I earned my PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. My work is in ethics and the philosophy of action. I have a special interest in the philosophies of Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot. I am the co-editor of the book Reason in Nature (HUP, 2022) and I am currently writing a book entitled “Moral Growth; A Study of Ethics in Transformative Experience”.
John Hacker-Wright is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph. His areas of interest include ancient philosophy, moral psychology, and metaethics. He is author of Philippa Foot’s Moral Thought (Bloomsbury, 2013), Philippa Foot’s Metaethics (Cambridge, 2021), and editor of Philippa Foot on Goodness and Virtue (Palgrave, 2018).
I am an MPhil student at the University of Liverpool, writing my thesis on Elizabeth Anscombe’s work on causality, under the supervision of Rachael Wiseman. My main areas of interest are: the philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe, the metaphysics of causality, direct reference and the causal theory of names, and the semantics of belief ascription, which was the subject of my earlier PhD.