Table of Contents
This reading list has been designed specifically to introduce undergraduates to the work of the Wartime quartet. It contains selected extracts from various texts, introductory readings and audio recordings alongside questions to accompany each extract, reading or audio recording. It has been written and put together by former members of In Parenthesis reading groups with the intention of inspiring future generations of IP reading groups to continue exploring the work of these wonderful women. With this in mind, we have each selected our favourite texts from the quartet and put together accompanying questions for them; we have for the most part only recommended extracts – as opposed to full texts – for this reading list as we are aware that the undergraduate workload can make it difficult to engage in reading groups such as this one. We very much hope that the addition of extracts does something to offset this and our questions function as a useful tool to facilitate your own discussions around the work of the quartet.
This reading list will be best utilised if the texts contained within it are followed week by week in the order that they are presented as the texts and extracts get progressively more complex as the weeks go by. The reading list begins and ends with work by Clare MacCumhail and Rachael Wiseman – an interview discussion in the beginning and the transcription of a talk at the end – which tackle the subject of these women as a unified philosophical school; they have been strategically placed at the beginning and end of this list in order to ensure that participants of the reading group are reading and engaging with each text with an eye to the bigger picture of the quartet’s unified philosophy. It is strongly recommended – even if participants wish to dip in and out of the other readings on this list – that these two pieces provide the introduction and the conclusion to the reading group.
In addition to this, the women are also presented as individual philosophers within this list. The list of extracts and accompanying questions begin firstly with an exploration of Mary Midgley’s work; specifically, her discussions of philosophical pluming, ‘Beastliness’ and Gaia; before moving on to the work of Philippa Foot. Chapter 1 of Foot’s Natural Goodness appears twice during this list, the first appearance deals exclusively with a small extract and the following entry deals with the chapter as a whole. Readers can either choose to do one or the other, however it is recommended that readers do both as the accompanying questions provide very different discussion topics. If both are read together, it is recommended that the general questions – which pertain to the whole chapter – are looked at after the more specific questions. Following this, an extract from Foot’s A Philosopher’s defence of Morality is presented before transitioning into the work of Iris Murdoch. We provide accompanying questions for two chapters taken from Existentialists and Mystics including ‘Against Dryness’ and ‘The Darkness of Practical Reason’. This list closes with an exploration of the work of Elizabeth Anscombe; beginning with an extract taken from her seminal text Modern Moral Philosophy, then moving on to an extract from Thought and Action in Aristotle and closing with a presentation of her work on the First Person.
We all very much hope that you will get as much enjoyment out of using this list as we did putting it together.
Annie, Amber, Sasha and Ellie
Introductory Interview Questions
Interview with Rachael Wiseman and Clare MacCumhail discussing the quartet.
Available here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0000r9b
Questions by Annie McCallion
- Do you think Mary Midgley, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe and Iris Murdoch would have become a philosophical school if the men at Oxford had not gone off to war?
- How different, if at all, do you think your own philosophical educations would have been if the men of today were at war?
- Do you think you would be more or less inclined to pursue philosophy as a career after your degree (or become a member of your own philosophical school)?
- To what extent, if at all, do you think the task of the philosopher is distinct from that of the scientist?
- Is the separation between philosophy and science an important one? If so, why? If not why not?
- “Man is a creature who creates pictures of himself then comes to resemble those pictures”: What pictures do you think are prominent within our contemporary culture and in what way do you think we resemble them?
- Do you think consequentialist moral reasoning corrupts us?
- How prominent do you think the picture of the philosopher as an enlightenment hero is today? To what extent has this influenced the way you have been taught to approach philosophy?
- What does doing philosophy collaboratively mean to you?
- What are some practical ways in which we could create a collaborative environment within this reading group?
(1992) Volume 33 September 1992 , pp. 139-151
By Ellie Robson
What do you make of Midgley’s analogy between plumbing and philosophy? Is it centrally a methodological comparison that she is trying to make?
- Why you think the analytic philosopher would describe the philosophical plumber as ‘undignified’
- Midgley claims ‘when trouble arises, specialized skill is needed if there is to be any hope of locating it and putting it right.’ (139) Do conceptual problems need professional/trained philosophers, just like plumbing needs trained plumbers?
- What does Midgley suggest is the key role of (philosophical) creativity, (or ‘the poet’) in the myth of philosophical plumbing?
- (Hint.) Consider the claim that ‘these new suggestions usually come in part from sages who are not full-time philosophers, notably from poetry and the other arts. Shelley was indeed right to say that poets are among the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. They can show us the new vision.’ (140)
- ‘Great philosophers, then, need a combination of gifts that is extremely rare. They must be lawyers as well as poets. (141)
- Do you think the roles of the ‘lawyer’ and ‘the poet’ may be combined to make the philosophical plumber? What traits does Midgley suggest we ought to take from both?
- Midgley claims ‘philosophising is not just grand and elegant and difficult but is also needed. It is not optional’ (139). And ‘It can spoil the lives even of people with little interest in thinking, and its pressure can be vaguely felt by anyone who tries to think at all. (140).
- To what extent do you think human beings are naturally philosophical beings?
- Do you think philosophy and human life are necessarily/inherently intertwined with one another?
- Do you think an overly ‘lawyerly’ approach to philosophy is combative? And if so, is this approach to philosophy is counterproductive to philosophical progress?
- Can you think of any examples of large-scale issues that have begun to work badly, resulting in a blockage in our thinking?
- (Hint.) Think of some contemporary problems. What about dualisms of sexuality and its effects on transgender individuals?
- ‘The specialized scientists who claim that nothing counts as ‘science’ except the negative results of control-experiments performed inside laboratories, and the specialized historians who insist that only value-free, non-interpreted bits of information can count as history.’ (141)
- Can you think of any examples of these kind of thinkers?
- What do you think of the broader analogy between water and thought that runs throughout this paper?
- (Hint.) Consider the quote ‘The conceptual schemes used in every study are not stagnant ponds; they are streams that are fed from our everyday thinking, are altered by the learned, and eventually flow back into it and influence our lives.’ (141). And ‘Useful and familiar though water is, it is not really tame stuff. It is life-giving and it is wild.’ (149)
The Concept of Beastliness
From p113 “The general point…” to p122 “…in fact, invariably wicked”
By Sasha Lawson-Frost
- Why does Midgley bring up examples from ethology in discussing the concept of beastliness? What is she trying to show?
- Why is it significant for Midgley that “most cosmogonies postulate strife in Heaven, and bloodshed is taken for granted as much in the Book of Judges as in the Iliad or the Sagas” (p115)? Is she right in taking this to be saying something important about human nature?
- Do you think Midgley is right that “man has always been unwilling to admit his own ferocity, and has tried to deflect attention from it by making animals out more ferocious than they are”(p117)? Do you think you’re willing to admit your own ferocity?
- Why would it be more natural to say “the beast within us gives us partial order; the business of conceptual thought will only be to complete it” (p118)?
- What does Midgley mean by the “pre-rational”? Is this a concept which other philosophers/thinkers use as well? (p119)
- Why is it significant for Midgley that the Gods are used as “scapegoats” in the Iliad (p120)? Is she right in taking this to be saying something important about human nature?
Individualism and the Concept of Gaia
Chapter 17 (p171-179) of Science and Poetry by Mary Midgley
By Amber Donovan
- What do you think about Midgley’s writing style – in particular her use of metaphor and general emotive language?
- What do you think is meant by a ‘conceptual emergency’ and do you think the ‘right idea’ is all we need in the way of a cure for such things?
- Do you agree with Midgley’s characterisation of our current situation (with respect to climate change) as a ‘conceptual emergency’? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Midgley says that science is not ‘an inert store of neutral facts’? In light of this, do you agree that the moral implications of scientific theories must be considered when we are deciding what to accept as true?
- Why do you think Midgley says that we need Gaia in our social and personal thinking? Do you agree and can you see how this idea could/would influence these spheres?
- How and why do you think science and imagination do/can/should fit together (if at all)?
- Midgley contends that our moral, psychological and political ideas have been ‘armed against holism’. Have they? Do you think more holistic thinking is key and if so, what do you think this would look like?
- Do you think adopting the Gaian framework alone would be sufficient to achieve more holistic thinking – especially within academia – or do we need more than this?
- What do you make of Midgley’s aquarium metaphor?
- Why does Midgley think there can be no grand unifying theory of everything? Do you agree?
- Do you think that Gaia is intended to be a grand unifying theory of everything or is a set of windows looking in on the aquarium?
‘A Fresh Start?’
An extract (p9-19) from Chapter 1 of Natural Goodness by Philippa Foot
From p9 ‘It was not, however…’ to p19 ‘…leaves room for this last’
By Amber Donovan
- Why does Foot think that previous philosophers have made a ‘mistake in strategy’ by giving rationality primacy over morality? Do you agree?
- Do these strategic/methodological difference provide sufficient grounds for Foot’s approach to be considered a different paradigm within moral philosophy?
- How do you think evolution can shed light on Foot’s ‘strategic decision’ to put morality before rationality?
- Do you think the virtues are Aristotelean necessities?
- Why do you think it is important for Foot that practical rationality is something found specifically in human beings and not just rational beings? Do you agree with this?
- Do you agree with Foot that the evaluation of human behaviour should follow a similar conceptual structure to animal behaviour? Why or why not? And do you find her characterisation of ‘free-loading’ behaviour as ‘defective’ on these grounds persuasive?
- What do you think are the implications of the fact that, for humans, understanding precedes any reason for action?
- Do you think Foot’s thesis succeeds in being cognitivist whilst still sufficiently accounting for all human action from reasons?
(2001). Natural Goodness, Chapter 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 1-24.
By Ellie Robson
- In her introduction, she states that she is rejecting the non-cognitivisms of her analytic counterparts such as R.M Hare and A.J Ayer.
- In what ways do you think these thinkers make up an analytic school?
- And if they do, how do they differ from Foot’s thought?
- (Hint.) Consider: ‘Meaning was thus to be explained in terms of a speaker’s attitude, intentions, or state of mind’ and ‘thus it seemed that fact, complementary to assertion, had been distinguished from value, complementary to the expression of feeling, attitude, or commitment to action.’ (6)
- What it is for a moral judgement to be action-guiding? Must this be inherently practical?
- (Foot regards the will as operating in action – in the actions we choose.)
- Three types of practical rationality are discussed by Foot. She talks about preconceived ideas of practical rationality such as the view that ‘rationality is the following of ‘perceived self‐interest; alternatively, that it is the pursuit, careful and cognizant, of the maximum satisfaction of present desires’ (13)
- Foot claims we must not think in this preconceived manner – and that a composite conception of practical rationality arises by looking at certain action in humans.
- What do you think of this idea?
- This appears to be a methodological point – do you think it is representative of a wider difference between traditional analytic philosophy and Foot’s alternative approach?
- An implication of Foot’s theory is that the traditional distinction between the moral and the non-moral must disappear. What difference does it make if we remove the distinction between the moral and the non-moral?
- Foot suggests that ‘Life will be at the centre of my discussion, and the fact that a human action or disposition is good of its kind will be taken to be simply a fact about a given feature of a certain kind of living thing.’
- However, she does not go into our human treatment of nonanimals, is this a mere oversight of her theory? Or do you think she retains an austere/narrowly human approach towards the animate world?
- (Hint.) consider: ‘the fact that moral action is rational action, and in the fact that human beings are creatures with the power to recognize reasons for action and to act on them. (24) – does this make the moral action exclusively human action?
- ‘These ‘Aristotelian necessities’ depend on what the particular species of plants and animals need, on their natural habitat, and the ways of making out that are in their repertoire. These things together determine what it is for members of a particular species to be as they should be, and to do that which they should do. (15)
- To what extent/how does this imply a union of fact and value?
- Does the precept of something ‘living’ provide a good ground for this union?
A Philosopher’s Defence of Morality
By Annie McCallion
- What does Foot mean when she states that any supposed correlation between philosophical theories that ‘disprove’ morality and people’s lack of regard for it would be a concern for the psychologist and not the philosopher?
- What is Foot’s main objective in this piece?
- On page 314, Foot writes, “In any case, if ethical terms were tied down in some way to particular moral codes this would mean that the moral philosopher should invent his own terms, for he is not concerned with any one set of values, but with moral valuation in general, and it is extremely inconvenient to have to talk about part of the function of an existing word”. What do you think she means by this? And do you agree with this sentiment?
- What other areas of philosophy – if any – do you think a similar recommendation (as Foot’s one above) could be applied to?
- (314-5) Foot suggests that if it were the case that the terms ‘right’ and ‘good’ were only applicable to a particular code – or had been entirely appropriated by a cultural majority – any moral reformer would surely have to go about convincing people of their intentions in a “roundabout way”. What does she mean to show with this example? Do you think that this analogy succeeds in demonstrating what she wants it to?
- At the end of page 315 Foot draws out a distinction between application of moral judgements from the “situation which determined the meaning of the terms”. Do you understand what she means by this? If so, why does she draw out this distinction?
- On page 316, Foot suggests that there is no “obvious” reason as to why disagreement regarding moral judgements should impact upon the perceived validity of those judgements. How does she argue for this and are you persuaded by her argument here?
- On page 317, Foot maintains that the objectivist may feel as though moral judgements had been relegated to the subjective or relative if the aforementioned doctrines were to be accepted, however she cautions that “here we begin to feel confused, and must ask what would be meant by such expressions”. What does she mean by this?
- Do you agree with Foot that the moral subjectivist combines the appearance of “daring” with the appearance of “respectability”?
- What stood out to you most about this article?
- What do you make of Foot’s writing style during this piece? Does it remind you of any other philosophers’? If so, who?
By Sasha Lawson-Frost
- Murdoch describes how, on the existentialist and Humean pictures, “the only real virtue is sincerity” (p17). Why does Murdoch think this is insufficient? What does it leave out?
- What reasons might Murdoch have in mind when she says “there should have been a revolt against utilitarianism; but for many reasons it has not taken place” (p18)?
- Has there been a revolt against utilitarianism since 1961?
- Why is Murdoch talking about politics in an essay about literature?
- What does Murdoch mean by “a general loss of concepts” (p18)? (are we losing our concepts?)
- Can you think of any 20th Century authors which would escape Murdoch’s criticisms of 20th Century literature? (p18-19)
- What is the difference between fantasy and imagination in Murdoch’s vocab?
- What does Murdoch mean by “the other-centred concept of truth” (p20)?
- Do you think Murdoch is right that modern literature contains “few convincing pictures of evil” (p20)? What examples of literature do show us convincing pictures of evil?
- What is the significance of this paper being described “a polemical sketch”?
The Darkness of Practical Reason
Existentialists and Mystics: 193-202
By Annie McCallion
- Do you think there is anything to be said in favour of Hampshire’s view here that Murdoch may have missed or given insufficient treatment to?
- (193) Murdoch writes of Hampshire’s view “We do not discover our thought-dependent desires inductively (by observation) we formulate them in light of our beliefs”. What is meant by this?
- How is the term ‘belief’ in the above quotation being utilised and do you agree with this definition of it?
- (194) “A man is free in so far as he is able to ‘step back’ from his data, including his own mind, and so to achieve what he intends” In what ways do you agree and disagree with this statement?
- What do you make of Hampshire’s distinction between the passive and the active mind? Do you agree with Murdoch that this is a troubling distinction?
- (196) “Science deals with the passive mind, and increases in scientific knowledge can be dominated by the agent’s ‘stepping back’ to review the situation. “ What is meant by this? Do you agree?
- (198) Why does Murdoch insist that the imagination is “awkward” for Hampshire’s theory?
- Do you agree with Murdoch on this?
- (199) “The world which we confront is not just a world of ‘facts’ but a world upon which our imagination has, at any given moment, already worked …” What does Murdoch mean by this?
- (199) “To be a human is to know more than one can prove, to conceive of a reality which goes ‘beyond the facts’ in these familiar and natural ways”. To what extent do you think this quotation brings out an important juxtaposition between human knowledge and what we call ‘proof’? Do you think our conception of ‘proof’ ought to change in light of this?
Modern Moral Philosophy
From pages 1-11
Available here: https://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf
By Annie McCallion
- What are the three theses that Anscombe sets out to expound in Modern Moral Philosophy? Which of these is most striking to you?
- Which parts of the abstract did you struggle most to read or understand? Why do you think that is the case?
- Anscombe mentions that there are striking differences between the ethics of Aristotle and modern moral philosophy; what do you think is the most striking difference between the two?
- Anscombe writes of Kant: “His own rigoristic convictions about lying were so intense that it never occurred to him that a lie could be described as anything but just a lie (e.g. as a lie in such and such circumstances)”. What do you think she means by this? Do you agree with the thought here?
- Borrowing from Wittgenstein’s discussion of meaning, Anscombe writes of pleasure, “pleasure cannot be an internal impression, for no internal impression could have the consequences of pleasure”. Firstly, what do you take Wittgenstein to have meant by this observation about meaning? Secondly, what do you think Anscombe is trying to suggest about pleasure in light of this?
- How does this differ from Bentham and Mill’s understanding of pleasure?
- What is a “brute” fact? Can you think of your own examples of brute facts – relative to descriptions of everyday situations?
- Why do you think Anscombe suggests – on page 4 – that an account of “what type of characteristic a virtue is” is not a problem for ethics but instead for conceptual analysis? Do you agree with her on this?
- What does Anscombe suggest is the legacy of Christian thought evidenced in modern moral philosophy? Why is this problematic in contemporary contexts?
- Do you think there ought to be a distinction between foreseen and intended consequences of an action as far as moral responsibility is concerned?
‘Thought and Action in Aristotle: What is ‘Practical Truth’?’
P143 (beginning) to p148“…the thing to do!”
By Sasha Lawson-Frost
- What is the difference between a general object of deliberation and a particular purpose in deliberation?
- What is the difference Anscombe draws between one’s will and one’s desire on p144?
- Anscombe says her presentation of the relation between choice and deliberation “must not lead us to think that matter for a ‘choice’ has only been reached when there is no more room for deliberation of any kind” (p145). Why might her argument initially make us think this?
- How does Anscombe avoid this possible implication?
- What does Anscombe mean when she says that, for Aristotle, no choice is purely technical (p146)?
- What is the difference between the uncontrolled and the licentious man as she outlines in the last paragraph of p146?
- Is it better to be uncontrolled or licentious?
- Does Anscombe’s treatment of Aristotle’s account of deliberation here have any connections to ideas in her own philosophy that you might have come across?
- How is Anscombe’s treatment of Aristotle here similar to, or different from, her treatment of other historical philosophers? (For instance, in Modern Moral Philosophy?)
‘The First Person’
Chapter 2 of The Philosophy of Mind by Elizabeth Anscombe
From p21 (beginning) to p25 (end) and p30 from ‘…It seems, then’ (near the bottom) to p36 (end)
By Amber Donovan
- How does Anscombe’s thought experiment with ‘A-users’ show why ‘I’ is more than a special sort of name for oneself (as A is)?
- Do you agree that one difference between A-use and I-use is that true ‘self-consciousness’ is manifested by the latter and not the former as only with the latter do you self-consciously self-refer? Why or why not?
- Why does Anscombe think that approaching the problem of self-consciousness by assuming that the ‘self’ is the thing to which ‘I’ refers and of which we are conscious is ‘blown up out of a misconstrue of the reflexive pronoun’ (myself)? Do you agree?
- Do you agree that if ‘I’ were to refer to anything it would be a Cartesian ego or do you think the identification problem makes Russell’s ‘many selves’ the better referent?
- What peculiarities does Anscombe show to arise when we take ‘I’ to be a referring expression? Do you find these persuasive enough to abandon the notion of a referring ‘I’?
- According to Anscombe, I-propositions are never propositions of identity (though they may be connected with them). Thus, the pragmatic function of these propositions is not (simply) to identify one thing with another. Given this, what does Anscombe think their pragmatic function is? (particularly in light of the Baldy example) Do you agree?
- Anscombe says that nothing shows me ‘which body verifies that ‘I am standing up’’ and also that in a sensory deprivation tank I may entertain the thought that ‘there is nothing that I am’. What does this reveal about her understanding of ‘I’ and its relationship to the phenomenon of self-consciousness?
- Do you think ‘I’ is a pragmatic/linguistic manifestation of self-consciousness or that self-consciousness emerges through our being trained to self-consciously self-refer (e.g. use ‘I’)? (or neither/a combination of the two) Why?
- What (if anything) do you think I-use in particular allows us to both do and make explicit to others that we are doing?
- If you think I-use does allow us to do something unique to it, do you think this is a sufficient explanation for its misleading grammar (which gives the appearance of its being a referring expression) or do you think this unique ability must be the product of its having some equally unique referent? Why?
A Female School of Analytic Philosophy?
Anscombe, Foot, Midgley and Murdoch
By Clare MacCumhaill and Rachael Wiseman
Reading available here: https://www.womeninparenthesis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/PENN-trip-blog-post-script.pdf
Questions by Annie McCallion
- After having read and thought about some aspects of their collective corpus yourselves, what do you think most prominently unifies the work of the quartet?
- Is this theoretical unity more or less significant – do you think – when it comes to establishing them as a philosophical school than the historical-biographical connections between the four?
- What is metaphysics? And why was Ayer so keen to diminish it?
- In your opinions, is the philosopher apt to make substantive ethical contributions beyond merely the clarification of ethical language? If so, how important is that they do this?
- Why might we be inclined to criticise Ayer’s categorisation of ‘value-free’ language from the ‘emotive’? Can you utilise anything you’ve read in this reading group to critique this?
- In what ways did each member of the quartet respond to the Oxford moral Philosophy of their time?
- From what you have read of their work thus far, how prominent do you think Wittgenstein’s influence was over each member of the quartet?
- How did the quartet utilise language as a means of addressing the Aristotelian question, how should I live?
- Which of the six false opinions – from Anscombe’s unpublished paper – listed on pages 12-13 do you think have been most prevalent in your own philosophy syllabuses?
- The women of the quartet rejected the ‘imagery’ of the human which came along with the Oxford moral philosophy of their time; what imagery of the human do you think emerges out of what you have been taught during your philosophy degrees thus far?
- What image or picture of human life do you think emerges out of the philosophy from the quartet?