Thursday, April 11, 2019

Me vs Jimmy Doyle

In his No Morality, No Self, Jimmy Doyle disagrees with me in a couple of places:

That's from p. 206. The following is note 14 from pp. 207-208:
Richter concurs: "Anscombe would agree [with Baier and, he implies, with Richter] that confusion arises precisely when the moral is confused with legal notions of duty, obligation and the rest (not when morality is coherently conceived on the, for example, divine law model)" (1995, 74; my emphasis). Richter also quotes Winch, in his unpublished paper, attributing to Anscombe the suggestion that "there is something unintelligible about a moral modality which lacks external (e.g., Christian or Aristotelian) justification" (Winch, 10, quoted in Richter 1995, 75n27; my emphasis); the clear implication is that a moral modality equipped with such a justification would be intelligible.
One quick point to make is that Winch's paper ("Professor Anscombe's Moral Philosophy") is no longer unpublished. It came out in 1997 in Commonality and Particularity in Ethics, pp. 177-196, edited by Lilli Alanen, Sara Heinämaa, and Thomas Wallgren, in the Swansea Studies in Philosophy series published by Springer. Winch revised his paper in response to criticisms by Lars Hertzberg, so it's possible (I haven't checked yet) that what I say about Winch's paper is no longer true, or is less true, of the revised, published version. 

Another quick point, in response to the second quotation, is that the emphasis, which is Doyle's, makes a difference. If Anscombe had said that, "there is something unintelligible about a moral modality which lacks external (e.g., Christian or Aristotelian) justification" then it might be that "the clear implication is that a moral modality equipped with such a justification would be intelligible." But without the emphasis couldn't one infer instead that perhaps the issue is more with modality than morality? Or that a moral modality equipped with such a justification might be intelligible (while one without it is certainly not)?   

But I should look first at the first quotation, and at the passage to which it is a footnote. Here it is, on p. 31:
As Doyle notes, Anscombe says two inconsistent things. In one place she defines a 'law conception' of ethics as requiring a divine legislator, while in another she allows for the possibility of a law conception without a divine legislator. Which should we treat as a mistake? To settle that I'll have to look in much more detail at Doyle's interpretation and what there is to be said in favor of it, although he says that he doesn't want to press the point and suggests that not much depends on it. So perhaps looking into what he says more will make no difference, but I'll have to do the looking first to know either way. 

Anyway, it seems to me now that the fact that Anscombe discusses several possible secular versions of a law conception of ethics shows pretty conclusively that she does allow for this possibility and does not mean to rule it out by definition. Another alternative, perhaps, is that she uses 'law conception' in two different ways, only one of which is defined as involving a divine lawgiver. I'll have to re-read MMP to decide how plausible that seems after further reflection.  


  1. It seems to me that reading Anscombe as "defining" what a law conception of ethics is is a overreading, and that dropping this resolves the issue. That she is not defining a novel or technical term is shown (I think) by the fact that she uses the term before the passage quoted (two paragraphs prior to the one which starts "To have a /law/ conception..." which you've both taken as a definition).

    If to have a law conception of ethics is to equate should/needs/ought/must with obliged/bound/required (as she states in the paragraph before her first usage of "law conception of ethics"), then she can then be claiming in the quoted passage only that *historically* (so far!) this equation made sense because of belief that law is *divine* (which does require believing in a divine lawgiver), and that more recent efforts to make this equation intelligible on some other basis would then reasonably "have some interest". After all, that (historically) this equation has been made intelligible on the basis of the divinity of law doesn't show that this is the only way to manage the trick. So this would avoid saddling her with either a contradiction or a variance in sense in the phrase "law conception of ethics".

    I hope that makes sense, I have to run out to a meeting but wanted to prod at this "definition" talk.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Right now I can't see past reading this as a definition:

    "To have a law conception of ethics is to hold that what is needed for conformity with the virtues failure in which is the mark of being bad qua man (and not merely, say, qua craftsman or logician)—that what is needed for this, is required by divine law. Naturally it is not possible to have such a conception unless you believe in God as a law‑giver; like Jews, Stoics, and Christians."

    But now, a minute or two later, it seems to me that you might be right. After all, she goes on to say this:

    "Those who recognize the origins of the notions of "obligation" and of the emphatic, "moral," ought, in the divine law conception of ethics, but who reject the notion of a divine legislator, sometimes look about for the possibility of retaining a law conception without a divine legislator. This search, I think, has some interest in it."

    The implication, it seems to me, is that the first passage tells us what a law conception of ethics is, while the second talks about what a form of it might be. Which I think agrees with what you're saying.

    It also seems to me now that I might have misread this passage:

    "In present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one; to give such an explanation belongs to ethics; but it cannot even be begun until we are equipped with a sound philosophy of psychology."

    An explanation of how an unjust man is a bad man is not necessarily needed. If we cared enough about justice, say, then we might never ask how or why injustice is bad. But the explanation in question is needed, according to Anscombe, in present-day philosophy. Hence the need for such work as Intention. Because we tend to say things like, "Yes, that would be killing the innocent, but would it be morally wrong?"