Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"A lot of things happened."

Candace Vogler's autobiographical essay is remarkable, and not only for the horrors she recounts having been done to her (and others). I hesitate to say anything critical given this context, but along the way she says this:
I had started reading work by G.E.M. Anscombe in graduate school. I loved Intention. It seemed likely that there was a ghost writer at work in that slender volume, and it seemed clear that it wasn’t Aristotle. I knew that Anscombe was a devout Catholic, a convert, so I suspected that the ghost author could be Aquinas.
Exactly what "there was a ghost writer at work in" Anscombe's book means is hard to say: it could mean that only a few parts were 'ghost-written', or that it all was. But I think this is a bad way to approach Anscombe's work. No doubt she was influenced by Aquinas, as she was by Wittgenstein and Aristotle (whom she openly talks about). It is, nevertheless, her work, the product of very difficult and careful thinking. And she deserves full credit for it. (I don't think Vogler would deny this at all, but inviting the inference is a danger inherent in what she says here. And she's not the only Anscombe scholar who makes remarks like this.)


  1. Yeah, I've never understood the people who make this move; simply reading Anscombe next to Aristotle/Aquinas/Wittgenstein shows how deeply different they are (at least at the level of exposition and argument, which is the whole ballgame in philosophy!).

    It's especially creepy in Anscombe's case because she's a woman who published in a man's world; I know I've heard stories about women who were grad students in the 70s who didn't have their publication record taken seriously because it was assumed that their (male) adviser had ghostwritten their journal articles. (One story I know of involves their department passing over the grad student for a fellowship because it was assumed the research she used to apply for it was fraudulent in this way!)

    1. That's an awful story, but sadly believable.

    2. The things you hear from older women philosophers are a veritable festival of sad believability. Speaking of journal articles, one of these women once told me a similar but even worse (eyewitness) anecdote about the sometime editor of one of the top three analytic philosophy journals that, if publicised, would have instantly ended his career in many other professions. And this was later, late '80s/early '90s or so...

  2. I don't think "the level of exposition and argument" is "the whole ballgame in philosophy", and I don't think that Wittgenstein thought so either. A Culture and Value remark from 1931:

    "If it is said on occasion that (someone's) philosophy is a matter of temperament, there is some truth in this. A preference for certain comparisons is something we call a matter of temperament & far more disagreements rest on this than appears at first sight." (Variant: "... could be called a matter of temperament & a much larger proportion of disagreements rest on this than may appear.")

    Unless, of course, the use of the "certain comparisons" is put under the umbrella of "exposition". But I associate this remark with one in the Big Typescript (§90), which does not recur in later manuscripts, but which I don't think he would have disowned either:

    "Human beings are deeply imbedded in philosophical, i.e. grammatical, confusions. And freeing them from these presupposes extricating them from the immensely diverse associations they are caught up in. One must, as it were, regroup their entire language. – But of course this language developed //originated// as it did because human beings had – and have – the tendency to think in this way. Therefore extricating them only works with those who live in an instinctive state of dissatisfaction with //live in an instinctive state of rebellion against// language. Not with those who, following all of their instincts, live within the very herd that has created this language as its proper expression."

    This seems to suggest not only that philosophy is a matter of temperament, but also that if philosophy is viewed as therapy, there are many patients for whom the therapy will be hopeless due to their unfortunate temperament getting in the way.

  3. Yeah, I changed "most of the ballgame" to "the whole" just because it read better for a short comment. But I do think "exposition" is broad enough to cover most of my ass, in this case.