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Intention in Action

The Philosophy of G. E. M. Anscombe


Pathiaraj Rayappan

G. E. M. Anscombe was one of the important philosophers of the twentieth century. Her most famous works are Intention and Modern Moral Philosophy and have given origin to the new branch called Philosophy of Action and have been an impetus for the revival of Virtue Ethics. This book studies G. E. M. Anscombe’s evaluation of moral theories and moral actions based on her findings in Philosophical Psychology. The author argues that a moral evaluation solely from the point of view of intention is insufficient and looks for a way in which this insufficiency can be overcome. Taking inspiration from Martin Rhonheimer, he finds a way to overcome this insufficiency through concepts such as the moral object, the anthropological truth of man and the practical reason, which are other essential elements to be considered in moral evaluation in addition to intention.


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Chapter One Intention in Moral Philosophy 19


19 Chapter One Intention in Moral Philosophy Intention has always been considered an important element in the moral evaluation of one’s actions. In this chapter, we shall see how intention in action was discussed in the history of philosophy. And we shall do this in reference to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Our choice of Aristotle is guided by G. E. M. Ancombe’s invitation to return to his virtue ethics as a viable way of doing secular ethics. And our choice of St. Thomas is guided by the fact that his philosophy is a development on Aristotle and also by the fact that his philosophy can be used to complete what is lacking in Anscombe’s treatment of intentional ac- tion, as we shall see later. 1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Nicomachean Ethics1 is an important contribution of Aristotle to the field of Ethics. It has a detailed treatment of human actions, which is related to the discussion of intentional action, the focus of this research. Given this orientation, in what follows, I shall analyse only those sec- tions of Nicomachean Ethics that pertain strictly to the topic of inten- tional action. Nicomachean Ethics has the following structure. It is divided into ten books.2 They deal with the following: Book I: The good for man; 1 It is not his only contribution to ethics. There are other works such as Eudemian Ethics, Moralia Magna and Virtues and Vices, authenticity of some of which are disputed. Nicomachean Ethics takes its name from Nicomachus,...

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