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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 Four Discussion of Intention after Anscombe 143


143 Chapter Four Discussion of Intention after Anscombe In this chapter our consideration will be certain discussions in the phi- losophy of action, the discussions in which figure prominently the ideas of Anscombe. Her ideas are contested. She is part of the debate. In par- ticular we shall discuss: ‘under a description,’ individuation of action, causation of action and non-observational knowledge. 4.1 ‘Under A Description’ Anscombe had introduced ‘under a description’ as a tool in the philoso- phy of Action.1 We have seen that she uses this concept for demonstrat- ing that an action is intentional under the description in which the agent knows it. It is a thesis that is supported by Davidson. And it refers to the knowledge condition of action (see section 2.211). Let us summarise what has already been said under this title, before we proceed to see the objections raised in this regard and her justification for her position: An action can be given many descriptions by a spectator. The agent himself may know that he is doing an action under one description (e. g., sawing a plank) and not under another (e. g., sawing Smith’s plank). What does it amount to? If the agent knows that he is doing an action (e. g., sawing a plank), it does not necessarily mean that he knows that action in other ways in which it can be described (e. g., sawing of Smith’s plank).2 The concept of intentional ‘under a description’ does not say that...

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