Anscombe on the mesmeric force of ‘ought’ and a spurious kind of moral realism

Etica E Politica 19 (2):51-86 (2017)
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I discuss the second of the three theses advanced by Anscombe in ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’. The focus is the nature of entities to which – if Anscombe’s diagnosis is correct – ought and cognate modals are assumed by modern moral philosophers to refer. I reconstruct the alternative account offered by Anscombe of viable and justified ‘Aristotelian’ modals – as contrasted with mysterious and unjustified ‘Kantian’ modals; I discuss the nature and status of ‘Aristotelian necessity’ to which such legitimate modals refer to. I conclude with the claims that Anscombe’s account of modern moral philosophy is viciously parochial, reducing it to Oxford philosophy from the Thirties and Forties and its immediate antecedents; that her historical reconstruction is vitiated by lack of awareness of the existence of law-views of morality preceding Christian theology, artful anticipation of secularization in order to fit her picture of modern moral philosophy as the ‘day after’ of Christianity; that Aquinas’s and her own view of natural morality as made of rational moral judgments laws is incompatible with both her predilection for ‘divine law’ instead of plain down-to-earth ‘natural law’; that her strained reconstruction of a Christian-Jewish-Stoic view of morality as law promulgated by God has little to share with any reconstruction of the Biblical moral traditions meeting academic standard and in more detail there is no possible translation of Torah as Law; and that her criticism hits just targets from the old little British world she was familiar with, while leaving Kantian ethics unaffected.

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Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi
Università Cattolica di Milano (PhD)


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