Elizabeth Anscombe on Consequentialism and Absolute Prohibitions

Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 47 (1):7-39 (2012)
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I discuss the third of Anscombe’s theses from “Modern Moral Philosophy”, namely that post-Sidgwickian consequentialism makes the worst action acceptable. I scrutinize her comprehension of “consequentialism”, her reconstruction of Sidgwick’s view of intention, her defence of casuistry, her reformulation of the double-effect doctrine, and her view of morality as based on Divine commands. I argue that her characterization of consequentialism suffers from lack of understanding of the history of utilitarianism and its self-transformation through the Intuitionism-Utilitarianism controversy; that she uncritically accepted an impoverished image of Kantian ethics and intuitionism, which was, ironically, an unaware bequest from her consequentialist opponents; that her action theory, yet, is a decisive contribution that may prove useful in formulating answers to questions that have been left open in both utilitarian and Kantian or intuitionist theories; that, to make the best of her actions theory, it is as well to drop her divine law view of ethics, which is incompatible with the former; and that the rather obscure traditional theological doctrine of absolute prohibitions is unnecessary to her project that could fare well with the more sober distinction between perfect and imperfect duties.
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