Elizabeth Anscombe and Contraception

Logos I Ethos 50:47-65 (2019)
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In the 1960s, before the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, the Catholic philosophers Elizabeth Anscombe and Herbert McCabe OP debated whether there are convincing natural law arguments for the claim that contraception violates an exceptionless moral norm. This article revisits those arguments and critiques McCabe’s approach to natural law, concerned primarily with ‘social sin’ and not simply violations of ‘right reason,’ as one particularly ill-suited to addressing questions in sexual ethics and unable both to distinguish properly between certain forms of sexual wrongdoing and more obviously social sins such as theft, and also to distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ sexual acts. Anscombe’s views, I argue, are closer to those of Thomas Aquinas and provide reasons for making the distinctions McCabe does not. An argument concerning the nature of the institution of marriage and the effects of non-marital acts on that institution is proposed as a way of strengthening Anscombe’s argument that contraception violates an exceptionless moral norm.

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Anthony McCarthy
International Theological Institute


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