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Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret (1919–2001)

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-DD081-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

Article Summary

G.E.M. Anscombe (1919–2001) is recognized as one of the most brilliant philosophers of the twentieth century. She is also well known as the translator and editor of Wittgenstein’s later writings, including his Philosophical Investigations. The work Anscombe undertook between 1956 and 1958, during which time she was concerned with the content and foundations of moral philosophy, has been extremely influential in philosophy of action and ethics. Her 1957 monograph, Intention, seeks to give an account of the psychological concepts she thought necessary for moral philosophy to be possible – intention, desire, reason, motive – and is one of the most significant philosophical works on action. Her much anthologized paper ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ (1958) marks the beginning of the revival of virtue ethics.

Anscombe’s work attempts to recover for a contemporary audience the premodern conception of human nature, action and ethics that is found in the writings of Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas. Anscombe held that the bifurcation of man into mind and body which arose during the seventeenth century – and replaced the Aristotelian dichotomy of form and matter – had disastrous consequences in the philosophy of psychology and ethics. She subjected concepts along the fault line created by this change – cause, substance, mental event, intention, subject, object, freedom, sensation, self-consciousness – to detailed analysis using the method of grammatical enquiry. This method, learnt from Wittgenstein, involves describing the complex use of language in the context of our human form of life. In Anscombe’s work, this analysis reveals that the picture of the human subject that our Cartesian intellectual inheritance makes intuitive is profoundly mistaken.

Citing this article:
Wiseman, Rachael. Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret (1919–2001), 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-DD081-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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