Elizabeth's Philosophy of Actions and Ethics

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Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1998 Words
Date:  2021-03-09

Elizabeth is one of the most influential women philosophers of all time. She reigned in the twentieth century. The modern philosophers recognize her efforts on ethics and the philosophy of action. Elizabeth's philosophy of action puts a limit on the actions that can be questioned. Although people ought not to be questioned for their behavior, they need to have boundaries which they should not cross once the behavior intrudes other peoples peace. Elizabeth's work on ethics defines the boundaries that should not be crossed even when contributing to the well-being of others. This is evident in the modern society where people concern themselves with their desires rather than what they put other people through in order to fulfill this desires. In her philosophy of action and ethics, Elizabeth Anscombe takes a stand against the modern ignorance of ethics and provides a communal moral perspective that criticizes unethical actions that are done under the pretense of their positive impact on public welfare. Elizabeth's arguments were based on the Wittgensteinian way. She argued that metaphysical thesis is the outcome of our being misdirected by grammar. She worked on the use of first person singular as she considered it a great way to handle philosophical problems. In her essay, Elizabeth argues that it is not necessarily used to refer to an object. In fact, she declares it to be not a name at all, although many people take the word I to be a name.

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Elizabeth was intrigued by the culture about her, just like Wittgenstein was. Her research about causation made her conclude that it is an attack on a conception of casualty that, Elizabeth says, helps to form a cast of mind which is characteristic of our whole culture. Although Elizabeth does not fail to admit that some events are virtually caused, she does not insist that sometimes things can go wrong. She continues to argue that most often than not, some things may not be equal. She gives an example of this by stating the easiness to predict the revolution of the planets but how hard it is if not impossible, to predict the movement of animals. The reason behind this is the insufficiency of adequate information concerning the animals surroundings and environment. An example of this is the mouse which might decide to run in another direction hence diverting from its normal course of direction. She adds that people have not yet understood the functioning of the brain.

Similarly, Elizabeth argues that if one contracts an infection after events of being exposed to it, it becomes very easy to determine the cause of the sickness. This is on the contrary as compared to when one only knows that he or she had been exposed to the infection as one could barely connect the exposure and sickness. Elizabeth concludes by saying that tracing a cause to its effects is harder than tracing an effect back to its cause. Therefore, one thing can cause the occurrence of another without the knowledge of any true rule of law that connects the two together. Elizabeth talks of the difficulty of avoiding the causative agents of events because more often than not, people do not connect the cause and the effect. An example of this is when the dog eats meat. She argues that the dogs action is the cause of meat leaving the saucer in which the meat was placed.


Most behaviors portrayed by human beings are based on basic casual laws. This, therefore, declares the anticipated and the unanticipated results of deeds as inconsequential. This provoked Elizabeth to reject both determinism and consequentialism where she sheds more light to this in her book Intention. She highlights on the concept of intentional action and the difference between rational and non-rational behavior. The book has been highly credited and regarded as one of the most influential philosophical work on action since the times of Aristotle.

Of all movements that happen around the world, only some can be counted as behavior of agents. In regard to this, only a few of these behaviors qualify to be counted as actions. This leads to the study of human behavior which a person has no control over whatsoever. An example of such behavior is twitching or moving the body while asleep. Basically, these are not things that a person does since no one is usually aware of the happenings of his or her body while asleep. The principle of action does not allow or rather it does not make sense to ask a person's reason for doing something. This could lead to the intrusion of one's intention which defines the meaning of actions.

Elizabeth states that the class of intentional actions is a sub-class of the class of things known without observation, (Anscombe 2000)). There is always a reason behind an intentional action which qualifies one to be asked the reason behind the occurrence of the intentional action. However, Elizabeth emphasizes that the intention of doing an action is not the cause of doing that action. An example of this could be explained using a door and metal. The cause of the action, a door being struck by a piece of metal, is distinct from its effects, which leads to the breaking of the door. The intention is merely a section of the deed but not a preceding event that causes it.

In regard to this, unintentional behavior is declared inconsequential and irrelevant to ethics. Intentional deeds constitute the basis of ethics. Getting to know more about intentions enable us to know more about what goes on around us. This is due to the fact that people commit themselves to deeds with particular reasons, which in most cases have a positive impact to the agents in question. The behavior of other human beings like us can only be esteemed to be intelligible if it is possible to do and connect it to a particular classified range of notions in the mind about what might actually be regarded as good. This leads Elizabeth to believe that there is a connection between metaphysical questions and ethical questions. She starts by defining intentions. She goes contrary to the meaning of intentions as mental objects, states, or events that bore different behaviors. Instead, Elizabeth argues that sometimes people may have subconscious motivations.

Another reason that prompts Elizabeth to dismiss intentions as causes is the fact that what acts as a cause in one person may not act as a cause to another person. A person may be lured or forced into doing something that he or she has no concept in. An illustration of this is that a dog cannot open a door that is locked from the inside. However, the dog can be made to open a door in a case where a bell ring opens the door to by tying noisy bells around its feet. In this case, the dog had no intention of ringing the bells which triggers the opening of the door. In any case, the dog is virtually unaware.

This theory encourages people to know the reason behind people's actions. For this to be effective, not only should the cause of the deeds be investigated but also their perception of what they thought they think they are doing or have been doing. For instance, someone might try to wash a cloth with a permanent mark of dirt without being aware that the mark is permanent. The person goes ahead to clean the cloth vigorously to remove the stain without caring to look if the stain is fading away with the severe washing where in fact, the stain has not faded an inch. The best way to understand such a person would be only by asking the person what he or she is doing. If the person responds by saying that he or she is cleaning the cloth to remove the dirt mark, we would clearly understand the reason behind washing of the cloth. But if the person was to say they were trying to remove the mark, it would be regarded as a more accurate answer. However, the response would also be regarded as misleading as the response insinuates that the person was prepared for a hard task, in this case being aware of the permanent dirt mark and the difficulty the person had anticipated to encountering while washing the cloth. It could even imply that the person tried scrubbing the cloth harder and more vigorously to try to get the permanent stain of dirt off the cloth. On this basis then, we discover what we are doing because we are aware of our intentions.

On that line of argument, Elizabeth establishes that a person can act in a bad way because of having bad intentions prior to the act or a deed going wrong due to errors in performance of duties. This has been highlighted in Elizabeth's popular shopping list (Anscombe 2000). She explains that a shopping list is a projection of what one anticipates and desires to buy or probably what another person has asked you to get for them. However, the efficiency of conducting the shopping activity will be compromised once an item is overlooked or misreading an item on the shopping list hence failing to purchase the item. The moment one gets what is not on the shopping list or fails to get what is on the shopping list, defaults the performance of duty.


Elizabeth's theory refused to acknowledge any moral difference between outcomes brought about by deeds that are intentional and those that are not intentional. Her major objection to consequentialism is ethical and based on ethics. She argues that if only results are given much importance, cases of immorality such as theft and murders will be on the rise as people will do whatever they ought to do to acquire the anticipated and expected results. In her book, she gives an example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where she believes many children were killed in attempt to save the soldiers. She considers this a despicable act. Today, such unethical behavior is portrayed where government officials kill whoever tries to expose their corrupt deeds in efforts to create the impression of a non-corrupt government to the people. Elizabeth strongly believes that neither Jeremy Bentham nor John Stuart possessed coherent ethical philosophy for both of them were fully dependent on what she viewed as hopelessly positive joy.

Elizabeth's modern philosophy theory was publicized in a period where the major form of moral theory apart from utilitarianism to which philosophers adhered to was Kantian deontology. This theory stated that certain deeds are forbidden not putting into consideration their consequences. Furthermore, Elizabeth highlights on the failure of philosophers to include God in their theories. She urges people not to drop such moral talks that include God.

Arguments against the Theory

One factor that leads into declaring consequentialism as unacceptable is due to the fact that it would be so ungenerous to learn any person as clinging to it if there are any chances of the ambiguity of their views. She declared the utilitarianism of Bentham and mill as enormously incorrect as it advocated the greatest joy of the greatest amount without sufficiently giving specifications what is generally meant by happiness and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number generally makes no sense. This however, was based on her personal views regarding the issue.

Another problem identified with consequentialism is how ignorant it is to intention. Without this, there is no way human beings can make sense of human behavior. Consequentialism is based on poor grounds and although it is acceptable in some instances of human behavior, it is not suitable to be used in all negative occurrences of human behavior. Intentions should not be fully ignored especially when expressing disapproval of actions.

Elizabeth's theory tends to create biasness on religious leaders as she implies that only religious leaders should be given the mandate to speak and address people. She strongly discourages the use of religious concepts...

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Elizabeth's Philosophy of Actions and Ethics. (2021, Mar 09). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/elizabeths-philosophy-of-actions-and-ethics

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