Advertisement

Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 11, pp 3077–3097 | Cite as

Tragedy and the constancy of norms: towards an Anscombian conception of ‘ought’

  • Kristina GehrmanEmail author
Article
  • 122 Downloads

Abstract

This paper presents an Anscombian alternative to the traditional deontic conception of ought. According to the Anscombian conception of ought developed here, ought is general as opposed to ‘peculiarly moral’, norm-referring instead of law- or obligation-referring, and ‘heroic’ in the sense that it does not presuppose that individuals can do or be as they ought. Its connection to matters of fact can, moreover, be clearly stated. In the first part of the paper, I describe some significant logical characteristics of this conception, and argue that it provides a more suitable account of the oughts of ethics as compared to the deontic conception. One particular strength of the Anscombian conception of ought is that it does justice to the possibility of tragedy in human life, where tragedy is understood as the possibility that a thoroughly well-intentioned individual might sometimes ensure her own moral imperfection, precisely by doing what is morally right or best at every step along the way. To motivate this feature of the view, I sketch a corresponding picture of responsibility for actions in terms of ownership of one’s deeds. This conception of responsibility allows that what one ought to do is not always constrained by what one can do, while saving the intuitions about fairness and the practical scope of moral norms that principally motivate ‘ought implies can’. To illustrate and motivate the overall account I discuss a number of cases, including the character Winston from George Orwell’s 1984.

Keywords

Anscombe Ought Responsibility Ought implies can Natural normativity 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to my colleagues at the University of Tennessee, especially Clerk Shaw, Jon Garthoff, and Josh Watson, to Paul Nichols, and to an anonymous reviewer for Philosophical Studies for helpful discussion of this paper at various stages of development. I would also like to acknowledge the University of Tennessee Humanities Center for Fellowship support during 2015-2016 which furthered completion of this essay.

References

  1. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1957). Intention. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  2. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958a). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 1, 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958b). On brute facts. Analysis, 18, 69–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blum, A. (2000). The Kantian Versus Frankfurt. Analysis, 60, 287–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brownstein, M., & Saul, J. (Eds.). (2016). Implicit bias and philosophy (Vol. 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Charlow, N., & Chrisman, M. (Eds.). (2016). Deontic modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Copp, D. (1997). Defending the principle of alternate possibilities: Blameworthiness and moral responsibility. Noûs, 31, 441–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Copp, D. (2003). ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’, blameworthiness, and alternate possibilities. In D. Widerker & M. McKenna (Eds.), Moral responsibility and alternative possibilities (pp. 265–299). Aldershot: Ashgate Press.Google Scholar
  9. Copp, D. (2008). ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’ and the derivation of the principle of alternate possibilities. Analysis, 68, 67–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frankfurt, H. (1998). The importance of what we care about. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gehrman, K. (ms. in preparation). Ethics by nature. Google Scholar
  12. Graham, P. (2011). ‘Ought’ and ability. Philosophical Review, 120, 337–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Haslanger, S. (2014). The normal, the natural, and the good: Generics and ideology. Politica & Societa, 3, 369–392.Google Scholar
  14. Hilpinen, R. (Ed.). (1971). Deontic logic. Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  15. Hilpinen, R. (Ed.). (1981). New studies in deontic logic. Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  16. Holroyd, J. (2012). Responsibility for implicit bias. Journal of Social Philosophy, 43, 274–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Marcus, R. B. (1987). Moral dilemmas and consistency. In C. W. Gowans (Ed.), Moral dilemmas. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Murdoch, I. (2002). The idea of perfection. In The sovereignty of good (pp. 1–44). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Orwell, G. (1950). 1984. New York: Signet Classic.Google Scholar
  20. Saul, J. (2017). Are generics especially pernicious? Inquiry.  https://doi.org/10.1080/0020174X.2017.1285995.Google Scholar
  21. Scanlon, T. M. (1988). What we owe to each other. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Smith, A. M. (2005). Responsibility for attitudes: Activity and passivity in mental life. Ethics, 115, 236–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Smith, A. M. (2006). Control, responsibility, and moral assessment. Philosophical Studies, 138, 367–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Strawson, P. F. (1962). Freedom and Resentment. Proceedings of the British Academy, 48, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Thomason, R. (1981). Deontic logic and the role of freedom in moral deliberation. In Risto Hilpinen (Ed.), New studies in deontic logic (pp. 177–186). Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Von Wright, G. H. (1951). Deontic logic. Mind, 60, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wallace, R. J. (1994). Responsibility and the moral sentiments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Watson, G. (1996). Two face of responsibility. Philosophical Topics, 24, 227–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wolf, S. (1990). Freedom within reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations