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4:00 PM The Intention of "Intention"

Yale University

Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Room 208.

4:00 pm

A lecture by Prof. John Schwenkler (Florida State University)

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Speaker Bio:

John Schwenkler is a philosopher at Florida State University and the editor of the Brains blog. His research interests cluster around a number of topics in epistemology and the philosophy of mind and action. He also teaches and writes about lots of other things beyond those research foci. He has five children and is an avid runner.

Lecture Description

Elizabeth Anscombe's monograph Intention is based on a course of lectures that she delivered at the University of Oxford during Hilary Term of 1957. Anscombe's philosophical interest in the topic of intention and intentional action crystallized in 1956 during her controversial opposition to the university's decision to award an honorary degree to former US President Harry Truman—a man she regarded as a murderer in light of his decision to order the bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thus did not think worthy of the university's honors.

While Anscombe saw a great deal of self-serving flattery among those who defended the decision to honor Truman, she thought as well that some distinctly philosophical errors lay behind their willingness to praise or excuse Truman's actions, and her philosophical project in Intention is ultimately in the service of combating these doctrines. Having situated Anscombe's work in this context I'll discuss three of these points of disagreement, namely:

(1) Her rejection of overly expansive and restrictive conceptions of the intention with which a person acts;

(2) Her argument that practical reasoning is not any kind of proof that an action is to be done; and

(3) Her account of practical reasoning as a formal structure that is internal to an action rather than a mental process that stands to bodily movement as inward cause to outward effect.

Concerning each of these we'll explore the positions Anscombe was opposing, discuss her objections to these positions and lay out her preferred alternatives, and evaluate the strength of her own view, trying to see throughout how these philosophical disputes relate to the controversy that spurred her to take up this topic.

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