Anton Ford
Jennifer Hornsby
Frederick Stoutland
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention firmly established the philosophy of action as a distinctive field of inquiry. Donald Davidson called it “the most important treatment of action since Aristotle.” This collection of ten essays clarifies many aspects of Anscombe’s challenging work and affirms her reputation as one of our most original philosophers.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06091-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    A.F., J.H. and F.S.
  4. Introduction: Anscombe’s Intention in Context
    (pp. 1-22)

    Elizabeth Anscombe’s Intention, published in 1957,¹ is a book of only ninety-four pages, but crafted with great care and wasting no words, it develops a profound, original, and remarkably comprehensive account of intentional action and the concepts that circle round it. It is, wrote Donald Davidson, “the most important treatment of action since Aristotle,”² an admiration shared by the authors of the essays in this volume.

    That kind of admiration for Anscombe’s book has been slow in coming. The book did not fall stillborn from the press, but it was not generally recognized as a work of great philosophical importance....

  5. Summary of Anscombe’s Intention
    (pp. 23-32)

    What follows is a summary of the main themes of Anscombe’s Intention. It may make things easier for those who have not yet read the book, and for those who have it may remind them of the course of its argument. (The numbers in brackets are page numbers in Intention.)

    Anscombe begins Intention with the claim that the concept of intention has three divisions: expressions of intention (“I am going to open the window”), actions as intentional (“I am opening the window”), and intentions with which actions are done (“I am opening the window with the intention to cool the...

  6. 1 Anscombe on Expression of Intention: An Exegesis
    (pp. 33-75)

    Anscombe begins her monograph Intention by recalling three familiar contexts in which, as she says, we “employ a concept of intention” (§1):¹

    (Case 1) Someone says “I’m going to walk to the store”: An expression of intention, she says.

    (Case 2) Someone is walking (or has walked) to the store: An intentional action.

    (Case 3) “Why are you walking to the store?”—“To get some milk”: The question seeks—and the answer provides—the intention with which something is done

    This isn’t philosophy yet, only its raw material. Anscombe will shortly suggest the need for a philosophical investigation by intimating...

  7. 2 Action and Generality
    (pp. 76-104)

    Among the events of the natural world, the actions of a human being are thought to be somehow special. But what is it that makes them so? The standard approach to this question proceeds by a method of division. Because certain things that happen are the fruit and flower of the human will, while others clearly are not, philosophers tend to first distinguish an “action” from a “mere event.” And because certain actions, though they spring from the will, do so only indirectly, or directly but imperfectly, a second distinction is frequently drawn between that which is action in a...

  8. 3 Actions in Their Circumstances
    (pp. 105-127)

    Davidson attributed to Anscombe the inspiration for his own account of action.¹ But Davidson assumed that human agency is found in a world in which the operations of causality are confined to obtainings of relations between things in the category of events or states; and this ensures that his view of the nature of agency and of actions was utterly different from Anscombe’s. So I shall argue. I think that it is missed by many of those who are content to tell the story of action in Davidson’s way and who suppose that the main disagreement between Anscombe and Davidson...

  9. 4 Anscombe on Bodily Self-Knowledge
    (pp. 128-146)

    As everyone knows, G. E. M. Anscombe argues in Intention¹ that intentional actions are known by their agent without observation.

    But she introduces the class of things known without observation by mentioning a different sub-class of it: the position of one’s limbs, when that is known in a way in which “a man usually knows the position of his limbs” (13).

    This comes up while she is engaged in her well-known project of singling out intentional actions as goings-on that admit the question “Why?” understood in a particular way.

    If the applicability of the question is to explain the very...

  10. 5 “The Knowledge That a Man Has of His Intentional Actions”
    (pp. 147-169)

    Even sympathetic readers of G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention express puzzlement as to why, and as to what she means when, she says that “the knowledge that a man has of his intentional actions” is not merely knowledge “without observation” (14) but “practical knowledge” (57).¹ The aim of this essay is to do something to dissolve this puzzlement by offering an account of what she means when she says these things, and a description of the reasoning that leads her to say them.

    Anscombe tells us (14) that “the class of things known without observation is of general interest to...

  11. 6 Knowledge of Intention
    (pp. 170-197)

    Readers of Anscombe’s Intention tend to fall into two opposing groups. On the one hand, there are those for whom her book begins with exaggerated claims about knowledge of intentional action, according to which we know “without observation” whatever we are doing intentionally and the demand for reasons is “refused application by the answer: ‘I was not aware I was doing that.’ ”¹ Rejecting these claims outright, the sceptic finds Intention fundamentally unsound.² On the other hand, there are those for whom “being incompatible with Anscombe is a little like being incompatible with the facts.”³

    I belong with the relative...

  12. 7 Anscombe’s Intention and Practical Knowledge
    (pp. 198-210)

    One of the impediments to our comprehension of G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention is that it is packed full of bits of jargon and peculiar obsessive theoretic tics that were characteristic of Anscombe’s teacher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. For example, the famous dogma about the relation of knowledge to narrowly psychical phenomena like pain or belief and intention itself—the insistence that I shouldn’t be said to know that I am in pain, or to know that I intend this or that, or that I believe one thing or another. Whether my foot hurts or whether I intend to leave Uppsala some...

  13. 8 Two Forms of Practical Knowledge and Their Unity
    (pp. 211-241)

    At a crucial point in Intention, G. E. M. Anscombe suggests that the nature of intentional action is shrouded in darkness for modern philosophy because modern philosophy no longer comprehends what ancient and medieval philosophers knew as practical knowledge. Following St. Thomas Aquinas, Anscombe explains, “Practical knowledge is ‘the cause of what it understands’, unlike ‘speculative’ knowledge, which ‘is derived from the objects known’ ” (87).¹ She could have followed Kant, who represents the will as a power of practical knowledge, distinguishing practical knowledge from speculative knowledge in the same way as Anscombe does: Kant defines the power of desire...

  14. 9 Backward-Looking Rationality and the Unity of Practical Reason
    (pp. 242-269)

    Rationality, as a mark of our species, is manifested, inter alia, in the rationality of what we do, and this in turn is, at least in part, a matter of the reasons on which we act. A large part of Anscombe’s splendid book Intention is concerned with such reasons. But it ties the rationality of actions to the operation of reasons that are, or could be, made explicit in practical reasoning;¹ and she claims that only teleological or forward-looking reasons—reasons supplied by further intentions—contribute to actions’ rationality in that sense.

    In what follows I hope to show that...

  15. 10 An Anscombian Approach to Collective Action
    (pp. 270-294)

    Everyday speech is replete with sentences formed by combining a plural noun phrase and a verb denoting a type of action. “We dragged him for 20 yards.” “They just kept riding up and down in the elevator.” “The Smiths throw a lovely Christmas party.” “Several of the girls are looking for eggs.” “Dr. Lau and the innkeeper inspected the scroll.” And so on. In many, but not all of these cases it is natural to say of the individuals referred to by the relevant plural noun phrases that they act together. But what is it to act together and how...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 297-298)
  17. Index to Anscombe’s Intention
    (pp. 299-308)
  18. Index
    (pp. 309-313)