In 1956 Oxford University awarded an honorary degree to the former US president Harry S. Truman for his role in ending the Second World War. One philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe (1919 – 2001), objected strongly.
She argued that although dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have ended the fighting, it amounted to the murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It was therefore an irredeemably immoral act. And there was something fundamentally wrong with a moral philosophy that didn’t see that.
This was the starting point for a body of work that changed the terms in which philosophers discussed moral and ethical questions in the second half of the twentieth century.
A leading student of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Anscombe combined his insights with rejuvenated interpretations of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas that made these ancient figures speak to modern issues and concerns. Anscombe was also instrumental in making action, and the question of what it means to intend to do something, a leading area of philosophical work.
Rachael Wiseman, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool
Constantine Sandis, Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, and Director of Lex Academic
Roger Teichmann, Lecturer in Philosophy at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford
Producer: Luke Mulhall