DEC Colloquium

Ethics in Mind: Lessons from the Wartime Quartet

Practical information
04 April 2023

ENS, Jaurès, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


In ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, a canonical text in the history of analytic philosophy, Elizabeth Anscombe states that we cannot do ethics without an adequate ‘philosophical psychology’, which she says we are conspicuously lacking. The psychological concept she treats of first is that of intention, also the name of her influential 1957 monograph. Around the same time her friend Iris Murdoch begins to use the term ‘moral psychology’. This is in order to make space for concepts that she thinks are necessary for moral philosophy, but that again are conspicuously lacking. Chief among these is the concept of attention, the significance of which she finds in the work of Simone Weil. Together with Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley, Anscombe and Murdoch are often spoken of together as part of the Wartime Quartet, the subject of our recent co-authored book Metaphysical Animals. In this talk we introduce the Quartet, their influences and context. We outline the respects in which, for these women, philosophy of mind is not an ethically neutral enterprise and its relation to ethics. We consider the respects in which the divorce between Ethics and Mind has been, or could be bridged, drawing on lessons from the Wartime Quartet.

Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachel Wiseman are the authors of "Metaphysical Animals - How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life"