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Anscombe's Intention

A Guide

John Schwenkler

Publication Date - 30 October 2019

ISBN: 9780190052034

272 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock


Written against the background of her controversial opposition to the University of Oxford's awarding of an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman, Elizabeth Anscombe's Intention laid the groundwork she thought necessary for a proper ethical evaluation of actions like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devoutly Catholic Anscombe thought that these actions made Truman a murderer, and thus unworthy of the university's honor-but that this verdict depended on an understanding of intentional action that had been widely rejected in contemporary moral philosophy. Intention was her attempt to work out that understanding and argue for its superiority over a conception of intention as an inner mental state.

Though recognized universally as one of the definitive works in analytic philosophy of action, Anscombe's book is often dismissed as unsystematic or obscure, and usually read through the lens of philosophical concerns very far from her own. Schwenkler's Guide offers a careful and critical presentation of Anscombe's main lines of argument at a level appropriate to advanced undergraduates but also capable of benefiting specialists in action theory, moral philosophy, and the history of analytic philosophy. Further, it situates Intention in a context that emphasizes Anscombe's debts to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Wittgenstein, and her engagement with the work of contemporaries like Gilbert Ryle and R.M. Hare, inviting new avenues of engagement with the ideas of historically important philosophers.


  • Offers a detailed presentation of all the main lines of argument in G.E.M. Anscombe's Intention
  • Situates the argument of Intention in relation to Anscombe's own philosophical concerns
  • Documents the extent to which Anscombe drew on the work of Aristotle, Wittgenstein, and Thomas Aquinas

About the Author(s)

John Schwenkler is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, where he has taught since 2013. He specializes in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of action, ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of cognitive science.


"Elizabeth Anscombe's Intention has emerged as one of the most influential texts of twentieth century analytic philosophy, despite the fact that its central arguments are notoriously difficult to understand. John Schwenkler has written an accessible and insightful commentary that will be invaluable for students and experts alike. Just as Anscombe's commentary on Wittgenstein's Tractatus aimed to rescue its legacy from its most influential supporters, so too Schwenkler's commentary clears away decades of empiricist misinterpretations and misappropriations, allowing readers to see Anscombe's masterwork with fresh eyes. It is a remarkable achievement, worthy of widespread attention." -- Jennifer Frey, University of South Carolina

"Intention is a fiercely difficult, rich, and dense book, and even experts need help navigating it. This is the kind of guide that I will look to in my own work, and that I will recommend to interested graduate students, and that I am likely to use every time I teach a course with Intention. Schwenkler's treatment is pitched at an ideal level." -- Kim Frost, University of California, Riverside

"Schwenkler's Guide makes a tremendous and invaluable contribution as it sheds light on Anscombe's seminal yet obscure book. It is especially valuable because it is so timely. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Anscombe. I expect Schwenkler's book to serve as an essential resource for a new generation of readers." -- Berislav Marusic, Brandeis University

"Anscombe's Intention is both profoundly difficult and hugely influential, yet there is no standard interpretive guide to this elusive text. Schwenkler's commentary is thus a welcome intervention. His meticulous, accessible book will be of great use to students of action theory and readers of Anscombe." -- Kieran Setiya, MIT

Table of Contents

    Introduction: The Project of Intention
    Interpretive Précis
    Outline of the Text

    The Commentary
    1 Preliminaries

    1.1 The three headings (§1)
    1.2 Predictions and expressions of intention (§§2-3)
    1.3 Action first (§§3-4)
    1.4 Summary discussion

    2 Beginnings of an Account
    2.1 'Why?'-questions (§5)
    2.2 The three epistemic conditions (§§6-8)
    2.3 Reason, motive, and cause (§§9-16)
    2.4 'For no reason' / 'I don't know why I did it' (§§17-18)
    2.5 Summary discussion

    3 The Unity of Action
    3.1 An extra feature? (§19)
    3.2 Further intention (§§20-21)
    3.3 The A-D order (§§22-23, 26)
    3.4 Intention and foresight (§§24-25, 27)
    3.5 Summary discussion

    4 Knowledge Without Observation
    4.1 Raising difficulties (§28)
    4.2 False avenues of escape (§§29-30)
    4.3 Beginning to sketch a solution (§§31-32)
    4.4 Summary discussion

    5 Practical Reasoning
    5.1 A difference in form (§33)
    5.2 Calculation (§33-35)
    5.3 The role of 'wanting' (§§35-36)
    5.4 The guise of the good (§37-41)
    5.5 '... an order which is there ...' (§§42-43)
    5.6 Summary discussion

    6 Practical Knowledge
    6.1 The Thomistic background
    6.2 'A form of description of events' (§§46-48)
    6.3 The cause of what it understands (§§44-45, 48)
    6.4 Doing without knowing?
    6.5 Practical knowledge through perception?
    6.6 Summary discussion

    7 Concluding Discussion
    7.1 Intentional and voluntary (§49)
    7.2 Intention for the future (§§50-52)

    Glossary of Terms

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