Elizabeth Anscombe, R.I.P.

Elizabeth Anscombe, R.I.P.

Robert P. George

Elizabeth Anscombe, who died at the age of 81 in January, was a titan in the world of philosophy, and one of the 20th century's most remarkable women.

At Cambridge, she studied with the world-renowned philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and upon his death in 1951 became one of his literary executors. Despite her personal loyalty to the great man, Anscombe was never one of his disciples. What she had in common with her teacher was a bold and original cast of mind, which led her to views different from his in many important respects.

In 1970, Elizabeth Anscombe had the satisfaction of being appointed to the chair in Cambridge that had been held by Wittgenstein.

Her impact on academic philosophy was matched by her influence in Catholic intellectual circles. Like so many of the greatest Catholic philosophers of her century - Michael Dummett, John Finnis, Jacques Maritain, Peter Geach (Anscombe's husband, with whom she had seven children) and Edith Stein - Elizabeth Anscombe was a convert. Her faith and devotion to the Church were profound. Among her most remarkable essays is a pamphlet on teaching children the meaning of the Eucharist.

In 1968, when much of the rest of the Catholic intellectual world reacted with shock and anger to Pope Paul VI's reaffirmation of Catholic teaching regarding the immorality of contraception, the Geach- Anscombe family toasted the announcement with champagne. Her defence of the teaching in the essay "Contraception and Chastity" is an all-too-rare example of rigorous philosophical argumentation on matters of sexual ethics.

From the beginning of the controversy over abortion, Elizabeth Anscombe recognised that the practice constituted the unjust killing of innocent human beings. Not content merely to write on the subject, she assumed an active role in the pro-life movement.

Although legendary for her eccentricities (such as smoking cigars), Anscombe could always say exactly why she thought what she thought, and did what she did, on things that mattered.

Tribute by Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.