Moral Knowledge

Some excellent (if, scattered) points on moral knowledge, gleaned from Elizabeth Anscombe

Anscombe, Environment of Child


No one could have the concepts corresponding to the words used in teh commandments, if he had not lived in an environment in which he learns the inwardness of all sorts of ways of going on: he must live a specificaly human life with human practices....


Moral action descriptions are not natural event descriptions.  But it is part of the natural history of mankind that the human young acquire concepts corresponding to them, or in some cases, at least concepts in which tehy are rooted, as adultery is in that of marriage, or stealing in that of property.




In short, a human being of normal intelligence can’t grow up without being able to use a host of descriptions which are either already moral descriptions or the basis for moral descriptions (see above). But he can do so without acquiring the habit of either condemning or exonerating, accusing or exusing himself or anyone else.  Usually, he learns to do these things; but he need not.  His subjectivity need not be called into play except as that of a being with feelings and objectives.


This division is important.  It means that human subjectivity is trained or formed ethically in two different ways.  One way is the formation of the will and the education of the emotions.  The other is the training in justification, in judgment of good and evil in human action and in what is called “conscience.”



The only sort of moral action that can be pretty well guaranteed by training, by upbrining, is such as is counted absolutely obligatory in a society and whose performance or non performance is quite open and visible: like the prayers at fixed times in a strict Muslim town or the supply of small coins for beggars in their shops.


230 The virtues and vices as filling out moral vocabulary; contentless otherwise