Saturday, August 13, 2005

Peter Geach and the Lewis-Anscombe Debate Re-Enactment

I was told that Peter Geach got wind of the re-enactment of his wife's controversy with Lewis, and was not happy about it. Apaprently he was concerned about how his wife would be protrayed. I was disappointed to hear that, and I wish I could have talked to Peter Geach about it. The point I would have tried to impress upon him is that a good deal of sheer nonsense has been written about the debate, and the only way to get a proper focus on the whole thing is to bring the focus back to where the participants placed it; on the arguments themselves. His wife's memory is not helped by people who think she bullied Lewis out of apologetics; getting someone like Lewis to revise and thereby strengthen his argument is what philosophy is supposed to be all about.

Strangely enough, I think Geach;s own position was pretty close to Lewis's, since he wrote this:
"When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?" (The Virtues, Cambridge University Press, 1977) It was Lewis who would argue that explaining reasoning naturalistically is like squaring the circle; Anscombe was on the other side.

If part of the story is that she showed a certain amount of youthful arrogance and gamesmanship in getting the better of Lewis on that particular day, I suppose that's part of the history. I have the feeling that knowing what people's reactions would be to the debate, Anscombe would have affected a different style and manner, at the same time making the same points.

When I titled my paper "The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues, I meant to imply that a good deal of discussion concerning that controversy has been over non-issues. It would be wonderful to have it written on my gravestone "Here lies Reppert. Thanks to him, people finally stopped talking nonsense about Lewis and Anscombe." Is that asking too much?


Victor Reppert said...

Anscombe's comments suggest that she thought the argument still underdeveloped, even in the revision. I think it's underdeveloped even now. She stops short of either endorsing Lewis's argument or claiming that the line of argument was hopeless.

Stephen-Theron said...

The same argument as Lewis used reappears in papers by Axel Randrup (on the internet). Randrup however concludes from this contradiction in evolutionary cognition-theory to philosophical idealism. Maybe that was the real challenge for Anscombe?

Peter van Inwagen said...

I don't know whether this has any relevance to Geach's 2005 objection to the re-enactment of the debate, but I'll mention that in 1973 he told me that he was very unhappy about the fact that when Lewis presented the revised version of the argument in the second edition of *Miracles*, he made no mention of Anscombe's critique of the original argument--which was, after all, the cause of the revision. (In fact, a reader of the second edition of *Miracles* would not be able to discover--otherwise than by doing some detective work in the fine print in the publication data at the front of the book--that this *was* a second edition or that the argument had been revised.)

--Peter van Inwagen