Lewis really did to Miracles
A philosophical layman’s attempt to
understand the Anscombe affair
original page numbers inserted in
subscript between vertical lines |9|
ABSTRACT – An
examination of Elizabeth Anscombe’s critique of C. S. Lewis’s Miracles (1947), chapter 3, and of the changes
introduced in the book’s revised edition (1960) shows that Lewis fully
maintained his original position, apparently using Anscombe’s attack chiefly to
improve his own argument. The present essay leads up to a proposal for a very
brief summary of the whole exchange, followed by a brief consideration of
Anscombe’s final appreciation and further critique (1981), and concludes by
arguing that neither party to the debate won, while both gained.
C. S. Lewis’s philosophical
debate with Elizabeth Anscombe on 2 February 1948 is well known to be
well-known. But is it known well? The standard picture of a clear and painful
public defeat suffered by Lewis at the hands of Anscombe is remarkable chiefly
for the fact-free manner in which it has often been presented – if by the facts
of a debate we mean verifiable details about its topic, about the actual
exchange of ideas, and about the way it affected the debaters’ further thought
on the subject. Whenever the encounter is mentioned in books or articles about
Lewis, the chances are, first, that one or two quotes are given from a small
fund of testimonies illustrating Lewis’s unhappiness in the aftermath of the
debate; and second, that the reader is left wondering exactly which turn or |10| episode in the exchange may have troubled
Lewis – and why this obviously crucial element is given such scant treatment,
an avid reader of almost everything Lewis wrote, and long intrigued by this
debate, but without philosophical training, I welcomed the publication of
Victor Reppert’s C. S.
Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument of
Reason in 2003. Here at last was someone properly schooled in philosophy
and evidently interested in the issue, taking the trouble to expound it for the
general reader with special reference to the debate between Lewis and Anscombe.
Reppert in fact did provide me with an important
distinction (new to me) that helped me see what actually happened there, as
will appear below. Yet the book left me still unsatisfied. Perhaps predictably
in view of its title, and perhaps inevitably from Reppert’s
point of view, his account of the actual debate and its aftermath soon gets
entwined with, and before long is eclipsed by, his own further development of
the subject, with reference not to the 1948 debate but to recent academic
fashions. Nor did I find here what I further (perhaps naively) hoped to find: a
very brief yet perfectly adequate summary, epigram-like if possible, capturing
the essence and meaning of this episode in Lewis’s public career. Ideally, this
would provide future writers about him with a new, fuller and probably more
interesting standard view.
the end the best thing Reppert’s book did for me was
to send me to the sources. I have attempted my own scrutiny of the few most
obviously and directly relevant published writings of the two contenders. The
point is that Lewis has millions of readers, most of them philosophical laymen,
and ‘it often happens’, as he once explained while embarking of a bit of Old
Testament study without knowing Hebrew, ‘that two schoolboys can solve
difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can’.1 What
follows is an account and analysis of my findings, leading up to my proposal
for a very brief and widely useful summary of the Anscombe affair. The
documents discussed are presented as an online appendix to |11| this essay at www.lewisiana.nl/anscombe/appendices.pdf.
It appeared to be the thing to do if this affair is ever to get really well
her ‘Reply to Mr. C. S. Lewis’s Argument that “Naturalism” is Self-Refuting’,2 Elizabeth
specifically criticized chapter III of Lewis’s then recent book Miracles. Published in May 1947 by
Geoffrey Bles, this book was, among other things, the culmination of much
anti-naturalist thought as developed and variously expressed by Lewis in the
course of at least a decade. In chapter III, ‘The Self-Contradiction of the
Naturalist’, he discussed the validity of rational thought in a universe where
– as the naturalist asserts or implies – all events without exception are in
the last resort determined by ‘irrational causes’. Lewis concluded that in |12| such a universe rational thought cannot be
valid since it, too, must be a product of irrational causes; or else, if any
rational thought is valid, we must recognize
that there is after all something more to the universe than irrational causes,
i.e. more than just nature.
Anscombe agreed with Lewis that naturalism (in this sense) is untenable. But
she considered his ‘argument from reason’4 a faulty way to attack it. For one thing, she
criticized the way Lewis had been using the word ‘irrational’. He had
suggested, she pointed out, that all natural causes are ‘irrational’; but he
ought to have distinguished the large and highly relevant category of non-rational causes, which is the kind
of causes really at work in nature. Let rational thought be produced by
natural, non-rational causes, said Anscombe: there is no need at all on that
account to doubt its ‘validity’; such doubt is only in place when we know that
there has been some particular cause at work which is a notorious producer of
unreasonable beliefs. Lewis’s use of the words ‘valid’ and ‘validity’ was in
fact another thing she criticized; ‘Isn’t this question about the validity of
reasoning a question about the validity of valid
two criticisms are worth mentioning if only because Lewis explicitly allowed their
justness. He did so (without further allowances) in a brief note appended to
Anscombe’s paper when it was published in the Socratic Digest for 1948. Also appended was an excerpt from the
Socratic Club’s minute-book about the discussion that took place after the
paper had been read. Many years later, in 1981, Anscombe included her critique
of Lewis – with the two appendices – in the second volume of her Collected Philosophical Papers. It is
the last item of the book’s third section,
|13| ‘Causality and Time’, and as such the last
piece in the book, which contains twenty-one papers in all. Remarkably, more
than a third of Anscombe’s 3½-page general introduction to the volume is about
the ‘Reply to Lewis’, which, as she points out, was her ‘earliest purely
philosophical writing which was published’.6
appended note is useful as an approach to the affair since Anscombe’s critique
is, as Walter Hooper has called it, ‘complex’.7 Less charitably but more to the point, it
might be called a rather weak performance in exposition. To be sure, Lewis had
himself not been at his best in chapter III of Miracles, as we shall see. Yet perhaps few readers coming straight
from the engaging general liveliness and clarity of his writing will make it to
the end when trying to read Anscombe’s ‘Reply’, or will make it and at one
sitting have a clear sense of main and side issues, or an idea of exactly what
is good and what is no good. It is therefore fortunate that we have Lewis’s
note telling us at least what he made of it – followed by the important
testimony of what he actually did to Miracles
many years later.
was in fact more than a decade later, when Miracles
was scheduled to be re-issued as a Fontana Books paperback, that Lewis
seized the opportunity to re-write and expand chapter III. ‘I was by no means
in the vein’, he wrote as he submitted the result to his publisher on 8 August
1959, ‘and the job was itself very ticklish and the weather very hot – so
you’re lucky it took no longer’. The change was considerable. The original
chapter as a whole had sixteen paragraphs; in the revised version the first six
of these (1,184 words) were kept unchanged, but the remaining ten paragraphs
(1,759 words) were replaced by a wholly new section of twenty- |14| five paragraphs (3,698 words); the total
number of words went up from 2,943 to 4,882. The chapter title was changed to
‘The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism’. A few dozen small improvements were
made elsewhere in the book,8 and the new edition of Miracles came out in May 1960.
his use of ‘valid’ Lewis had said, in his note of 1948, ‘I
admit that [this] was a bad word for what I meant; veridical (or verific or veriferous) would have been better’.9 In
other words, he welcomed the idea of an increased emphasis on the claim of
reasoning to be truth-telling, or truth-making, or truth-bearing. However, when
revising the chapter in 1959 he made no changes to the way he used ‘valid’ (or
‘validity’) – when he still used it at all. But he did so a good deal less now.
The word had occurred eighteen times in the original chapter, but in the
revised version it makes only six appearances, with just two of them in the new
section of twenty-five paragraphs; which is to say that there had been fourteen
instances in the discarded section of ten paragraphs. None of the alternative
words proposed in 1948 (‘veridical’ etc.) were actually |15| used. The word ‘irrational’, however, was
consistently banished from chapter III. The word never appeared in the
six-paragraph section that was retained in the new edition; but it had made
twelve highly emphatic appearances in the rest of the original chapter.10 In
the revised chapter – that is, in the long new section – ‘non-rational’ has clearly taken the place of
‘irrational’ but at the same time, in line with the fate of ‘valid’, takes an
altogether humbler place than its predecessor ‘irrational’ did in the old
edition. ‘Non-rational’ makes only four appearances in the revised chapter, to
which we may perhaps add two instances of ‘not rational’.11
it is not strictly true to say that ‘non-rational’ took the place of ‘irrational’ in chapter III, this replacement is
quite precisely the change that was made to chapter IV. The impression usually
given in discussions of the Anscombe affair is that Lewis revised chapter III
and left it at that. But in fact there is this further change – among a few
others – in chapter IV; all instances of ‘irrational’ were consistently changed
chapter IV, the original book had nine more instances of ‘irrational’. Somewhat
surprisingly, none of these were altered in the revised edition.13 The
reason why Lewis made no further changes from ‘irrational’ to ‘non-rational’ after chapter IV may well have been simple
inadvertency. The need for this change is indeed debatable or simply absent in
some cases; but in chapter XIV, where he is referring back to chapter III, and
also in chapter XIII, Lewis clearly ought to have made the same change as in
chapter |16| IV.14 As
we saw, Lewis called it a ‘ticklish’ job, done in hot weather; the rewritten
part of his revised chapter actually contains a little memento of that famously
hot summer of ʼ59.15
the first edition had its own three instances of ‘non-rational’. They all
appeared in chapter V and, interestingly, each of them in conjunction with ‘non-moral’.16 Lewis
twice uses the phrase ‘non-moral and non-rational cause(s)’ (p. 44), and once
the phrase ‘non-moral, non-rational Nature’ (p. 48). Of particular note,
however, is one further juxtaposition of absent rationality and absent morality
on page 44, because here we catch Lewis, as it were, in the act of overstating
his case and so inviting Anscombe’s attack: non-rational
here becomes irrational. Instead of
calling natural causes ‘non-moral and non-rational’, Lewis for once reverses
the order of the two epithets – and subtly modifies the one now coming first.
The resulting phrase is ‘irrational and non-moral’. In the context of the
present enquiry, this shading of non-rational
into irrational must not go
unnoticed. It is as if Lewis, in shifting his main concern ever so slightly
from the non-moral to the non-rational character
of nature, is led into the temptation of discrediting this non-rationality and
dubbing it irrational. And, as we
have seen, when revising the book he failed to change this instance of
‘irrational’ along with all |17| further
instances from this chapter onward.
sum up, while the revision on this crucial point of vocabulary was not carried
out quite meticulously throughout the book, yet chapters III and IV, where the
intervention was most in order, were effectively purged of their stress on the
‘irrationality’ of nature-according-to-naturalism.
change appears to be related to a decision of Lewis not to press the claim he
had made, in chapter III, at the end of the six-paragraph opening section that
survived the revision. He did maintain, but would no longer unduly press, his
point that naturalism is ‘a proof that there are no such things as proofs –
which is nonsense’.17
the old edition he certainly had tried to press that point. It was, in that
edition, in the course of this project that he had begun using the word
‘irrational’ and used it more frequently than in any later chapter. He soon
reached what he called ‘a rule’, printed in italics, ‘that no thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of
irrational causes’.18 Four
paragraphs further on, however, he had not really made any progress as he
stated: ‘every theory of the universe which makes the human mind a result of
irrational causes is inadmissible, for it would be a proof that there are no
such things as proofs. Which is nonsense’.19
This repetition sounds tired; there is nothing to make it the
effective ostinato of a healthy
sign that Lewis was on a wrong track here is the way he followed up a promise
implied on page 26 of the old edition, three lines into the section that was
later to be discarded: ‘...we can believe in the validity of thought only under
certain conditions’. Readers hoping to hear these conditions spelled out had to
be quite |18| patiently
attentive. Lewis went on and on amplifying the negative insight expressed in
italics on page 27 – the ‘rule’ quoted above. It is not until the end of page
29 that valid thought comes back into focus and invalid thought is left alone.
Turning yet another page, we arrive at last where Lewis must have hoped to get
us when he proposed to think out the conditions. ‘The validity of thought is
central: all other things have to be fitted in round it as best they can’. The
conditions are – in fact, the one great condition for validity is – that this
validity be central. The idea is
expressed well enough with this term, even if Lewis expressed it differently
elsewhere, e.g. as ‘self-evident’ or ‘axiomatic’. It is an important idea, and
it is clearly the point Lewis had to make and wished to make in this chapter;
he was to defend it to the end of his days. But, brief as the chapter is, he
had spent most of it telling us what is wrong, not what is right. He had failed
to see that, for the job at hand, the negative approach pretty soon ceased to
be an obvious way to success.
to go yet a little deeper into this, the improvement brought by the revision is
visible when we compare these long-deferred ‘conditions’ with their counterpart
in the revised chapter. That counterpart is in the ‘terms’ mentioned at the
bottom of page 21 in the revised Fontana edition, where we read: ‘the act of
inference [can be] the real insight that it claims to be ... only on certain
terms’. The thing to note is that this comes, now, not three lines but almost
three pages after the end of the retained section – Lewis having first taken
time to tell us what he positively means by acts of inference, that is, by the
essential thing in valid thought. Acts of inference (or acts of thought, or
acts of knowing) are ‘a very special sort of events’ in that ‘they are “about”
something other than themselves and can be true or false’. It is only after
this passage, which has no parallel in the first edition, that Lewis submits
that there are ‘terms’ attached to this curious faculty of being either true or
false. And then without delay, as the first underlinable thing on the next
page: ‘the act of knowing[ʼs] ... positive character
must be determined by the truth it knows’. Briefly stating that this is
impossible in a |19| universe as defined by naturalism, he then
spends several pages examining three counter-arguments to this claim, i.e.
arguments attempting to preserve a naturalistic face for rationality. Rational
thought might perhaps be a product of natural selection; or of experience; or
of daily practice. In other words, we are now almost constantly thinking about
terms on which thought can be valid.
this is much better than the earlier insistence on
naturalism-as-a-proof-that-there-are-no-proofs. Meanwhile, the possible
successor Lewis temporarily allows – naturalism as an attempted proof that
there are proofs – fares no better.
It too is shown to fail; and its failure produces the discovery that ‘reason is
our starting point’. This conclusion is, of course, simply a rephrasing of the
old one, ‘the validity of thought is central’, or axiomatic. The new way to
reach the old conclusion, however, is both more inviting and more compelling.
It is a more natural road to nature’s ‘frontier’ – the subject of chapter IV.
improvement is, I think, the one recommended by Victor Reppert.
If the Argument from Reason is to be kept flying, we do well to frame it not as
a ‘skeptical-threat argument’ but as a ‘best-explanation argument’.20 A
move from the former to the latter mode appears to be the essence of Lewis’s
revision of Miracles, chapter III.
Lewis decided to bother less about the somewhat unreal problem that Reason
might not work: any opponent in any real debate is constantly attesting his or
her belief that Reason does work.
Instead, he spent more time treating rationality – best of all his naturalistic
opponent’s employment of it – as a fact in search of explanation.
the same time, and in the same movement, the focus of what he meant by Reason
(if there was a focus) appears to have shifted
|20| away from reasoning as a human faculty toward
rationality as a set of eternal and unassailable relations. It may be doubted
whether this latter distinction21
in fact enjoyed all the attention it deserved from Lewis. The move was
nevertheless a happy one, even if it was ‘a ticklish job’.22
began following the new course in the revised chapter of Miracles with an implicit nod to Anscombe. Shortly after beginning
the long new section of the revised chapter, he invites the reader ‘to notice
the two senses of the word because’.
As we know from her later comments, Anscombe considered the revision a real
improvement on the first version, and also an improvement on her own paper. The
gain was in an increased ‘recognition of the depth of the problem’. But she
still saw ‘much to criticize’.23
And indeed, after the nod to Anscombe we find Lewis soon getting under
his own steam again. What is worse for Anscombe, the conviction which was
probably nearest to her heart in this matter appears to have produced, through
her paper, the very opposite conviction in Lewis.
word because, he points out, denotes
either a Cause-and-Effect relation or a Ground-and-Consequent relation. This is
pretty exactly the thing Anscombe had urged him to recognize. In her plea for
better thinking about causes, she had warned him that because is a treacherous word.24
Lewis heeds the warning and duly highlights the |21| treachery. They are perfectly agreed now that
nature is basically an affair, not of irrational, but of non-rational causes, and that non-rational causes are unconnected
with any act of thought deserving of the name. But their conclusions from this
are exactly opposed. Anscombe’s argument is that we can’t postulate non-natural
causes for rationality since we can’t postulate any causes for rationality at
all; therefore this case for the existence of something outside nature falls to
the ground. However, her stressing the non-existence of any causes for
rationality only serves to strengthen Lewis’s original conviction – that
rationality is a non-natural thing.
paraphrase the whole affair as briefly as possible, starting with Lewis’s
original proposition and ending with his final statement as implied in the
L. If thoughts have only natural causes, then all thought must be
there is nothing irrational about causation.
you’re right there – but I’m afraid
there is nothing rational to it either.
be afraid: rationality has no causes, and needs no causes.
L. I daresay it doesn’t. It’s very special indeed. It’s not caused by
other things, nor causing them, but ‘about’ them. Nor would we humans have ever
begun to distinguish reason from the rest if reason had not been there in the
first place. Apparently causes are not everything: which is what I was saying.
perhaps, may serve as the brief summary I hoped to distil from the sources.
|22| What remains to be found
out is exactly why Anscombe thought the revision of Miracles a considerable improvement and still saw much to
criticize. Anscombe’s own last words on the matter, in 1981, were that
he doesn’t explore
this idea of ‘an act of knowing solely determined by what is known’, which is
obviously crucial ... I think we haven’t yet an answer to the question I have
quoted from him: ‘What is the connection between grounds and the actual
occurrence of the belief?’
This could be rhetorical; the intended
implication might be that we are certainly never going to have the answer. At the
same time it is significant that she still seems prepared to think and talk
about this ‘connection’ at all. It suggests that she was, perhaps, more willing
now than she had previously been to suspect some sort of real competition
between natural causes and unnatural ones; as if Lewis would have had a point
if he had shown exactly how the grounds for a belief result in someone’s
adopting that belief, or how the thing known determines the knowledge of it.25
|23| But of course he could never have shown
this in a way that would satisfy any real or acting defender of naturalism.
This, in fact, had been his whole point, the very reason why he had brought up
the matter in the first place – as Anscombe herself had helped him clarify.
There is a thing which is there and
yet is not nature. To explain the obstinately inscrutable ‘connection’ would
presumably be to reduce that thing to nature and so to obviate Lewis’s point.
His point is that it can’t be explained. If it were explained, there would have
been no point, no argument from reason, and no Anscombe affair.
are two further testimonies from the two contenders about their differences.
These are briefer than the briefest formula we could have found. Lewis and
Anscombe have both been reported to say ‘I won’.26
On the Anscombian view, there might be a way
to accept both comments as ‘full’ yet compatible explanations of what happened.
Each would then be perfectly true in its way – the one having causes, the other
having grounds. There would be no end, however, to the succeeding debate about
who had the grounds and who had the causes. If for no better reasons, it might
therefore be safer to say that both lost.
if Anscombe was candid enough to recognize a real improvement in the revised
chapter III of Miracles, she must
have seen also that the revision was only an elaboration of Lewis’s |24| original rejoinder during their Socratic
exchange in February 1948, as summarized in the published ‘Note’ and minutes.
Indeed, Lewis appears to have been quick to see his way out of the problem
presented by Anscombe’s attack. This is astonishing when we see the
‘complexity’ of the attack and see how it focused, if there was a focus, on the
sceptical-threat mode of Lewis’s argument; and further see how easily this
might have lured him deeper into the trap of that mode, deeper than he had
already gone; and then see how smoothly he avoided this and adopted the better
mode instead. To get such a rejoinder to your attack as Anscombe got is perhaps
not to lose but it can hardly be called to ‘win’. On the other hand, Anscombe’s
criticisms were clearly justified if only because, as she noted with good
justice, ‘Lewis’ rethinking and rewriting showed he thought [they] were accurate’.27
A man who follows up an attack on something he has written by an
extensive rewriting in partial recognition of the justness of that attack
cannot be properly said to have ‘won’ either. Perhaps – if and when it comes to
designating a winner – the best final evaluation of the affair is not that both
parties won, but that both gained. Or is this what we call a win-win game after
all? It seems the obvious conclusion from a closer look at what Lewis really
did to Miracles.
2 ^ First published in The Socratic Digest Nr. 4 (1948), pp.
7-15; later in The Collected
Philosophical Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe, vol. II, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind (Basil Blackwell, Oxford
1981), 224-232, with the relevant part of her preface on pp. ix-x. Page
references are to the latter edition.
3 ^ Mary Midgley, a
friend and fellow student of Elizabeth Anscombe’s at Oxford from about 1940
onward (both were born in 1919), has reflected in her autobiography that during
their undergraduate days ‘her [Anscombe’s] approach was as far as possible from
the standard triumphant “But what could that possibly mean?” which was the parrot cry of brisk young men who had picked
up enough logical positivism to be sure already that it couldn’t mean anything.
She could see that it did mean something … but it was still very hard to say
just what’. Nevertheless, Anscombe ‘was sometimes fractious, intolerant and
unreasonable’ and ‘her devils were a good deal less active in those early days
than they became later [i.e. from 1942 on] after she moved to Cambridge and
came under Wittgenstein’s influence’ (Midgley, The Owl of Minerva: A Memoir, 2005, p. 115). During the academic
year 1946-47, Anscombe was back in Oxford but still attending tutorials with
Wittgenstein in Cambridge on the philosophy of religion. She became good
friends with Wittgenstein, who named her as one of his three literary
executors. She was a devout and sometimes militant Catholic from her early
undergraduate days till the end of her life. She married the philosopher Peter
Geach in December 1941, but remained ‘Miss Anscombe’
for everyone including her husband. They had seven children, one of whom also
became a philosopher and married one.
4 ^ A term not employed
by either Lewis or Anscombe and perhaps not yet current in their day. I have
found the term to involve a risk for its users to neglect the question what the
argument argues for.
5 ^ Anscombe, o.c., 226. Two
further fragments from this part of her attack are worth quoting: ‘What do you
mean by “really valid”?’ and ‘What can
you mean by “valid” beyond what would be indicated by the explanation you would
give for distinguishing between valid and invalid … ?’
7 ^ ‘Oxford’s Bonny Fighter’,
chapter 16 in C. S. Lewis at the
Breakfast Table (ed. James T. Como, new edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
San Diego etc. 1992; re-issued by Ignatius Press, San Francisco in 2005 as Remembering C. S. Lewis), 162. The
chapter is a brief history of the Oxford University Socratic Club during its
first thirteen years (1942-54) when Lewis was the Club’s president and
presented a paper of his own there about once a year.
8 ^ In a letter of 4
December 1959 to his publisher Lewis suggests a cover text or trade information
for the paperback Miracles: ‘This is
neither an abridgement nor a reprint but a new edition. The author has
re-written a large part of Chapter ? [sic]
and corrected all errors that he could find elsewhere’ (Collected Letters III, p. 1103) For a full survey of all the
changes outside the re-written chapter see www.lewisiana.nl/anscombe/appendices.pdf.
Some of the additional changes are clearly relevant to the Anscombe affair,
such as the one in ch. II and the first one in ch. XIV.
^ Anscombe, o.c., 231. Lewis’s
‘Note’ and the excerpt from the Socratic minute-book have also been published
as appendices to his own paper ‘Religion without Dogma?’ (1946), reprinted in
several collections. This 1946 paper, part of a long and intermittent
discussion with the Oxford philosopher H. H. Price, includes a brief version of
Lewis’s ‘argument from Reason’ and was originally published in the same Socratic Digest as Anscombe’s paper (cf.
note 2 above).
12 ^ Compare
the first (Geoffrey Bles) edition’s pp. 33, 34, 35, 39 with Fontana pp. 29, 30,
31, 34. The other changes in chapter IV are: (1) a considerable expansion of
the first sentence; (2) three cases of ‘Rational’ changed to ‘rational’, one
case of ‘Reason’ and one of ‘a Reason’ both changed to ‘reason’; (3) the
deletion of one sentence, perhaps considered to be redundant, in the fifth
16 ^ In chapter V the
argument from Reason is receiving its usual Lewisian support and parallel in
what may be called the argument from Ethics. A concise
example of the two key arguments in conjunction is in Lewis’s 1942 essay
‘Miracles’ (published both in the American 1970 and the British 1979 volume
called God in the Dock), which as a
whole prefigures the book: ‘In order to think we must claim for our own
reasoning a validity which is not credible if our thought is merely a function
of our brain, and our brains a by-product of irrational physical processes. In
order to act, above the level of mere impulse, we must claim a similar validity
for our judgements of good and evil. In both cases we get the same disquieting
result. The concept of nature itself is one we have reached only tacitly by
claiming a sort of super-natural
status for ourselves’. Lewis’s use of ‘valid’ and ‘irrational’ in this piece
is, of course, pre-Anscombian. What I called the
‘argument from Ethics’ got its fullest Lewisian treatment in The Abolition of Man (1943).
17 ^ Bles p. 26; Fontana p. 19.
19 ^ Bles p. 28.
20 ^ Reppert, CSL’s Dangerous Idea, 59-60. A fuller name for ‘best-explanation
argument’ is ‘inference to the best explanation’, as I learned later and
elsewhere. I confess that, as a philosophical layman and a non-native reader
of English, I was nonplussed for a while by Reppert’s
– and his publisher’s – failure to provide the hyphen in ‘best-explanation
argument’ and ‘sceptical-threat argument’.
22 ^ Curiously
in view of my interpretation of the change, a comparison of the revised
chapter’s last sentence with that of the original chapter would in itself
suggest a change in the opposite direction. This might further suggest that
Lewis would not have characterized the change quite the way I do.
24 ^ The
pitfalls of the word because in the
present context may have enjoyed some attention from Lewis well before
Anscombe’s critique, as appears from a somewhat enigmatic remark in a letter to
Dorothy Sayers of 20 May 1943: ‘Yes – there was going to be a note on the word becauseʼ (Collected Letters II, p. 575). On 13
May, Sayers had complained to him about the lack of ‘any up-to-date books about
Miracles’; on 17 May he had replied telling her ‘I’m starting a book on Miracles’
and sending her his 1942 essay on the subject (see note 16). It is not known
what she wrote to him between 17 and 20 May 1943.
25 ^ Another
comment by Sarot (cf. note 21 above) was that it might be useful to include Anscombe’s
famous little book Intention (1957)
in my enterprise and treat it as part of the debate. I haven’t done so, partly
because this might better be left to specialists, but also because there is
nothing in the published Lewis corpus (including the Collected Letters) to suggest that Lewis ever read Intention. In fact the 1960 revision of Miracles itself makes no mention
whatever of Anscombe. This may seem strange; but if Lewis remembered their 1948
debate essentially as Anscombe remembered it – as ‘a sober discussion of
certain quite definite criticisms’, and if like her he would have tended to
construe the more dramatic explanations of his own unhappiness after the
debate as ‘projection’ (Anscombe, o.c., x) – this would certainly help to explain why he just
made the required corrections and in the process tried to reaffirm his original
point without further ado. Meanwhile some of his observations such as the one
about acts of thought being ‘about’ other things, and the unanswered question
she quotes from him, may have been highly tantalizing for Anscombe and
precisely therefore, in the end, disappointing, if still deserving attention.
She may have had some hope that Lewis would help us find a grail she spent much
of her life seeking. My speculation here appears to be at least compatible with
Roger Teichmann’s concluding remarks in his
contribution to the present issue. Further light will perhaps be thrown on
this when the transcript is published of a tape-recorded talk given by Anscombe
to the Oxford CSL Society shortly before her death in 2001.
26 ^ Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Fully revised & expanded edition
(HarperCollins, London 2002), 290. ‘Lewis told Walter Hooper in 1963 that he
“won”; when Hooper met Miss Anscombe for the first time in 1964 she said, “I
won.”’ The biography’s first edition (Collins, London 1974, p. 228) has: ‘Lewis
told Walter Hooper he was not defeated, and Miss Anscombe told Hooper that he
27 ^ Anscombe, o.c., x.