Lucy Campbell

Interest (Researcher)

Elizabeth Anscombe


My work in epistemology and philosophy of mind and action is heavily influenced by Elizabeth Anscombe's work, especially on what she called 'practical knowledge' - the knowledge a person has of what she is intentionally doing and why. Anscombe is clear in her 1957 monograph Intention that practical knowledge differs formally or structurally from knowledge of facts or goings-on in the world which are not our doings - what she called 'theoretical knowledge'. Very roughly (and following an idea in Aquinas about God's knowledge of creation), whereas theoretical knowledge depends metaphysically on its object, the object of practical knowledge depends metaphysically on practical knowledge. Practical knowledge is somehow embodied in or constituted by the agent's intention, or the fact that she intends to be doing what she is doing. It is knowledge, as Anscombe puts it, "in intention" (Intention ยง 32).

This fascinating idea in Anscombe about how to understand the relationship between intentional action and knowledge of what one is doing opens up several questions and further possibilities. Two which I have been particularly interested in during my PhD and in later work are:

1. How could there be a kind of knowledge which is not a response to how things are? In what respect is it right to call what Anscombe calls 'practical knowledge' knowledge?
2. Might there be other forms of knowledge which differ formally from theoretical knowledge - and perhaps from practical knowledge too?

My PhD and subsequent work has focused on these questions. I wrote my PhD on practical knowledge, and have been developing this work alongside work on 'self-knowledge' of our own current mental states since then. At the moment I am working on a Leverhulme-funded project (an 'Early Career Fellowship') entitled Epistemological Pluralism. The aim of this project is to answer questions like 1 and 2. In particular, it starts from the thought that by stark contrast with Anscombe, the standard general accounts of knowledge on offer in the literature fail to take seriously significant formal differences between the various species of knowledge. The result is that philosophers interested in describing the structure of propositional knowledge in general tend to end up with accounts which are simply unable to accommodate certain forms of knowledge. My current project aims to better understand the different forms which propositional knowledge can take, and to develop a general epistemological framework apt to accommodate these different forms.

I have more recently started thinking more about other aspects of Anscombe's work too. I am in the process of completing a paper linking Anscombe's notion of practical knowledge to another notion she discusses - that of 'practical truth' (this time borrowed from Aristotle: see her papers "Thought and Action in Aristotle", "Practical Inference", and "Practical Truth"). And I have also been trying to understand the detail and implications of her contentious claim in her paper "The First Person" that "I" does not refer. Does mean that knowledge expressed in the first person ("I have a headache"; "I was the first to arrive") is non-propositional? If so, what is the object of such knowledge? If such knowledge is propositional, what is its propositional content?

If you are interested in reading more about my work in general, or my Epistemological Pluralism project, see here and here respectively. And to see in more detail how Anscombe's work has influenced mine, have a look at the PhilPapers links associated with this entry.



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