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G. E. M. Anscombe Practical Truth A stone can't lie in ambush waiting to trip you up. A cracking branch of a tree doesn't aim at the cups and glasses it breaks in falling. A monkey can't open a bank account. A cow can't pay debts. Now, there is a special kind ofmultiplicity oflevels ofdescription of human acts of which I want to speak. I put ink on paper in the form of letters. I'm writing something. I am in fact signing something with my name. And I'm therebyjoining in a petition to the governor of the state—or prison—where I am an inhabitant. I am taking part in a campaign to get people tortured under interrogation . In doing this I am keeping a promise. I am avoiding trouble with some conspirators who have got me to promise to do that. What I'm now wanting to remind you ofis just this kind ofdifferent levels ofdescription. I don't mean every list ofdifferent things This article is the initial paper in the series of"Working Papers in Law, Medicine, and Philosophy" (edited by John M. Dolan) published by the Program in Human Rights and Medicine ofthe University ofMinnesota. It appears here with the permission of the author and of die Program in Human Rights and Medicine. LOGOS 2:3 SUMMER 1999 PRACTICAL TRUTH that might suitably be called "different levels." That might apply to the branch ofthe tree falling. It breaks the glasses it falls on. It infuriates the owner of the glasses. It makes him behave crossly to the people he is with. So it causes him to lose a contract he was hoping to make. This is a sequence of effects, each effect a cause of the next one. Like in the lines: For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse, the rider was lost. For want of the rider, a message was lost. For want ofthe message, a battle was lost. And all for the want of a horse-shoe nail. But the kind of different levels ofdescription ofa human action that I want to attend to here takes as examples descriptions of the same act under which the agent is responsible (guilty or praiseworthy ). In many cases all the descriptions are descriptions under which the action is intentional. In these cases, the series of descriptions is connected with a special sort of developing series of true answers to the question"What for?"You were writing your name on a piece ofpaper—what for? The answer is "I was signing a contract ofsale of a car." What for? "So as not to own the car, so as to be able to avoid its being taken from me by bailiffs to contribute to a fine I don't want to pay—that is, to avoid paying a fine." What for? "Oh, because I regard the fine as unjust and am therefore unwilling to pay it, and I don't want property taken from me to meet it."Why won't you give up your property to pay a fine you think unjust? "Simply because I think it unjust and I can reasonably avoid loss of property in this way." This sort ofseries showing one's intentions in respect ofa series of descriptions of some one action is not indeed the only type of example where the agent is responsible. For a true answer to "Why did you do this?" might be "I didn't notice such-and-such features of 69 7° LOGOS the situation." But such an answer raises complicated issues which I don't want to cover here, so I will stick to the type I have exemplified in some detail, where the action-descriptions form a related series and were shown by the true answers to the questions as being descriptions under which the action was intentional. My purpose in discussing such cases is to explain the notion of practical truth. So far as I know, Aristotle was the first to formulate this concept. The place to find it formulated is the second...


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