Interrupting the conversation: Donald MacKinnon, wartime tutor of Anscombe, Midgley, Murdoch and Foot

Journal of Philosophy of Education 56 (6):838–850 (2022)
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Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot all studied at Oxford University during the Second World War. One of their wartime tutors was Donald MacKinnon. This paper gives a broad overview of MacKinnon's philosophical outlook as it was developing at this time. Four talks from between 1938 and 1941—‘And the Son of Man That Thou Visiteth Him’ (1938), ‘What Is a Metaphysical Statement?’ (1940), ‘The Function of Philosophy in Education’ (1941) and ‘Revelation and Social Justice’ (1941)—give a foretaste of the conception of moral philosophy that he later articulated in A Study of Ethical Theory (1957). We identify aspects of his philosophical outlook and unusual treatment of method that likely shaped his teaching. We trace his influence in the work of Midgley, Murdoch and Foot, all of whom studied with him from Trinity Term 1940 until their finals in 1942. In the case of Anscombe, though she was briefly his student—he taught her Plato—she and MacKinnon moved in shared intellectual circles, and there is reason to think that some of the forces that shaped MacKinnon's outlook also shaped hers. The sketch we offer is incomplete—in particular, we are not able to do justice to MacKinnon's explicitly theological writings—but we hope to achieve three things. First, to go some way towards indicating the importance of the teacher MacKinnon to understanding the work of his better-known pupils. Second, to introduce a philosopher for whom the teaching of philosophy, practical ethics and metaphysical theory were deeply entwined. Third, to reflect on the relationship between, on the one hand, a conception of the practice and significance of metaphysics and, on the other, a view on the role and nature of philosophical teaching and learning.



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Author Profiles

Clare Mac Cumhaill
Durham University
Rachael Wiseman
University of Liverpool

References found in this work

Intention.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1957 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 57:321-332.
Language, Truth, and Logic.A. J. Ayer - 1936 - Philosophy 23 (85):173-176.
Natural Goodness.Philippa Foot - 2001 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 64 (3):604-606.
The Sovereignty of Good.Iris Murdoch - 1971 - Religious Studies 8 (2):180-181.

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