Anselm Mueller

Anselm Mueller
Chicago Moral Philosophy Seminar Visiting Professor
Stuart Hall, Room 202-A
Office Hours: Spring Quarter: Wednesdays, 3:00 - 4:00 pm
University of Fribourg PhD (1966)

A student of Elizabeth Anscombe and Anthony Kenny at Oxford in the early sixties, Professor Müller has taught philosophy at Oxford University, Australian National University, University of Trier, University of Luxemborg, and Keimyung University.  He has written many books and articles in the following areas: ethics, rationality, action theory, philosophy of mind, and the history of philosophy (especially Aristotle and Wittgenstein). He has been a regular Visiting Professor in the Department of Philosophy since 2011. A conference on his work was held here on campus in that year: "Virtue, Action, and Reason: A Conference in Honor of Anselm Müller."

Selected Publications

Was taugt die Tugend? Elemente einer Ethik des guten Lebens. Japanese edition (transl. Hiroshi Goto / Mitsugu Ochi). Kyoto: Koyoshobo 2017.

Produktion oder Praxis? Philosophie des Handelns. Heusenstamm: Ontos 2008. 

"Laßt und Menschen machen!" Ansprüche der Gentechnik – Einspruch der Vernunft. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2004.

Was taugt die Tugend? Elemente einer Ethik des guten Lebens. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1998.

Tötung auf Verlangen Wohltat oder Untat? Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1997.

Demokratie: Illusionen und Chancen. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1996 (in cooperation with C. Friedrich).

Ende der Moral? Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1995 (in cooperation with W. Greve, Y.‐Y. Han and K. Rothermund).

Praktisches Folgern und Selbstgestaltung nach Aristoteles. Freiburg: Alber 1982 (habilitationsschrift).

Ontologie in Wittgensteins Tractatus. Bonn: Bouvier 1967 (doctoral dissertation).

Recent Courses

PHIL 20011/30011 Obligation as an Ethical Notion

Whereas philosophers of Antiquity and the Middle Ages generally hold that good conduct is required for happiness, modern moral philosophy conceives of it as required by law-like obligation. Anscombe has famously argued that such a conception makes no sense independently of belief in a divine law-giver. Is she right? Or should philosophy rather take seriously the experience of “feeling duty-bound” to keep promises, help people in need, work conscientiously etc. and conclude that there is such a thing as moral obligation independently of a legislating authority? What does the Natural Law tradition say about this? What is actually involved in the idea of a moral Ought? Can there be absolute practical necessities? or unconditional obligations without sanction? Would we have reason to comply? How can the content of a “moral law” be known? Are happiness-oriented ethics definitely incompatible with ideas of such a law? (A) (I)

2022-2023 Spring

PHIL 21516/31516 Does virtue make you happy?

Moral philosophers have approached their subject, the virtuous life, from different perspectives. More specifically, the ancients ask: What constitutes, and what kind of conduct advances, our happiness? while the moderns tend to ask: How is it right, or our duty, to act? The two perspectives may lead to very similar conceptions of what to do and what not to do. Nevertheless, not only as philosophers, but as agents, too, we seem to approach the project of living well quite differently, depending on whether we prefix it by should or would. – This course is to examine what is involved in the basically Aristotelian view that happiness is the central idea that ought to guide both ethical enquiry and moral orientation. What, then, do we mean by the word? What might happiness consist in – and how can we know this? Can it be attained in this life? Is good conduct conducive to it, or could it even consist in good conduct? Can the “quest for happiness” be a source of moral obligation? Does it not rather, at least occasionally, mean egoism and compete with the dictates of conscience? What do you ultimately mean to live for? – These and related questions will be discussed against the background of (chiefly contemporary) readings. (A) (I) (IV)

2021-2022 Spring

PHIL 21514/31514 What is so good about virtue?

Virtue is a central concept in many traditions of moral philosophy. What is its relation to notions such as action, practical reason, norm, obligation, goodness, happiness, pleasure? Why not put any of these other notions first in one’s ethical thinking? – The answer is to be found in a unique contribution that virtues, as dispositions of the human will, make to what we are, and what we are conscious of being.

2020-2021 Spring

PHIL 21509/31509 Practical Rationality

Humans are said to be rational animals. What does rationality, understood as a capacity, consist in? And what is practical rationality, understood as a qualified way of thinking, feeling, and acting? – In this course we are going to consider a roughly Aristotelian framework for answering these and related questions. The place of reason in human nature is characterized by a complex teleology: its employment is both purpose and instrument. To make use of reason is, centrally, to infer, i.e. to think and act for reasons. The roles of reasons are various: they validate, justify, prompt and guide, explain … To act on a reason is, typically, to do something for the sake of some end. This is so, in particular, in the context of more or less technical reasoning. But the most basic and ultimate reasons, the ones by heeding which we act justly or unjustly and, more generally, well or badly, seem not to be of this form. How then do they enter the constitution of a good human life?

2019-2020 Spring
Philosophy of Mind

PHIL 20001/30001 Emotions and Their Ethical Significance

It has been said that one’s emotions bespeak one’s character even more truly than one’s actions do. At the same time there is a long tradition of opposing the emotions to reason, and some ethical conceptions, e.g. Stoicism and Buddhism, suspect them of undermining virtue. Such positions are not without foundation. Doesn’t fear prevent you from pursuing an excellent project? Do not greed and envy stand in the way of justice and charity? Does not pride prevent veracity and deprive you of friends? Nevertheless, those pessimistic views fail to do justice, first, to the importance of emotions in human life, second to the role of reason in their constitution and, third, to their indispensable contribution to a life of virtue. – In the first half of the course we are going to investigate how reason is at work in typical emotions, providing the soul with patterns of inclination that take it (inferentially, as it were) from kinds of occasion and their ostensible significance to kinds of inward and outward response. We’ll also see that the apparent involuntariness of emotions does not in fact remove them from our accountability. Nevertheless, being “passions”, they expose us to the impact of our surroundings. What is the significance of the resulting “passivity”? – This question takes us to the second half of the course: an exploration of the relevance of our emotionality to a good life. Emotions enhance motivation: acts of loyalty or charity, for instance, find support in affection and sympathy. Likewise, admittedly, acts of cruelty are helped by hatred! Emotionality is indeed ambivalent. But, if all goes well, our feelings support the practice of virtue, and thwart its obstruction. Moreover readiness to emotional responses goes with alertness to occasions and opportunities – again for better or worse. One’s readiness to appropriate feelings of gratitude makes one notice undeserved support and the need to acknowledge it; the compassionate person is aware of distress that he / she may be able to alleviate. Similarly, of course, the resentful person is good at perceiving affront and injury (even where there are none!). Still, it may be doubted that morality would have a grip on human living even to the moderate extent to which it does shape people’s conduct, if practical reason were not assisted in its task by a well-formed emotionality – where “well” means both in accordance with virtue or right reason and to a sufficient extent. Does all this mean the value of “virtuous feelings” is essentially instrumental? (A)

2018-2019 Spring

PHIL 21504/31504 The Nature of Practical Reason

Practical reason can be distinguished from theoretical or speculative reason in many ways. Traditionally, some philosophers have distinguished the two by urging that speculative or theoretical reason aims at truth, whereas practical aims at good. More recently, some have urged that the two are best known by their fruits. The theoretical exercise of reason yields beliefs, or knowledge, or understanding whereas the practical exercise of reason yields action, or an intention to do something, or a decision about which action to choose or which policy to adopt. In this course, we will focus on practical reason, looking at dominant accounts of practical reason, discussions of the distinction between practical and theoretical reasons, accounts of rationality in general and with respect to practical reason, and related topics.

At least one course in philosophy.

2017-2018 Spring
Philosophy of Action

PHIL 20212/30212 Ethics with Anscombe

Elizabeth Anscombe has deeply influenced moral philosophy ever since the publication of her book Intention and the article "Modern Moral Philosophy". The rise of contemporary Virtue Ethics is only one indication of this influence; and the important themes addressed in those writings are only some among a great many topics raised and absorbingly discussed in Anscombe's work on ethics and matters moral. This class is intended to track and discuss the most central issues she brings to our attention in her uniquely original and searching way. It is to cover both questions in the area of "meta-ethics" and the discussion of basic moral standards, including such topics as: Teleological and psychological foundations; Kinds and sources of practical necessity; The importance of truth; Practical reasoning; Morally relevant action descriptions; Intention and consequence; "linguistically created" institutions; Knowledge and certainty in moral matters; Upbringing versus conscience; Sex and marriage; War and murder; Man's spiritual nature. (A) (I)

2016-2017 Spring
History of Analytic Philosophy

For full list of Anselm Mueller's courses back to the 2012-13 academic year, see our searchable course database.