How temptation works: Anscombe on St Peter

Many philosophers think of succumbing to temptation as a matter of unreasonably revising a prior decision — as when, for example, you ask for a second glass of wine at dinner despite the earlier decision to have just one. But I will argue that this way of describing temptation overlooks a distinct phenomenon, in which a person acts contrary to what she has decided but without ever changing her mind about what to do. In cases of this kind, the work of temptation is that of persuading a person that, really, doing the tempting thing isn’t a violation of their prior resolve. The latter phenomenon is, I suggest, central to G. E. M. Anscombe’s reading of the story of Peter’s betrayal in the closing pages of /Intention/. Having highlighted this distinction and made the case for it, I argue further that recognizing that temptation can take this other form has important consequences for our understanding of how to resist it, as it reveals a crucial role for prudence in the execution of our standing decisions.