In This Article Philippa Foot

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • The Virtues
  • Against Consequentialism
  • Against Nietzsche
  • Against Moral Relativism

Philosophy Philippa Foot
by
Evgenia Mylonaki
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0391

Introduction

Philippa Foot (b. 1920–d. 2010) is one of the leading philosophers of 20th-century analytic philosophy. Her two collections of essays and her one monograph include important contributions to debates concerning the objectivity of morality, the meaning of moral terms, the logical status of moral judgments, the nature of practical rationality, the place of human action and reason in nature, the limitations of consequentialism, the rationality of justice and morality, the connection between virtue and happiness, the relation between reasons and desires, the character and the pervasiveness of moral dilemmas, the threat of immoralism, etc. But the contribution of her work extends past these interventions in discussions that were already underway. Foot’s thought was part of what reoriented the focus of analytic philosophy from a partial view of morality as a system of rules concerning the relation between individuals and between individuals and society to a wider view of the human good as what it is to be good at being at work in being human. Her contribution to this shift in analytic philosophy was often overlooked (hence the scarce exegetic literature on her work) or misunderstood. When it was misunderstood, her thought contributed to the rise of the virtue-ethics alternative to the utilitarian and deontological normative ethical theories. But when it was properly appreciated, it contributed to the emergence of neo-Aristotelianism in practical philosophy in general (life, action, rationality, normativity, etc.). The substance of Foot’s philosophy is Aristotelian: her exploration of the human good through the lenses of the virtues, her conception of the human virtues as forms of goodness which don’t depart logically from forms of goodness in plant and animal life, and her account of practical rationality as the cognitive element of the virtues. The spirit in which she does philosophy is Wittgensteinian: her treatment of moral subjectivism by constantly bringing attention back to the grammar of moral concepts, as well as the construal of her positive view concerning the human good in terms of the nature of the representation of that good; especially in her later work. Given her wide-ranging contribution to philosophy, it is a shame that Philippa Foot is largely known for thought experiments such as the Trolley Problem. Luckily, excellent recent systematic and exegetic philosophy on her work is promising to correct this unfortunate circumstance.

General Overviews

The reader can find a concise presentation of Foot’s work in Hursthouse 2012. Hacker-Wright 2018 is a way more comprehensive entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Hacker-Wright 2013 provides the only book-length treatment of Foot’s work as a whole. Voorhoeve 2003 gives an excellent account of the spirit of the work by the philosopher herself.

  • Hacker-Wright, John. Philippa Foot’s Moral Thought. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

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    Surprisingly enough, the only comprehensive monograph on Foot’s work. Situates her work beautifully in contemporary analytic moral philosophy. Traces the lines of continuity and discontinuity that run through her corpus. Discusses objections to her fundamental claims and offers a convincing interpretation of the systematic nature of her thought. Ideal for anyone who is interested in the thought of Philippa Foot but also in 20th-century analytic ethics.

  • Hacker-Wright, John. “Philippa Foot.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

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    Very clear and thoughtful introduction to Foot’s contribution to moral philosophy. Focuses largely on Foot’s most important work, doing justice to the subtleties of her thought as opposed to giving a brief and unsatisfactory reading of most of her published work. Ideal for the student of moral philosophy but also anyone with an interest in Foot’s ethical naturalism.

  • Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Philippa Ruth Foot 1920–2010.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy 11 (2012): 176–196.

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    Short encyclopedic entry. Contains some information on her life and intellectual background but also a short overview of her work with an emphasis on her early views on the fact/value and is/ought gap, her work in applied ethics, and her Foot 2001 (cited under Reference Works). Useful for the beginner.

  • Voorhoeve, Alex. “The Grammar of Goodness: An Interview with Philippa Foot.” The Harvard Review of Philosophy 11 (2003): 32–44.

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    In this interview Foot discusses the origin of her interest in moral philosophy and her Anscombean and Wittgensteinian influences; she traces the origin of her interest in the virtues in her aspiration to ground the objectivity of moral judgments, and provides insight into most of the strands of her argument in Foot 2001 (cited under Reference Works). It is worth noting that she gives a secondary role to her work in medical ethics.

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