39. Philippa Foot

Philisopher Philippa Foot claimed ‘In moral philosophy it is useful, I believe, to think about plants.’
Her point was that nature is how things are, morality is how we humans think things ought to be.
Are humans a part of nature or not?

It is a hope that we have about our civilised selves that we have morals. We can improve oursleves. Can moral judgments be true or false? Perhaps they don’t describe the world: they are there to be chosen. Do humans construct their own values, or are they natural?

Foot was brought up in privilege but not in education. Against family values she applied to Oxford University. There she was shown how to think freely. ” If there is such a thing as goodness, it is not to be found in nature, and therefore, not to be investigated by those who make it their business to study nature, ie scientists and their philosophical apprentices.”

Right and wrong, good and bad were purely subjective wishes. Religion and art were seen as false. Looking at the impact of the Holocaust negated the idea that the moral was automatically good. The sense that all morality was good would not stand anymore. What happened if morality was bad? Or just what humans made it what they wanted it to be?

The point is that individuals choose their values freely. There was less sense of good and bad. Was it moral or acceptable that you could explain away your values and ethics being ordered by a higher authority? As Satre pointed out humans do not have a basic nature but a blank canvas which they are free to write on.

The fact that we think oursleves as masters of the universe does not stand up to scrutiny when we are destroying nature and the world we live in. Foot explained that there was little difference between a natural use of good as in the good roots of a tree, and or a person’s actions being good. Her intention was never to answer questions but just to say: ‘nothing is settled, but everything is left as it was’.

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