An Ebola-Like Microbe and The Limits of Kind-Based Goodness

Philosophia 50 (2):451-471 (2022)
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Aristotelian theory, as found in Michael Thompson and Philippa Foot, claims that to be good is to be good as a member of that kind, and so there are varying standards of goodness dependent on an individual’s kind-membership. It is a perhaps little noticed feature of Foot’s project, in particular, that it aims to provide more than just a kind-relative account, but seeks an exhaustive account of goodness. She concludes, in effect, that goodness admits of only the kind-based sort. Accordingly, an individual’s goodness obtains solely in virtue of its satisfying kind-based standards. However, Mark Murphy has argued that a hypothetical “ignorant being” could satisfy its kind-relative standards by being ignorant, but we plausibly judge it to be bad when it does. Thus, an individual’s goodness does not obtain solely in virtue of meeting kind-based standards. In this sense, the ignorant being is a counterexample to any Aristotelian account similar to Foot’s. Unfortunately, Murphy’s counterexample fails because kind-based standards cannot require the lack of something. Nonetheless, I develop Murphy’s insight that something can satisfy kind-relative standards but nonetheless be bad—I propose a hypothetical Ebola-like microbe that meets its kind-standards of being destructive for its own sake, but it would plausibly be bad for doing so. In defending my counterexample, I challenge the Aristotelian contention that evaluations should only be made from “within” the standpoint of a particular lifeform conception, rather than an “external” one from which that kind itself can be judged to be bad.

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Berman Chan
Lanzhou University


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