Natural goodness and natural evil

Ratio 19 (2):199–213 (2006)
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In Natural Goodness Philippa Foot gives an analysis of the concepts we use to describe the characteristics of living things. She suggests that we describe them in functional terms, and this allows us to judge organisms as good or defective depending on how well they perform their distinctive functions. Foot claims that we can judge intentional human actions in the same way: the virtues contribute in obvious ways to good human functioning, and this provides us with grounds for making moral judgements. This paper criticises Foot’s argument by challenging her notion of function. I argue that the type of judgement she makes about living things requires an evolutionary biological account of function. However, such an account would render her meta-ethical claims implausible, since it is unlikely that human beings are adapted to be maximally virtuous. I conclude that Foot is wrong about the logical structure of our judgements of human action.

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Joseph Millum
University of St. Andrews


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