Master of Arts
Date of Defense
Berit Brogaard, Ph.D.
In Natural Goodness, Philippa Foot aims to give an account of goodness and badness in action in terms of natural goodness and defect. In this paper I argue that Foot’s account of natural goodness fails as an attempt to ground the evaluation of living things in their life forms, even before its extension to moral evaluation. Foot’s overall project depends on her characterization of a life form, and she gives an account of life forms in terms of a theory of biological teleology. Teleological propositions, for Foot, give an answer to the question “What part does it play in the life cycle of things of the species S?” Foot’s biological teleology holds that the features and behaviors of nonhuman organisms are all aimed at the ends of characteristic development, self-maintenance, and reproduction. However, there are alternative theories of biological teleology from an evolutionary perspective. From this perspective, germ-line gene replication is the end towards which the functions of living things are aimed. I argue that given the fact that Foot’s teleology is not the only available theory, she faces a dilemma. She may either hold that her account is preferable biologically speaking, and that teleological notions in evolutionary biology are mistaken, or she may hold that her account of teleology is compatible with those in biology since each is concerned with very different tasks. Along with William FitzPatrick, I call the former the “exclusive approach,” and the latter the “complementary approach.” I argue that the exclusive approach fails on biological grounds. Against the complementary approach, I focus on worries about the ways Foot might understand the life form and life cycle if her teleology is not taken as a theory drawing on empirical science. I find that neither an exclusive approach nor a complementary approach will yield a theory of teleology sufficient for defending Foot’s claims about the basis of natural evaluation.
Popoff, Emalee, "Does Foot Have a Leg to Stand On?: A Dilemma for an Attempt to Ground Evaluative Judgment in Biological Teleology" (2011). Theses. 208.