“Why Should I?” Can Foot Convince the Sceptic?
For Philippa Foot, the essence of morality consists in acting on the reasons on which, qua human being, one ought to act; and this ought is one of “natural normativity”—the same ought that also occurs in statements about what a plant or an animal, qua exhibiting a certain form of life, “ought” to be like in various respects, or how its organs “ought” to function. Of this conception Foot avails herself in order to refute the moral sceptic—an undertaking that raises various critical questions, in particular: 1) Is it the naturally normative ought that also occurs in a practical judgement of the form “I ought to F”? If so, how are we to account for what Foot calls the “practicality” of such a judgement? If not, what kind of intelligible step could an agent (or a philosopher) take, in order to get from a theoretical statement of natural normativity to a practical judgement that ceteris paribus issues in action? 2) Can we understand the validity of every moral requirement in terms of natural normativity, i.e. of a teleological necessity of individuals’ acting well? 3) If we can, will this understanding rely on premises sufficiently certain to justify morality in a sense suggested by Foot’s anti-sceptical considerations?—I argue that “Natural Goodness” does not satisfactorily answer these questions, and conclude by sketching an account of practical moral knowledge that does not seem to provoke them.
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