My Philosopher: Philippa Foot

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Philippa Foot was born on Oct. 3,1920, in Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire and grew up in Kirkleatham, in North Yorkshire. Philippa went to Somerville College, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1942. Just four years later, after receiving her bachelor’s degree she got her master’s degree and started to teach at Somerville in 1947. She was also a philosophy professor at the University of California, Los Angles until 1991 where she then retired.

Foot was highly influenced by philosophers such as R. M. Hare and Charles L. Stevenson. These philosophers’ moral ideas involved maintaining that moral statements were expressions of attitude and emotion. They believed this because they felt that these statements could not be deemed true or false in the same way factual statements could be. After being highly influenced by these philosophers, Foot began to argue about the interconnectedness of facts and moral understandings. In her argument she insisted that virtues such as courage, wisdom and temperance are essential to human life and the foundation of morality. Foot’s research and study on this subject contributed to the concept of virtue ethics. Foot also opposed deontology, utilitarianism and consequentialism. More importantly, Foot disagreed with arguments that free will requires determinism and more specifically that one could not be held responsible for “chance” actions chosen for no reason. She wrote,

To say that a man acted freely is, it is often suggested, to say that he was not constrained, or that he could have done otherwise if he had chosen, or something else of that kind; and since these things could be true even if his action was determined it seems that there could be room for free will even within a universe completely subject to causal laws. (The Philosophical Review, vol LXVI, (1957), p.439).

On the other hand, Foot also argued against the argument that everything happens by chance or because it is determined.

One of Philippa Foot’s most famous works is called the Trolley experiment. The experiment entailed a runaway trolley that is coming quickly down railroad tracks. Beyond the tracks are five people tied up unable to move. There are options in the experiment if you pull a lever you are able to switch the trolley to a different track, however there is one person on that different set tracks.

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In regards to Philippa Foot’s argument, the ways in which she defended her argument and opposed other’s arguments is valid. The statement that courage and wisdom are important to morality is justifiable. For instance, in life everyone is faced with hard decisions whether they are easy or hard to make. Virtue ethics is used in day-to-day life as individuals begin to make decisions, which later shape them for their future. Every decision he or she makes will allow them to inform further decisions and to grow as a human being. Foot’s trolley experiment is an occurrence that can happen in everyday life. For example, when you make a decision to harm one person and not a group of people, however at the end of the day you are still responsible for that one person injured. It is very true that in life emotions and morals such as courage and wisdom need to come into play in order for an individual to grow and transform.

Work Cited:

Grimes, W. (2010, October 9). Philippa Foot, Renowned Philosopher, Dies at 90. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/us/10foot.html?_r=0 https://philosophynow.org/issues/41/Philippa_Foot

Philippa Foot. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2015, from http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/foot/

Philosopher’s Toolkit: The Trolley Problem. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.philosopherstoolkit.com/the-trolley-problem.php

Schneider, R. (n.d.). Philippa Foot. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from https://philosophynow.org/issues/41/Philippa_Foot

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