Natural Goodness by Philippa Foot

It’s often useful to absorb the best arguments of thinkers whom one disagrees with most sharply. Only then can your own position be strengthened. In the same way, a chess player wishing to improve seeks out the strongest opponent.

In this book Philippa Foot ( sets out a naturalistic theory of ethics, which she calls ‘natural normativity’. It is radically opposed to the subjectivist, non‐naturalism of David Hume or that to be found in G. E. Moore and modern theories of ethics such as emotivism ( and prescriptivism.

‘Natural normativity’ involves a special form of evaluation and Foot argues that this is the form of evaluation in moral judgements. Moral evaluations thus share a conceptual structure with evaluations of the characteristics and operations of living things, and can only be understood in these terms. The thesis of the book is that vice is a natural defect, and virtue is goodness of will; therefore propositions to do with goodness or badness in human character and action are not to be understood in psychological terms.

Foot criticizes the subjectivism and non‐cognitivism that has dominated the past 60 years of analytical moral philosophy. She provides an account of natural normativity in plants and animals, applying this to human beings, including a discussion of Elizabeth Anscombe’s discussion of promising. There is also an intriguing discussion about the connection between goodness and happiness.

Check if this well argued position in ethics is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at

136 pages in Clarendon Press

First published 2001

ISBN  978-0198235088

Image result for philippa foot

Philippa Foot

Scroll to Top