Uma das grandes da Etica das Virtudes, pertenceu a uma geração de grande filosofos da University de Oxford que revolucionou a filosofia no mundo de lingua inglesa .
Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that in philosophy, it is hard to work as slowly as you should. When the British philosopher Philippa Foot finally published “Natural Goodness,” her first and only book-length statement of her thinking, at age 80 in 2001, an editor at Oxford University Press recalled Wittgenstein’s challenge. “Well,” he said, “that is a problem that Philippa seems to have solved.”
Foot’s philosophical voyage, her “painfully slow journey,” as she put it, was long in part because it was uphill. Though born into a family of privilege — her father was a wealthy British industrialist, her mother a daughter of the U.S. president Grover Cleveland — she was given no formal education (“I was extremely ignorant,” she later said) and, being a woman, was not expected to go to college. Spurred on, however, by a governess who recognized her intelligence, Foot educated herself via correspondence courses and eventually attended Somerville College at Oxford. There, in the clubby, masculine atmosphere of high British learning, she cultivated friendships with a group of young female philosophers, among them Elizabeth Anscombe, who would become a prized student and editor of Wittgenstein’s, and Iris Murdoch, the future novelist. (Philippa would marry one of Murdoch’s former boyfriends, the historian M.R.D. Foot.)
The chief obstacle in Foot’s life, however, wasn’t educational disadvantage or social prejudice but academic orthodoxy. Returning to Oxford as a graduate student in 1945, after working in London during the war (and living in an intermittently bombed-out apartment with Murdoch), Foot became troubled by a central assumption of 20th-century moral philosophy: that facts and values are logically independent. According to this view, you can’t derive an “ought” conclusion from a series of “is” premises. Nature is composed of objective facts that we can verify through science; values are mere attitudes in our heads that we project onto the world as we like. When we engage in moral disagreement with, say, an unrepentant murderer, reasoned argument breaks down. We feel it is wrong to kill innocent people; he simply does not. There is no accounting for taste.
In the wake of the news of the concentration camps, Foot was haunted by the notion that there was no way to rationally overcome a moral standoff with a Nazi. She wanted to argue that moral evaluation (“It is wrong to kill innocent people”) is not fundamentally different from factual evaluation (“It is incorrect that the earth is flat”). A cynic should no more be able to deny the moral implications of a relevant body of evidence than a flat-earther can deny the factual implications of astronomical data. It was Anscombe, a devoted Catholic, who liberated Foot, a lifelong atheist, to dare to think in this outmoded fashion. Foot had been speaking of the conventional contrast of “ought” and “is,” and Anscombe feigned confusion. “She said: ‘Of what? What?’ ” Foot recalled. “And I thought, My God, so one doesn’t have to accept that distinction! One can say, ‘What?’!”
Incrementally, over many decades, first at Oxford and then at U.C.L.A., Foot shaped an alternative moral vision. In the late 1950s, she questioned whether you can have a recognizably moral attitude about just any set of facts. (Can you really believe that it is immoral to look at hedgehogs in the light of the moon?) By the ’70s, inspired by Anscombe’s suggestion that she revisit St. Thomas Aquinas’s ethical writings, Foot was arguing that if you focus on traditional virtues and vices like temperance and avarice instead of abstract concepts like goodness and duty, you can see the concrete connections between the conditions of human life and the objective reasons for acting morally. (Why is cowardliness a vice? Because courage is needed to face the world’s challenges.) In the ’80s, after considering how we evaluate what is “good” for plants and animals, she developed the argument, presented in “Natural Goodness,” that vice is a defect in humans in the same way that poor roots are a defect in an oak tree or poor vision a defect in an owl: the latter two assessments have clear normative implications (“oughts”), yet are entirely factual. Even from a secular scientific vantage point, you could locate good and evil in the fabric of the world.
In time, many other thinkers, academic philosophers and popular moralists alike, came to imitate or echo Foot’s efforts to secure moral truth by reflecting on the classical virtues. Looking back, she seemed to appreciate the connection between her distinctive talents and the long arc of her career. “I’m a dreadfully slow thinker, really,” she said. “But I do have a good nose for what is important.”