Traditional Naturalism

  • Kristina Gehrman
Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)


In Natural Goodness, Philippa Foot repeatedly connects facts about human needs with facts about human goodness, or virtue. As a result both proponents and critics of her view tend to treat this connection as the core naturalist thesis upon which her theory principally rests, with proponents asserting and critics denying that human needs can indeed ground a substantive account of the virtues and of right action. In addition to her talk of what humans need, however, Foot also attributes a robustly objective, Aristotelian conception of practical rationality to human beings. This paper argues that the objectivity of morality is grounded, not in facts about human needs, but rather in facts about the nature of human practical rationality.



I would like to thank the University of Tennessee Humanities Center for Fellowship support which allowed me to make significant progress on this project. I would also like to thank Paul Nichols and John Hacker-Wright for their many insightful comments on earlier drafts. I would also like to thank Barbara Herman, Gavin Lawrence, and A.J. Julius for their feedback on the theory of natural normativity discussed here.


  1. Anscombe, G.E.M. 1958. Modern Moral Philosophy. Philosophy 33 (124): 1–16.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 1969. On Promising and Its Justice, and Whether It Needs Be Respected In Foro Interno. Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía 3 (7/8): 61–83.Google Scholar
  3. Aristotle. 2002. Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Christopher Rowe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes, J. (ed.). 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 2. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Foot, P. 2001. Natural Goodness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gehrman, K. 2014. Action as Interaction. American Philosophical Quarterly 51 (1): 75–84.Google Scholar
  7. ———. forthcoming. Tragedy and the Constancy of Norms: Towards an Anscombian Conception of Ought. Philosophical Studies.Google Scholar
  8. Hacker-Wright, J. 2009. Human Nature, Personhood, and Ethical Naturalism. Philosophy 84: 413–427.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 2012. Ethical Naturalism and the Constitution of Agency. Journal of Value Inquiry 46: 13–23.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 2013. Human Nature, Virtue, and Rationality. In Aristotelian Ethics in Contemporary Perspective, ed. Julia Peters, 83–96. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Lawrence, G. 1995. The Rationality of Morality. In Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory, ed. Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence, and Warren Quinn, 89–147. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2001. The Function of the Function Argument. Ancient Philosophy 21 (2): 445–475.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 2006. Human Good and Human Function. In The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Richard Kraut, 37–75. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  14. McDowell, J. 1995. Two Sorts of Naturalism. In Virtues and Reasons. Philippa Foot and Moral Theory, ed. Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence, and Warren Quinn, 149–180. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Smart, J.J.C. 1973. An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics. In Utilitarianism For and Against, ed. J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 1–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Thompson, M. 1995. The Representation of Life. In Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory, ed. Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence, and Warren Quinn, 247–296. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 2008. Life and Action: Elementary Structure of Practice and Practical Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Wachowski Brothers. 1999. The Matrix. Warner Brothers.Google Scholar
  19. Williams, B. 1981. Internal and External Reasons. In Moral Luck, 101–113. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Woodcock, S. 2006. Philippa Foot’s Virtue Ethics Has an Achilles Heel. Dialogue 45 (3): 445–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristina Gehrman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations