Apparently Brian Leiter’s description of Philippa Foot as a towering figure has drawn some objections. And, how could it not? We’re a disagreeing lot, and furthermore, one suspects that the idea of a woman philosopher towering over one evokes some pretty uncomfortable images and associations. From mommy to Hilary Clinton to dominatrix.
So Leiter’s put up a poll. It is interesting in its own right, because it includes some continental figures, including Derrida. It will be interesting to see if she (and Elizabeth Anscombe, who is on the list) are given the ranking they deserve. Given how the philosophy community works, I’m not placing any bets.
(I do agree that it would be better if we did not go in for this sort of ranking, but it is endemic to academic and here is not where I want to stop.)
Now for the scope of Foot’s moral philosophy, let me quote Larry Solum and Gavin Lawrence, both from Solum’s blog:
Philippa Foot, for many years associated with Somerville College, Oxford and also with the University of California Los Angeles as the Griffin Professor of Philosophy, passed away yesterday, October 3, 2010. Foot was a giant of moral philosophy. Her books include Natural Goodness, Virtues and Vices: And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy, and Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy. She will be remembered for many things, including the famous Trolley Problem. Her essay “Virtues and Vices” (in the anthology of the same name) was among the most important steps in the development of contemporary virtue ethics–a movement that Foot explicitly disavowed. The question, “Why be moral?,” occupied Foot for most of her long career, and her work on this topic is widely acknowledged as of fundamental importance. [There is a lot more in his remarks.]
“Philippa Foot is among the handful of the twentieth century’s very best moral philosophers. Her achievement consists not so much of truths presented as of her distinctive voice in philosophy. In this way, she is like Moore or Rawls, or most pertinently Wittgenstein. To read her is immediately to struggle with the real stuff of the subject, to the highest standards; the subject is not the same for one again.Her work divides into several, diversely overlapping, strands: the major themes of ethics, such as its objectivity and its rationality; middle range issues, such as freedom of the will, virtues and vices, the critique of utilitarianism, and moral dilemmas; more specific ethical distinctions and problems, such as the doctrine of double effect