Philippa Foot was my teacher at UCLA in the late 1970s and early 1980s; after law school, I returned to Los Angeles and sat in on her graduate seminars on several occasions. Foot was a deep thinker, capable of sustained and critical self-examination that is rare in any discipline. I remember Foot remarking of a single sentence in a famous piece by Tim Scanlon that she was sure that Scanlon must have spent years thinking about that sentence: I am not sure that Scanlon did, but it would have been characteristic of Foot to do so. On another occasion, I remember attending a seminar in which the first week's reading was Thomas Nagel's The Possibility of Altruism. A deep discussion of a single paragraph stretched from session to session--this was Foot at her best, refusing to move on until the philosophical problem was wrestled to the ground.
Foot was as critical of her students as she was of her own work. She was willing to engage at length in philosophical discourse with undergraduates, but would dismiss an ill-conceived remark with barely concealed disdain. Along with Rogers Albritton, Foot is among the two teachers that I count as most influential in my own intellectual development. There were many fine moral and political philosophers at UCLA. I learned much from Jean Hampton, Greg Kavka, Thomas Hill, and Warren Quinn. But it was Rogers and Philippa who were my role models--who defined the kind of thinker I wanted to be.
Foot lived to the age of 90--a full and flourishing human life by any measure. I last saw her at the Moral Philosophy Seminar at Oxford just a few years ago (blogged here), and on that occasion I sat next to her friend and UCLA colleague Robert Adams. Foot was her formidable self--an intellectual powerhouse engaged in new intellectual work at the highest level. She influenced generations of philosophers; I will miss her more than I can say.
Let me conclude with these words from Gavin Lawrence:
"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, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment."
True and well said.
Comments are open for appreciations and memories of Foot.