As I mentioned previously, Foot essays "a naturalistic theory of ethics: to break really radically both with G. E. Moore's anti-naturalism and with the subjectivist theories such as emotivism and prescriptivism that have been seen as clarifications and developments of Moore's original thought." (p. 5)
"The main thesis of this book is that propositions about goodness and defect in a human being -- even those that have to do with goodness of character and action -- are not to be understood in such psychological terms." (37) Her point is that when we evaluate living things, whether plants, animals, or humans, our uses of 'good' do not need to be explained in terms of commendation or any other speech act, or in terms of any psychological attitude. Goodness and defect in living things are intrinsic to them and not parasitic upon attitudes or stances we take up with respect to them.
On to the details.
Earlier we were discussing the peculiarities of generic statements. A generic statement is one that is neither singular nor logically quantifiable. 'The cat is four-legged,' unlike 'The cat is sleeping,' is typically used to express a general not a singular proposition. But 'The cat is four-legged,' typically used, is not equivalent to 'All cats are four-legged' or to any quantified statement. One three-legged cat suffices to falsify the universal quantification, but it does not falsify the generic generalization. The fact that many adult humans lack the full complement of 32 teeth does not falsify the generic 'Adult humans have 32 teeth.' 'Rabbits are herbivorous' is a further example. It would seem to entail 'Some rabbits are herbivorous.' Even so, one is saying much more with an utterance of the former than with the latter.
The following wrinkles now occur to me. If 'some' imports present existence, then the generic 'Velociraptors are carnivorous' does not entail 'Some velociraptors are carnivorous.' But let's not get hung up on this, or on the entailments of the presumably generic 'Unicorns are four-legged.' But we should note, en passant, the presumably different phenomenon of plural predication. 'Velociraptors are extinct' is not about individual velociraptors; it is not equivalent to 'Each velociraptor is extinct.' Presumably, it is the species that is extinct, whatever exactly species are. A species goes extinct when its last specimen expires; but one cannot say that the specimen goes extinct. Assuming that Obama is not a species unto himself, his death will not be his extinction. Compare 'Horses fill the field' with 'Horses are four-legged.' The first is a plural predication; the second is not. It is false that each horse fills the field, but true that each normal horse is four-legged. But both sentences have in common that they are not about each horse.
But I digress. Back to Foot.
Foot, following Michael Thompson, speaks of Aristotelian categoricals. "The deer is an animal whose form of defence is flight" is an example. (34) The sentence is "about a species at a given historical time . . . ." (29) Foot is not assuming the immutability of species. But species must have a "relative stability" if true Aristotelian categoricals are to be possible at all. (29) "They tell us how a kind of plant or animal , considered at a particular time, and in its natural habitat, develops, sustains itself, defends itself, and reproduces." (29)
Foot, stepping beyond Thompson, stresses the teleological aspect of Aristotelian categoricals. "There is an Aristotelian categorical about the species peacock to the effect that the male peacock displays his brilliant tail in order to attract a female during the mating season." (31) Not that the male strutting his stuff has any such telos in mind. The thought here is that there is a teleology in nature that works itself out below the level of conscious mind. The heliotropism in plants is a kind of teleology in nature below the level of conscious mind. Plants 'strive' to get into the light, but not consciously. Migrating birds are not trying to get somewhere warmer with better eats; they do not have this end in view. And yet the migratory operation is teleologically directed. Why do the birds head south? In order to survive the winter, find food, and reproduce.
Can we say of an individual plant or animal that it is intrinsically good or bad independently of our interests or desires? This is the crucial question that Foot answers in the affirmative. Norms are ingredient in nature herself; they are not projected by us or expressive of our psychological attitudes. Ingredient not in all of nature, but in all of living nature. Living things bear within them norms that ground the correctness of our evaluations. Evaluation occurs at "the intersection of two types of propositions: on the one hand, Aristotelian categoricals (life form descriptions relating to the species), and on the other, propositions about particular individuals that are the subject of evaluation." (33)
Foot is bravely resisting the fact-value dichotomy. Values and norms are neither ideal objects in a Platonic realm apart, nor are they psychological projections. They are intrinsically ingredient in natural facts. How does the resistance go? We start with an Aristotelian categorical such as 'The deer is an animal whose form of defence is flight.' The sentence is "about a species at a given historical time . . . ." (29) The individual as a member of its species is intrinsically or naturally good if it is able to serve its species by maintaining itself in existence and reproducing. Note that an individual organism does not reproduce itself; it reproduces (usually in conjunction with an opposite sexed partner) an organism distinct from itself, the offspring Thus an individual's reproduction is quite unlike an individual's self-maintenance. An individual needs ancestors but it doesn't need descendants. The species needs descendants. Now suppose a deer is born with deformed limbs that prevent its engaging in swift flight from predators. This fact about it makes it an intrinsically or naturally bad deer. For such a deer will not be able to serve its species by preserving itself in existence until it can reproduce. That's my gloss, anyway.
The idea, then, is that the species to which the individual organism belongs encapsulates norms of goodness/badness for its members which the individual either meets or fails to meet.
Interim Critical Remarks
A. This naturalistic scheme strikes me as obscure because the status of species has not been sufficiently clarified. Aristotelian categoricals are about species, but what exactly are species or the "life forms of species"? The species peacock presumably exists only in individual peacocks, but is not identical to any such individual or to the whole lot of them. (The species is not an extensional entity such as a mereological sum, or a set.) It looks to be an immanent universal, a one-in-many. But then it is not natural in the very same sense in which an individual peacock is natural, i.e., in space and time at a definite spatiotemporal location, and only there. (Universals are multiply located.) So Foot's natural norms are not natural in the same sense in which the organisms of which they are the norms are natural.
So there still is a fact-norm distinction in the form of the distinction between a member of a species and the species. This whole scheme will remain murky until it is explained what a species is and how it is present in its members. We are in the vicinity of the ancient problem of universals. Foot's norms are not outside of things in a realm apart, not in the mind; they are 'in' things. But what does this 'in' mean exactly?
B. My second remark concerns an individual organism that cannot serve its species such as an infertile human male, or a human female who cannot have children and is therefore biologically defective in this respect. Does her biological defect make her a bad human being? Foot would seem to have to say yes: the defective woman does not come up to the norm for her species. She is abnormal in a normative sense and not merely in a statistical sense. She is not a good woman! How is this any different from the case of the lame deer? A lame deer is a defective deer, hence not a good deer. It is not a good deer because it cannot flee from predators thereby maintaining its life so that it can go on to procreate and serve its species by so doing.
Foot wants to bring normativity down to earth from Plato's heaven; at the same time she wants to extrude it from the mind and install it in natural things outside the mind. This makes plenty of sense with respect to plants and non-human animals. But of course she want to extend her scheme to humans as well. This is where trouble starts.
Foot sees the individual organism in the light of the species: as a specimen of the species and not as an individual in its own right. This is not a problem for plants and non-human animals, with the possible exception of our pets. But Foot wants to extend her natural normativity scheme to humans as well. But how can what I ought to do, and what I ought not to do, and what I should be and how I should be be dictated by my species membership? Am I just an animal, a bit of the world's fauna? I am an animal, but I am also a person: not just a material object in a material world, but a conscious and self-conscious subject for whom there is a world.