For Foot, norms are ingredient in nature herself; they are not projected by us or expressive of our psychological attitudes. They are ingredient not in all of nature, but in all of living nature. Living things bear within themselves 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 bravely resists the fact-value dichotomy. (You could say she will not stand for it.) Values and norms are neither ideal or abstract objects in a Platonic realm apart, as Continental axiologists such as Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann maintained, 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 defense 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.
I now note something not mentioned by Foot but which I think is true. An individual organism does not reproduce itself; it produces (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. It is the species that reproduces itself, strictly speaking, not the individual. A biological individual needs ancestors but it doesn't need descendants. The species needs descendants. Otherwise it becomes extinct.
I mention this to underscore the fact that Foot evaluates individuals and their parts, traits and actions in the light of the species to which the individual belongs. The goodness of a living thing "depends directly on the relation of an individual to the 'life form' of its species." (27) This is said to hold for all living things including human animals. It would seem to follow that human individuals have no ultimate intrinsic value or goodness as individuals: their value and goodness is relative to the contribution they make to the health and preservation of the species. Perhaps we could say that for Foot man is a species-being in that his existence and flourishing are necessarily tied to his being a specimen of a species. (It would make an interesting post to explore how this relates, if it does, to the Marxian notion of Gattungswesen.)
For example, 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. The evaluation of an individual deer is conducted solely in the light of its relation to its species. It is not evaluated as an individual in its own right. Of course, I am not suggesting that deer be evaluated as individuals in their own right with an intrinsic moral worth that would make it wrong to treat them as means to our ends as opposed to treating them as ends in themselves. What I am doing is preparing to resist Foot's claim that human being can be evaluated in the same way that plants and non-human animals are evaluated.
Or consider the roots of an oak tree. (46) What makes them good roots? In virtue of what do they have this evaluative/normative property? They are good because they are robust, not stunted; they go deep and wide in search of water and nutrients; they do not remain near the surface or near the tree. They are good because they are healthy. They are healthy because they preserve the oak in existence so that it can contribute to the propagation of the species. Bad roots, then, are defective roots.
So evaluative properties are 'rooted in' -- pun intended! -- factual, empirically discernible, characteristics of living things. (The empirical detectability of normative properties makes Foot a cognitivist in meta-ethics.) The vitality of the roots and their goodness are one in reality. We can prise apart the factual from the evaluative mentally, but in reality there is no distinction. Foot does not say this in so many words, but surely this is what her position implies. Somehow, the factual and the normative are one. No dichotomy, split, dualism -- leastways, not in reality outside the mind. The health of the roots and their goodness are somehow the same. This sameness, like the notion of a species, is not entirely pellucid.
Note, however, that this monism is purchased in the coin of an extramental dualism, namely, that between species and specimen. The normative properties are 'inscribed' in the species if you will. A three-legged cat is a defective cat, but still a cat: it is is a defective specimen of its species. The generic generalization 'Cats are four-legged' cannot be refuted by adducing a three-legged cat. This is because 'cat' in the Aristotelian categorical, or generic generalization, is about the species, or, as Foot also writes, the life form of the species, which is distinct from any and all of its specimens. The species is normative for its specimens.
In sum, the sameness or 'monism' of normative and factual properties presupposes the dualism of species and specimen.
A Tenable View?
One problem I mentioned earlier: the notion of a species is exceedingly murky. But at the moment something else makes me nervous.
For Foot life is the ultimate principle of evaluation, physical life, natural life, the life of material beings in space and time, mortal life, life that inevitably loses in the battle against death. So the goodness of a human action or disposition is "simply a fact about a given feature of a certain kind of living thing." (5) Badness, then, is natural defect and this goes for humans too: "moral defect is a form of natural defect." (27) It follows that a moral defect in a person is never a spiritual defect, but in every case a natural defect. The good man is the healthy man, the well-functioning man, where moral health is just a kind of natural health. But the health of a healthy specimen derives from its exercise of its proper function which is dictated by its species. A healthy specimen is one that serves its species. A good tiger is a good predator, and woe to you if you a member of a species that is prey to such a predator. The tiger's job is to eat you and to be a good tiger he must do his job well. And so it seems that a good Aryan man would then be a man who serves the Aryan race by developing all his faculties so that he can most effectively secure the Lebensraum and such that he needs, not just to survive, but to flourish, and above all to procreate and propagate, and woe to you if you are a member of weaker race, a Slavic race, say, fit to be slaves of a master race. As a member of a race incapable of exercising to the full the virtues (powers) of a characteristic member of a master race, one is then, naturally, sub-human, an Untermensch. A Mensch, to be sure, but a defective Mensch, and because naturally defective, or at least naturally inferior, then naturally bad.
This appears to be a consequence of taking life to the the ultimate principle of evaluation.
At this point the fans of Foot are beginning to scream in protest. But my point here is not to smear Foot, but to explore her kind of meta-ethical naturalism. Actually, I am just trying to understand it. But to understand a position you have to understand what it entails. There is philosophy-as-worldview and philosophy-as-inquiry. This is the latter. My intent is not polemical.
Foot's naturalism seems to imply a sort of anti-individualism and anti-personalism. Foot views the individual human being as an organism in nature, objectivistically, biologically, from an external, third-person point of view. She sees a man, not as a person, a subject, but as a specimen of a species, an instance of a type, whose value it tied necessarily to fulfilling the demands of the type. She also seems to be suggesting that one's fulfillment as a human being necessarily involves living in and through and for the species, like a good Gattungswesen.
So even if a position like Foot's has the resources to prevent a slide into eugenics, or into the sort of racism that would justify slavery and the exploitation of the naturally inferior, there is still the troubling anti-personalism of it.
How then could a monk's choice of celibacy for himself be a morally good choice? Presumably only if it contributes to the flourishing of the human species. But suppose our monk is not a scientist, or any other benefactor of humanity, but a hermit wholly devoted to seeking union with God. Could Foot's framework accommodate the goodness of such a life choice? It is not clear to me how. It would seem that the choice to become a celibate monk or nun who lives solely for union with God would have to be evaluated on a Footian meta-ethics as morally bad, as a defective life choice. The implication would seem to be that such a person has thrown his life away.
Now of course that would be the case if there is no God. But suppose that God and the soul are real. Could a Footian stance accommodate the moral choiceworthiness of the eremitic monk's choice on that assumption? It is not clear to me how.