. . . utilitarianism never gets off the ground in a schema such as we find in the work of Elizabeth Anscombe and Michael Thompson. For utilitarianism, like any other form of consequentialism, has as its foundation a proposition linking goodness of action in one way or another to the goodness of states of affairs. And there is no room for such a foundational proposition in the theory of natural normativity. Where, after all, could good states of affairs be appealed to in judging the natural goodness or defect in characteristics and operations of plants and animals? In evaluating the hunting skills of a tiger do I start from the proposition that it is a better state of affairs if the tiger survives than if it does not? (Italics in original)
The argument in nuce is this:
A. Utilitarianism is founded on a proposition P linking goodness of action to goodness of states of affairs.
B. There is no room for P in the theory of natural normativity.
C. Utilitarianism is inconsistent with the theory of natural normativity.
Ad (A). Unfortunately, Foot does not deign to tell us what P is. But I think the following is what she has in mind: What makes a good action good is its issuance in, or contribution to, a good state affairs where the state of affairs in question is a consequence of the action. The action is good because the state of affairs it brings about or helps to bring about is good. It is not the case that the state of affairs is good because the action is good. On consequentialism, the goodness of the state of affairs is the metaphysical ground of the goodness of the action, and not vice versa.
Example. For one sort of utilitarian, my behaving politely at a party is good, not because behaving politely at parties is intrinsically good, good in itself, but because it contributes to a good state of affairs, the conviviality and social harmony of the party. It is the goodness of the resultant state of affairs that is the source or ground of the goodness of the action. Suppose my behavior at the party also involves false modesty, mild flattery, and perhaps even lying: Asked what I think of Trump's selection of James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as Secretary of Defense, I say: "I'm a metaphysician who spends his time thinking about the meaning of Being; I have no political opinions." Now if the party were thick with liberals such a lie could be justified on utilitarian grounds inasmuch as it contributes to the greatest comity of the greatest number at the party in question.
Ad (B). Foot must reject P because it is characteristic of her view that the source of the goodness or badness of an organism and its traits and operations is grounded in its intrinsic natural features. An oak tree's roots are good roots because they are healthy roots: they go deep and wide in search of water and other nutrients. The search is of course pre-conscious, but there is a sort of intentionality or teleological directedeness to it. The same goes for the dispositions of the human will. Good dispositions are good because of their intrinsic natural features. They are not good because they are the objects of pro-attitudes by others or because they issue in good consequences. Foot assures us that "there is no change in the meaning of 'good' as the word appears in 'good roots' and as it appears in 'good dispositions of the human will.'" (39, italics in original.)
Note that Foot needn't deny that there are states of affairs or that they have normative properties. Her claim is that such normative properties cannot be foundational. The foundational normative properties are properties of living things, whether plants, animals, or humans, not properties of nonliving states of affairs.
Foot is right that her approach is inconsistent with utilitarianism. But her approach continues to strike me as obscure.
Foot asks, rhetorically, "In evaluating the hunting skills of a tiger do I start from the proposition that it is a better state of affairs if the tiger survives than if it does not? " It is not clear to me why could not evaluate the skills of the tiger in this way. Why couldn't the evaluation proceed as follows:
For a living thing, to survive is better than to perish. Tigers are living things. Therefore, it it better for a tiger to survive rather than perish. To survive it must be fleet of foot and sharp of claw, etc. Now this tiger specimen before me is lame and has been declawed. So this tiger is not likely to survive. Therefore this tiger is not a good tiger.
Note that the first four propositions are true whether or not any tigers exist. So why can't the normative properties be grounded in abstract states of affairs?
We are back to the problem of the exact nature of the relation between the species and the specimen, or the life form of the species and the specimen. There is something abstract about the species which removes it from the natural order. As I said in an earlier entry in this series:
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 peacockpresumably 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?