Browsing Theses and Dissertations by Author "Land, Brian"
FUNCTION AND GOODNESS IN THE WORK OF PHILIPPA FOOTWolfsdorf, David, 1969-; Chamberlain, Colin; Vision, Gerald; Lott, Micah (Temple University. Libraries, 2019)Philippa Foot’s account of natural normativity relies on functions. For Foot, having a function is what distinguishes those traits that can serve as the basis for the evaluation of an organism from those traits that cannot. For example, Foot asserts that a blue-headed tit that lacks the blue spot on its head is merely unusual but a peacock that lacks a brightly colored tail is defective because while the blue spot does not have a function, the brightly colored tail does. Problematically, it is not immediately clear just how Foot understands functions. I argue that Foot’s account of functions requires a distinction between functions and accidents. In Foot’s schema, functions appear similar to contributions to the achievement of ends: in the case of non-human organisms, functional traits contribute to survival and reproduction, while human beings are sui generis in that our ends are not exhausted by survival and reproduction. However, a trait’s contributing to these ends is not sufficient grounds for that trait to have a function. Only those traits that contribute in the right way count as having a functional role and can consequently serve as the basis for evaluations of the organism. Borrowing Reid Blackman’s example, a deer that evades predators through camouflage rather than swiftness is uncharacteristic and not naturally good in Foot’s schema. In such cases, the trait in question makes only an accidental contribution to an end. Furthermore, I argue that in order to maintain a function/accident distinction, Foot must understand functions in terms of kinds. These kinds entail three things for any organism that instantiates the kind: some work or end achieved by the organism, a characteristic story of how that work is achieved, and some sort of purposiveness to the characteristic achievement of that work. In the case of the deer above, its work is survival and reproduction, the story of how it achieves those ends includes eating leaves and avoiding predators through swiftness, and the achievement of survival and reproduction in this way is purposive because it answers to the capacity of living things to be a beneficiary. On one hand, my account of Foot’s natural goodness solves numerous problems in the interpretation of her work. It explains why natural goodness is unique to living things as opposed to entities that admit of similarly structured evaluations by looking at the purposiveness involved in these evaluations. Additionally, my interpretation counters the objection that Foot’s treatment of nature appears ignorant of pertinent empirical scientific evidence. In evaluating organisms as members of kinds, presumably an organism might belong to multiple kinds. Consequently, we can understand and evaluate an organism both as a member of a biological kind whose work is genetic promulgation and as a member of its neo-Aristotelian species whose work, at least in the case of non-human organisms, is survival and reproduction. Seen in this way, the relevant concern is not “how can Foot’s account of organisms avoid the charge of being scientifically uninformed?” but “why should the natural goodness of an organism be evaluated with respect to one kind instead of another?” Some neo-Aristotelians have endeavored to address this difficulty through the following commitments: that the neo-Aristotelian understanding of an organism is special because it is a self-interpretation, that these interpretations do not compete with one another, or that the natural sciences must presuppose a neo-Aristotelian understanding of species in order to have a notion of life. Rather than adopting any of these approaches, I contend that by understanding Foot through this three-part model we can understand the evaluation of an organism as a member of the neo-Aristotelian species as primary in a way that the biological account is not. On the other hand, my interpretation entails epistemological problems for Foot. We seem unable to distinguish accidental contributions to the work of an organism from functional contributions in a well-informed way, and the sui generis nature of human work makes it difficult to establish what counts as a contribution to its achievement. In light of these difficulties, the prospect of our having knowledge of the kinds on which her account depends seems dim.