Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article


Christopher W. Gowansa1

a1 Philosophy, Fordham University


The Neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalism of Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse purports to establish a naturalistic criterion for the virtues. Specifically, by developing a parallel between the natural ends of nonhuman animals and the natural ends of human beings, they argue that character traits are justified as virtues by the extent to which they promote and do not inhibit natural ends such as self-preservation, reproduction, and the well-being of one’s social group. I argue that the approach of Foot and Hursthouse cannot provide a basis for moral universalism, the widely-accepted idea that each human being has moral worth and thus deserves significant moral consideration. Foot and Hursthouse both depict a virtuous agent as implicitly acting in accord with moral universalism. However, with respect to charity, a virtue they both emphasize, their naturalistic criterion (especially in the more elaborate form developed by Hursthouse) at best provides a warrant for a restricted form of charity that extends only to a limited number of persons. There is nothing in the natural ends of human beings, as Foot and Hursthouse understand these, that gives us a reason for having any concern for the well-being of human beings as such.


I would like to thank my colleague John Davenport as well as the other contributors to this volume, and its editors, for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. I would also like to express my appreciation to Fred D. Miller, Jr., and the Social Philosophy and Policy Center for inviting me to contribute to this volume.