Who is Philippa Ruth Foot?June 26, 2021
He was a moral philosopher who lived from October 3, 1920 to October 3, 2010.
From 1939-1942 Foot studied philosophy, politics and economics at Somerville College, Oxford. His relationship with Somerville was cut off when he worked as a civil servant from 1942 to 1947 and continued for the rest of his life. He worked as a philosophy teacher at this school between 1947-1950 and as an honorary lecturer between 1950-1969, 1969-1988, 1969-1988. Foot worked as a permanent lecturer at the same school between 1988 and 2010.
Inspired by Aristotle’s understanding of moral philosophy, he developed the understanding of contemporary virtue ethics. With his works in the 1950s and 1960s, he updated Aristotle’s understanding of morality and adapted it to the contemporary worldview. During this period, he developed popular ideas such as the modern deontological and utilitarian morality.
Foot’s most well-known intellectual work is his paradoxical question known as the “Train Dilemma” or “Tram Dilemma”. This dilemma is:
“One day you went out for a walk and saw an out-of-control train speeding towards five workers. The driver is unconscious, probably from a heart attack. If nothing is done, all the workers will die. The train will crush all the workers. The train comes so fast. which they don’t have time to escape. But there is hope. Before the train reaches five people, the rails fork and there is only one worker on the other track. You are close enough to the lever that the train will switch switches and deviate from the direction of the five workers and kill the only worker on the other track. Is killing the right thing to do? It’s true given the numbers: By killing one person you would have saved five lives. That should maximize happiness. To many people this feels like the right thing to do. In real life, switching the train to the other track and as a result It’s hard to watch one person die, but hesitate and five people die. Watching the whole world will be much worse than that.”
This thought experiment is an imaginary situation designed to reveal our feelings, or as philosophers call it, our “intuitions” on a particular subject. Philosophers use it a lot. Thought experiments allow us to focus more closely on what is in question. The philosophical question here is: “When is it acceptable to sacrifice one person to save more?” The story of the train running out of control allows us to think about this question. The thought experiment isolates the essential elements and shows us whether we feel that such an action is wrong. Some say you should never change the scissors in this example, because for them that would be “playing God”: deciding who lives and who dies. However, many people think that you need to change the scissors.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook