I agree with much of what Phillipa Foot (Natural Goodness, 2001) said about the sort of moral philosophy she was familiar with in British Oxford academia. (Some other philosophies are a different case.)

But I suspect she overlooked a background influence encouraging earlier writers to concentrate on (my) desires or attitudes apart from meeting Hume's old requirement to be practical. Anything like Foot's appeal to the nature of our species for what is good could scare people as opening the door to eugenics and sterilising 'defectives' - perhaps with class or racist overtones.

Nowadays, the case is different in that genetic technology is developing ways to treat individual conditions directly without selective breeding being relevant. But anxieties remain about where gene editing might lead.

Such fears may still leave some thinkers feeling safer with an ethic based on rules about what we should do rather rather than assessing what sort of characters we should be. All the more because even the most obvious moral principles, such as promise keeping, can produce nasty problems. Issues of debt relief and the global financial system can mean we do not always need to keep promises. Rules are made to be broken, as they say.

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