William Grimes in the NYT:
Philippa Foot, a philosopher who argued that moral judgments have a rational basis, and who introduced the renowned ethical thought experiment known as the Trolley Problem, died at her home in Oxford, England, on Oct. 3, her 90th birthday.
Her death was announced on the Web site of Somerville College, Oxford, where she earned her academic degrees and taught for many years.
In her early work, notably in the essays “Moral Beliefs” and “Moral Arguments,” published in the late 1950s, Ms. Foot took issue with philosophers like R. M. Hare and Charles L. Stevenson, who maintained that moral statements were ultimately expressions of attitude or emotion, because they could not be judged true or false in the same way factual statements could be.
Ms. Foot countered this “private-enterprise theory,” as she called it, by arguing the interconnectedness of facts and moral interpretations. Further, she insisted that virtues like courage, wisdom and temperance are indispensable to human life and the foundation stones of morality. Her writing on the subject helped establish virtue ethics as a leading approach to the study of moral problems.
“She’s going to be remembered not for a particular view or position, but for changing the way people think about topics,” said Lawrence Solum, who teaches the philosophy of law at the University of Illinois and studied under Ms. Foot. “She made the moves that made people see things in a fundamentally new way. Very few people do that in philosophy.”
It was the Trolley Problem, however, that captured the imagination of scholars outside her discipline.