Philippa FOOT (1920–2010)

Moral Philosopher

15 Walton Street, Oxford

Philippa Foot

She was born to William Sydney Bence Bosanquet, industrialist, and his wife Esther, daughter of Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America. She grew up at Old Hall, Kirkleatham, Yorkshire, where she was educated by governesses. In 1939 she went up to Somerville College, Oxford, to read PPE. Emerging with a First in 1942, she undertook war work as a research economist in Oxford and later at Chatham House. In London she shared a flat with Iris Murdoch, already a great friend from Somerville. She met and married M. R. D. Foot in 1945. Their home at Oxford was in Park Town. They divorced in 1960.

In 1947 she began to teach philosophy at Somerville, soon becoming fellow and tutor. Elizabeth Anscombe was her philosophy colleague and their debating sessions together were legendary. Oxford moral philosophy in this period was preoccupied with the rather arid analysis of moral language. Philippa Foot made a very significant contribution in shifting the focus back to the study of virtue and the basis of moral choice. This change of perspective came to be known as “virtue ethics”. She became an internationally renowned philosopher. From 1969–1991 she was a visiting professor at various American universities, while retaining her ties with Somerville as a senior research fellow and later as honorary fellow. She became a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1974 and was the first holder of the new Griffin Chair there. She was made a fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She returned to her Oxford home each summer.

15 Walton Street

On retirement in 1991 she came back to Oxford and Walton Street where she completed her celebrated monograph Natural Goodness in 2001. Together with Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, and Mary Midgley she is regarded as initiating a sea change in the study of ethics.

She was a very compassionate person and lifelong active supporter of Oxfam, beginning as a humble volunteer and later playing a more public role. She left most of her estate to the organisation.



  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Lesley Brown
  • See also Metaphysical Animals by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachel Wiseman (2022)

The plaque was unveiled at 15 Walton Street on 26 May 2023 by Professor Lesley Brown who gave the address. Among those attending were philosophers, friends, and neighbours. A plaque had been unveiled for Dame Iris Murdoch earlier in the day and the double event concluded with a reception in Somerville College, alma mater to both women.

Photographs taken at the unveiling ceremony:

Speech made by Professor Lesley Brown at the unveiling ceremony (PDF)



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