G. E. Moore
4 November 1873|
|Died||24 October 1958
|Era||19th-century philosophy, 20th-century philosophy|
|Main interests||Ethics, Philosophy of Language, Epistemology|
|Notable ideas||Naturalistic fallacy, Moore's paradox, paradox of analysis, Here is a hand|
George Edward Moore OM, FBA (4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958) was an English philosopher. He was, with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and (before them) Gottlob Frege, one of the founders of the analytic tradition in philosophy. Along with Russell, he led the turn away from idealism in British philosophy, and became well known for his advocacy of common sense concepts, his contributions to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, and "his exceptional personality and moral character." He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, highly influential among (though not a member of) the Bloomsbury Group, and the editor of the influential journal Mind. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1918. He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge, with his wife Dorothy Moore, née Ely.
Life and work 
Moore was educated at Dulwich College, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Moral Sciences. He became a Fellow of Trinity in 1898, and went on to hold the University of Cambridge chair of mental philosophy and logic, from 1925 to 1939. He was the brother of the writer and engraver Thomas Sturge Moore.
Moore is best known today for his defence of ethical non-naturalism, his emphasis on common sense in philosophical method, and the paradox that bears his name. He was admired by and influential among other philosophers, and also by the Bloomsbury Group, but is (unlike his colleague Russell) mostly unknown today outside of academic philosophy. Moore's essays are known for their clear, circumspect writing style, and for his methodical and patient approach to philosophical problems. He was critical of modern philosophy for its lack of progress, which he believed was in stark contrast to the dramatic advances in the natural sciences since the Renaissance. Among Moore's most famous works are his book Principia Ethica, and his essays, "The Refutation of Idealism", "A Defence of Common Sense", and "A Proof of the External World".
G. E. Moore died on 24 October 1958 and was interred at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge, England, with his wife. The poet Nicholas Moore and the composer Timothy Moore were his and Dorothy Moore's sons; she was born 1892, died 1977. He was an important member of the secretive Cambridge Apostles; Paul Levy wrote Moore: G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles (1979) about this connection.
Moore is also well known for the so-called "open question argument", which is contained in his (also greatly influential) Principia Ethica. The Principia is one of the main inspirations of the movement against ethical naturalism (see ethical non-naturalism) and is partly responsible for the twentieth-century concern with meta-ethics.
The naturalistic fallacy 
Moore asserted that philosophical arguments can suffer from a confusion between the use of a term in a particular argument and the definition of that term (in all arguments). He named this confusion the naturalistic fallacy. For example, an ethical argument may claim that if a thing has certain properties, then that thing is 'good.' A hedonist may argue that 'pleasant' things are 'good' things. Other theorists may argue that 'complex' things are 'good' things. Moore contends that even if such arguments are correct, they do not provide definitions for the term 'good.' The property of 'goodness' cannot be defined. It can only be shown and grasped. Any attempt to define it (X is good if it has property Y) will simply shift the problem (Why is Y-ness good in the first place?).
Open question argument 
Moore's argument for the indefinability of “good” (and thus for the fallaciousness of the “naturalistic fallacy”) is often called the open-question argument; it is presented in §13 of Principia Ethica. The argument hinges on the nature of statements such as "Anything that is pleasant is also good" and the possibility of asking questions such as "Is it good that x is pleasant?" According to Moore, these questions are open and these statements are significant; and they will remain so no matter what is substituted for "pleasure". Moore concludes from this that any analysis of value is bound to fail. In other words, if value could be analysed, then such questions and statements would be trivial and obvious. Since they are anything but trivial and obvious, value must be indefinable.
Critics of Moore's arguments sometimes claim that he is appealing to general puzzles concerning analysis (cf. the paradox of analysis), rather than revealing anything special about value. The argument clearly depends on the assumption that if "good" were definable, it would be an analytic truth about "good," an assumption many contemporary moral realists like Richard Boyd and Peter Railton reject. Other responses appeal to the Fregean distinction between sense and reference, allowing that value concepts are special and sui generis, but insisting that value properties are nothing but natural properties (this strategy is similar to that taken by non-reductive materialists in philosophy of mind).
Good as indefinable 
Moore contended that goodness cannot be analysed in terms of any other property. In Principia Ethica, he writes:
- It may be true that all things which are good are also something else, just as it is true that all things which are yellow produce a certain kind of vibration in the light. And it is a fact, that Ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good. But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties they were actually defining good; that these properties, in fact, were simply not "other," but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. (§ 10 ¶ 3)
Therefore, we cannot define "good" by explaining it in other words. We can only point to an action or a thing and say "That is good." Similarly, we cannot describe to a blind person exactly what yellow is. We can only show a sighted person a piece of yellow paper or a yellow scrap of cloth and say "That is yellow."
Good as a non-natural property 
In addition to categorising "good" as indefinable, Moore also emphasized that it is a non-natural property. This means that it cannot be empirically or scientifically tested or verified - it is not within the bounds of "natural science".
Moral knowledge 
Moore argued that once arguments based on the naturalistic fallacy had been discarded, questions of intrinsic goodness could only be settled by appeal to what he (following Sidgwick) called "moral intuitions:" self-evident propositions which recommend themselves to moral reflection, but which are not susceptible to either direct proof or disproof (PE § 45). As a result of his view, he has often been described by later writers as an advocate of ethical intuitionism. Moore, however, wished to distinguish his view from the views usually described as "Intuitionist" when Principia Ethica was written:
In order to express the fact that ethical propositions of my first class [propositions about what is good as an end in itself] are incapable of proof or disproof, I have sometimes followed Sidgwick's usage in calling them ‘Intuitions.’ But I beg that it may be noticed that I am not an ‘Intuitionist,’ in the ordinary sense of the term. Sidgwick himself seems never to have been clearly aware of the immense importance of the difference which distinguishes his Intuitionism from the common doctrine, which has generally been called by that name. The Intuitionist proper is distinguished by maintaining that propositions of my second class—propositions which assert that a certain action is right or a duty—are incapable of proof or disproof by any enquiry into the results of such actions. I, on the contrary, am no less anxious to maintain that propositions of this kind are not ‘Intuitions,’ than to maintain that propositions of my first class are Intuitions.
— G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica, Preface ¶ 5
Moore distinguished his view from the view of deontological intuitionists, who held that "intuitions" could determine questions about what actions are right or required by duty. Moore, as a consequentialist, argued that "duties" and moral rules could be determined by investigating the effects of particular actions or kinds of actions (PE § 89), and so were matters for empirical investigation rather than direct objects of intuition (PE § 90). On Moore's view, "intuitions" revealed not the rightness or wrongness of specific actions, but only what things were good in themselves, as ends to be pursued.
Proof of an external world 
One of the most important parts of Moore's philosophical development was his break from the idealism that dominated British philosophy (as represented in the works of his former teachers F. H. Bradley and John McTaggart), and his defence of what he regarded as a "common sense" form of realism. In his 1925 essay "A Defence of Common Sense", he argued against idealism and scepticism toward the external world on the grounds that they could not give reasons to accept their metaphysical premises that were more plausible than the reasons we have to accept the common sense claims about our knowledge of the world that sceptics and idealists must deny. He famously put the point into dramatic relief with his 1939 essay "Proof of an External World", in which he gave a common sense argument against scepticism by raising his right hand and saying "Here is one hand," and then raising his left and saying "And here is another," then concluding that there are at least two external objects in the world, and therefore that he knows (by this argument) that an external world exists. Not surprisingly, not everyone inclined to sceptical doubts found Moore's method of argument entirely convincing; Moore, however, defends his argument on the grounds that sceptical arguments seem invariably to require an appeal to "philosophical intuitions" that we have considerably less reason to accept than we have for the common sense claims that they supposedly refute. (In addition to fueling Moore's own work, the "Here is one hand" argument also deeply influenced Wittgenstein, who spent his last years working out a new approach to Moore's argument in the remarks that were published posthumously as On Certainty.)
Moore's paradox 
Moore is also remembered for drawing attention to the peculiar inconsistency involved in uttering a sentence such as "It is raining but I do not believe it is raining"—a puzzle which is now commonly called "Moore's paradox." The puzzle arises because it seems impossible for anyone to consistently assert such a sentence; but there doesn't seem to be any logical contradiction between "It will rain" and "I don't believe that it will rain." (Indeed, it is not unusual for such conjunctions to be true—for example, whenever one is wrong about the weather forecast.)
In addition to Moore's own work on the paradox, the puzzle also inspired a great deal of work by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who described the paradox as the most impressive philosophical insight that Moore had ever introduced. It is said that when Wittgenstein first heard this paradox one evening (which Moore had earlier stated in a lecture), he rushed round to Moore's lodgings, got him out of bed and insisted that Moore repeat the entire lecture to him.
Organic wholes 
Moore’s description of the principle of organic unity is extremely straightforward; nonetheless, it is a principle that seems to have generally escaped ethical philosophers and ontologists before his time:
- The value of a whole must not be assumed to be the same as the sum of the values of its parts (Principia, § 18).
According to Moore, a moral actor cannot survey the “goodness” inherent in the various parts of a situation, assign a value to each of them, and then generate a sum in order to get an idea of its total value. A moral scenario is a complex assembly of parts, and its total value is often created by the relations between those parts, and not by their individual value. The organic metaphor is thus very appropriate: biological organisms seem to have emergent properties which cannot be found anywhere in their individual parts. For example, a human brain seems to exhibit a capacity for thought when none of its neurons exhibit any such capacity. In the same way, a moral scenario can have a value far greater than the sum of its component parts.
To understand the application of the organic principle to questions of value, it is perhaps best to consider Moore’s primary example, that of a consciousness experiencing a beautiful object. To see how the principle works, a thinker engages in “reflective isolation”, the act of isolating a given concept in a kind of null-context and determining its intrinsic value. In our example, we can easily see that per sui, beautiful objects and consciousnesses are not particularly valuable things. They might have some value, but when we consider the total value of a consciousness experiencing a beautiful object, it seems to exceed the simple sum of these values (Principia 18:2).
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
Moore scholarship 
In the 1980s the American philosopher, Tom Regan, published three books on Moore’s philosophy. The first, G. E. Moore: The Early Essays, is a collection of essays that were originally published between 1897 and 1903, none of which Moore himself anthologized. Regan argues that these papers reveal Moore’s early taste for speculative metaphysics; in “The Nature of Judgment,” for example, Moore maintains that “the world consists of concepts,” including existence, “which is itself a concept . . . Thus, all that exists . . . is composed of concepts necessarily related to one another in specific manners, and likewise to the concept of existence.” In another paper, “Freedom,” Moore enthusiastically affirms his agreement with F. H. Bradley, writing: “I can only say that the arguments by which Mr. Bradley has endeavoured to prove the unreality of Time appear to me perfectly conclusive.”
Regan’s second book, The Elements of Ethics, is a series of ten lectures Moore delivered in 1898. Large parts of these lectures were carried over by Moore into Principia Ethica and, Regan maintains, these lectures cast important light on Principia’s pages.
Regan’s third book, Bloomsbury’s Prophet: G. E. Moore and the Development of His Moral Philosophy, represents Regan’s major contribution to Moorean scholarship. Representative reviews include E. D. Klemke writing that Bloomsbury’s Prophet is “a marvelous book” while Aurum Stroll writes “[t]he portrait of the man Moore that Regan gives us is not only unique . . . but it is well done, indeed.”
In this book Regan relies on a trove of unpublished material, housed in the Moore Archive at the University of Cambridge, including Moore’s two dissertations, on Kant’s moral philosophy; correspondence, consisting of letters that Moore wrote as well those he received; scores of papers he read at meetings of the Cambridge Conversazione Society, also known as the Apostles, and at the Sunday Essay Society; and a diary Moore kept throughout his formative years, breaking off on April 19, 1916.
Using these materials Regan argues that Principia’s primary purpose was (as Moore wrote) to “humble the Science of Ethics” by exposing the “lies” told by “would-be scientific ethicists” (“Art, Morals, and Religion”: May 5, 1901). In Moore’s view, a truly scientific ethic is able to prove very little concerning values, rules, duty, and virtues.
Regarding values: such an ethic cannot establish anything concerning what has intrinsic value—what is good in itself. That must be left to the judgment of individuals who, taking due precautions, ask themselves what things would be good if they were the only things to exist in the world.
Regarding rules of conduct: a truly scientific ethic can at most establish that “a very few rules” (Principia, xxii, italics in the original) ought always to be followed. Not even all the rules commended by Common Sense qualify: only “most of those most universally recognized by Common Sense” are possible candidates, and even in their case Moore maintains only that the requisite type of justification “may be possible” (p. xxii, italics in the original).
That being so, almost all our decisions will have to be made without relying on any rule: in almost all cases, Moore writes, “rules of action should not be followed at all” (Ibid., p. xiii). In all cases of this sort individuals should guide their choice “by a direct consideration of the effects which the action may produce” (p. XX), doing what one thinks will promote one’s own interests, as these are enlarged by the lives of others in whom one has “a strong personal interest” (Ibid., XX) instead of attempting to satisfy the demands of “a more extended beneficence,” as in “the greatest good for the greatest number.” And of the goods to be aimed at, the more immediate are generally to be preferred to the more distant. In short, in virtually all our activities in our day-to-day life we are at liberty to live and choose without troubling ourselves about whether we are doing what duty, in the form of the rules of morality, requires.
Regarding virtues: a truly scientific ethic should promote the private virtues of prudence, temperance, and industry (the only virtues Moore discusses in Principia), not the (so-called) virtues of beneficence, charity, civic-mindedness, social justice, patriotism, piety, reverence, or altruism. Such an ethic should promote the virtues of the creative self, not the virtues of the conscientious citizen.
On this basis Regan argues that Moore genuinely is “Bloomsbury’s prophet,” advocating, as he does, the values, the rules of conduct, and the virtues that are synonymous with the name, “Bloomsbury.” As Regan notes, “theirs was an anarchy of the bedroom, not the streets.”
Writing in the Library Journal, Leon H. Brody assessed the work as follows.
- Regan's thesis is that an adequate understanding of Moore's ethical philosophy can be achieved only when seen against the backdrop of Bloomsbury--the avant-garde group of free spirits (among whom were Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes) that met weekly in London between 1905 and 1920. When seen in that light, Regan argues, Moore's thought as expressed in Principia Ethica is a "radical defense of the freedom of the individual to choose," rather than a defense of conformity to the status quo, as is usually assumed. Written with the verve appropriate to its subject, and yet philosophically scrupulous, this book deserves a place in philosophy and cultural history collections in both public and academic libraries.
- G. E. Moore, The Nature of Judgment (1899)
- G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (1903)
- G. E. Moore, Review of Franz Brentano's The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong (1903)
- G. E. Moore, The Refutation of Idealism (1903)
- G. E. Moore, The Nature and Reality of the Objects of Perception (1905-6)
- G. E. Moore, Ethics (1912)
- G. E. Moore, Some Judgments of Perception (1918)
- G. E. Moore, "Philosophical Studies" (1922) [Papers published 1903-21, and first published two:]
- G. E. Moore, Are the Characteristics of Things Universal or Particular? (1923)
- G. E. Moore, A Defence of Common Sense (1925)
- G. E. Moore and F. P. Ramsey, Facts and Proposition (Symposium) (1927)
- G. E. Moore, Proof of an External World (1939)
- G. E. Moore, "Some Main Problems of Philosophy" (1953) [Lectures delivered 1910-11]
- G. E. Moore, Propositions
- Margin Notes by G. E. Moore on The Works of Thomas Reid (1849: With Notes by Sir William Hamilton)
- G. E. Moore: The Early Essays, by Tom Regan, Temple University Press (1986).
- The elements of ethics / G.E. Moore; edited and with an introduction by Tom Regan, Temple University Press, (1991).
Further reading 
- Levy, Paul (1979). Moore: G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles. ISBN 978-0-03-053616-8.
- Klemke, E. D. (1999). A Defense of Realism: Reflections on the Metaphysics of G. E. Moore. ISBN 1-57392-732-5.
- Daval, René, Moore et la philosophie analytique, 1997, Presses Universitaires de France (PUF), ISBN 978-2-13-048690-9 (French)
- Tom Regan. Bloomsbury’s prophet: G.E. Moore and the development of his moral philosophy, Temple University Press (1986).
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: G. E. Moore|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- G. E. Moore at Find a Grave
- Summary of life and work of G. E. Moore
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- G. E. Moore at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Download Principia Ethica in PDF and other formats from Internet Archive
-  Trinity College Chapel
G. E. Moore, On Defining "Good," in Analytic Philosophy: Classic Readings, Stamford, CT: Wadsworth, 2002, pp. 1–10. ISBN 0-534-51277-1.
- "Moore, George Edward". Preston, Aaron. Internet Encyclopedia. Iep.utm.edu. 30 December 2005. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- A Guide to Churchill College, Cambridge: text by Dr. Mark Goldie, pages 62 and 63 (2009)
- Hodges, S, (1981), God's Gift: A Living History of Dulwich College, pages 87-88, (Heinemann: London)
- Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Moore, George Edward". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Eminent Old Alleynians : Academe at dulwich.org.uk, accessed 24 February 2009
- The Aristotelian Society – The Council
- Metaethics entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Geoff Sayre-McCord.