Principia Ethica is a 1903 book by the British philosopher G. E. Moore. A vastly influential work, its insistence on the indefinability of "good" and its exposition of the so-called naturalistic fallacy were long regarded as path-breaking advances in moral philosophy.
Moore's claim that 'good' was a quality in itself, not reducible to some natural feature such as pleasure, or utility, or evolutionary success, placed him in direct opposition to such leading Victorian thinkers as Herbert Spencer and J. S. Mill. Clive Bell considered as a result that Moore had freed his generation from utilitarianism.
Moore saw “the contemplation of beauty, love and truth...the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects” as key elements of the Good.
Principia Ethica was the bible of the Bloomsbury Group, and the philosophical foundation of their aesthetic values. Leonard Woolf considered that it offered a way of continuing living in a meaningless world. Moore's aesthetic idea of the organic whole provided artistic guidance for modernists like Virginia Woolf, and fed into Clive Bell's concept of Significant form.
Socioculturally, a line can be traced from Principia Ethica to the liberal thought of Roy Jenkins, as evidenced in his 1959 pamphlet Is Britain Civilised? and actuated in his subsequent Home Office reforms which established much of the institutional framework for the permissive society in England.
Principia Ethica has been seen by Geoffrey Warnock as less impressive and durable than Moore's contributions in other fields. Moore's article 'Proof of an External World' (1939) continued to promote philosophical debate a half-century later.
C. P. Snow sketched the enduring influence of Moore on his followers' group-belief in pleasure: “They tried to get the maximum of pleasure out of their personal relations. If this meant triangles or more complicated geometrical figures, well then, one accepted that too....If you didn't believe in pleasure, you couldn't be civilized”.
- Warnock, Geoffrey (1995). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 585. ISBN 0-19-866132-0.
- I. Ousby, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1995) p. 645
- M. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (1986) p. 92
- Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 253
- Quoted in Lee, p. 253
- Lee, p. 253
- Lee, p. 302
- J. Briggs, Reading Virginia Woolf (2006) p. 72
- G. Flistad, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art (2007) p. 221
- Levenson, p. 92
- R. Jenkins, Nine Men of Power (1970) p. 3 and p. 12
- J. Diski, The Sixties (2009) p. 64-5
- R. Eldridge ed., Stanley Cavell (2003) p. 18-21
- John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (1995) p. 180-2
- Lee, p. 712
- C. P. Snow, Last Things (1974) p. 84
Clive Bell, Old Friends (!956)
S. P. Rosenbaum ed., The Bloomsbury Group (1975)
- etext of Principia Ethica.
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