Ideas of G.E. Moore, by Theme

[British, 1873 - 1958, Born in London. Friend of Russell. Professor at Cambridge University. Wittgenstein was a pupil.]

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1. Philosophy / C. History of Philosophy / 5. Modern Philosophy / b. Modern philosophy beginnings
Moore's 'The Nature of Judgement' (1898) marked the rejection (with Russell) of idealism
     Full Idea: The rejection of idealism by Moore and Russell was marked in 1898 by the publication of Moore's article 'The Nature of Judgement'.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (The Nature of Judgement [1899]) by A.C. Grayling - Russell Ch.2
     A reaction: This now looks like a huge landmark in the history of British philosophy.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / c. Philosophy as generalisation
The main aim of philosophy is to describe the whole Universe.
     Full Idea: It seems to me that the most important and interesting thing which philosophers have tried to do to give a general description of the whole of the Universe.
     From: G.E. Moore (Some Main Problems of Philosophy [1911], Ch. 1)
     A reaction: He adds that they aim to show what is in it, and what might be in it, and how the two relate. This sort of big view is the one I favour. I think the hallmark of philosophical thought is a high level of generality. He next proceeds to defend common sense.
1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 1. Nature of Analysis
Analysis for Moore and Russell is carving up the world, not investigating language
     Full Idea: For Moore and Russell analysis is not - as is commonly understood now - a linguistic activity, but an ontological one. To analyse a proposition is not to investigate language, but to carve up the world so that it begins to make some sort of sense.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (The Nature of Judgement [1899]) by Ray Monk - Bertrand Russell: Spirit of Solitude Ch.4
     A reaction: A thought dear to my heart. The twentieth century got horribly side-tracked into thinking that ontology was an entirely linguistic problem. I suggest that physicists analyse physical reality, and philosophers analyse abstract reality.
8. Modes of Existence / A. Relations / 2. Internal Relations
A relation is internal if two things possessing the relation could not fail to be related
     Full Idea: Moore characterises internal relations modally, as those essential to their relata. If a and b are related R-wise, and R is an internal relation, a and b could not fail to be so related; otherwise R is external.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (External and Internal Relations [1919]) by John Heil - Relations 'Internal'
     A reaction: I don't think of Moore as an essentialist, but this fits the essentialist picture nicely, and is probably best paraphrased in terms of powers. Integers are the standard example of internal relations.
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / c. Aim of beliefs
Moore's Paradox: you can't assert 'I believe that p but p is false', but can assert 'You believe p but p is false'
     Full Idea: Moore's Paradox says it makes no sense to assert 'I believe that p, but p is false', even though it makes perfectly good sense to assert 'I used to believe p, but p is false' or 'You believe p, but p is false'.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (works [1905]) by E.J. Lowe - Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind Ch.10
     A reaction: I'm not sure if this really deserves the label of 'paradox'. I take it as drawing attention to the obvious fact that belief is commitment to truth. I think my assessment that p is true is correct, but your assessment is wrong. ('True' is not redundant!)
11. Knowledge Aims / B. Certain Knowledge / 2. Common Sense Certainty
Arguments that my finger does not exist are less certain than your seeing my finger
     Full Idea: This really is a finger ...and you all know it. ...I can safely challenge anyone to give an argument that it is not true, which does not rest upon some premise which is less certain than is the proposition which it is designed to attack.
     From: G.E. Moore (Some Judgements of Perception [1922], p.228), quoted by John Kekes - The Human Condition 01.3
     A reaction: [In Moore's 'Philosophical Studies'] This is a particularly clear statement from Moore of his famous claim. I'm not sure what to make of an attempt to compare a sceptical argument (dreams, demons) with the sight of a finger.
I can prove a hand exists, by holding one up, pointing to it, and saying 'here is one hand'
     Full Idea: I can prove now that two human hands exist. How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand, 'Here is one hand', and adding, as I gesture with the left, 'and here is another'.
     From: G.E. Moore (Proof of an External World [1939], p.1)
     A reaction: The words need to be spoken, presumably, so that what he is doing fits into the linguistic conventions of what will normally be accepted as a proof. In fact, just holding the hand up seems enough. The proof begs the question of virtual reality.
19. Language / D. Propositions / 3. Concrete Propositions
Moor bypassed problems of correspondence by saying true propositions ARE facts
     Full Idea: Moore avoided the problematic correspondence between propositions and reality by identifying the former with the latter; the world consists of true propositions, and there is no difference between a true proposition and the fact that makes it true.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (The Nature of Judgement [1899]) by Michael Potter - The Rise of Analytic Philosophy 1879-1930 28 'Refut'
     A reaction: This is "the most platonic system of modern times", he wrote (letter 14.8.1898). He then added platonist ethics. This is a pernicious and absurd doctrine. The obvious problem is that false propositions can be indistinguishable, but differ in ontology.
19. Language / D. Propositions / 5. Unity of Propositions
Hegelians say propositions defy analysis, but Moore says they can be broken down
     Full Idea: Moore rejected the Hegelian view, that a proposition is a unity that defies analysis; instead, it is a complex that positively cries out to be broken up into its constituent parts, which parts Moore called 'concepts'.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (The Nature of Judgement [1899]) by Ray Monk - Bertrand Russell: Spirit of Solitude Ch.4
     A reaction: Russell was much influenced by this idea, though it may be found in Frege. Anglophone philosophers tend to side instantly with Moore, but the Hegel view must be pondered. An idea comes to us in a unified flash, before it is articulated.
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 4. Beauty
The beautiful is whatever it is intrinsically good to admire
     Full Idea: The beautiful should be defined as that of which the admiring contemplation is good in itself.
     From: G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903], p.210), quoted by Graham Farmelo - The Strangest Man
     A reaction: To work, this definition must exclude anything else which it is intrinsically good to admire. Good deeds obviously qualify for that, so good deeds must be intrinsically beautiful (which would be agreed by ancient Greeks). We can't ask WHY it is good!
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / c. Objective value
We should ask what we would judge to be good if it existed in absolute isolation
     Full Idea: It is necessary to consider what things are such that, if they existed by themselves, in absolute isolation, we should yet judge their existence to be good.
     From: G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903], 112)
     A reaction: This is known as the 'isolation test'. The test has an instant appeal, but looks a bit odd after a little thought. The value of most things drains out of them if they are totally isolated. The MS of the Goldberg Variations floating in outer space?
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / a. Form of the Good
It is always an open question whether anything that is natural is good
     Full Idea: Good does not, by definition, mean anything that is natural; and it is therefore always an open question whether anything that is natural is good.
     From: G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903], 027)
     A reaction: This is the best known modern argument for Platonist idealised ethics. But maybe there is no end to questioning anywhere, so each theory invites a further question, and nothing is ever fully explained? Next stop - pragmatism.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / b. Types of good
The three main values are good, right and beauty
     Full Idea: Moore describes rightness and beauty as the two main value-attributes, apart from goodness.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by W. David Ross - The Right and the Good IV
     A reaction: This was a last-throw of the Platonic ideal, before we plunged into the value-free world of Darwin and the physicists. It is hard to agree with Moore, but also hard to disagree. Why do many people despise or ignore these values?
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / c. Right and good
For Moore, 'right' is what produces good
     Full Idea: Moore claims that 'right' means 'productive of the greatest possible good'.
     From: report of G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by W. David Ross - The Right and the Good I
     A reaction: Ross is at pains to keep 'right' and 'good' as quite distinct notions. Some actions are right but very unpleasant, and seem to produce no real good at all.
'Right' means 'cause of good result' (hence 'useful'), so the end does justify the means
     Full Idea: 'Right' does and can mean nothing but 'cause of a good result', and is thus identical with 'useful', whence it follows that the end always will justify the means.
     From: G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903], 089)
     A reaction: Of course, Moore does not identify utility with pleasure, as his notion of what is good concerns fairly Platonic ideals. Would Stalin's murders have been right if Russia were now the happiest nation on Earth?
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / b. Defining ethics
Moore tries to show that 'good' is indefinable, but doesn't understand what a definition is
     Full Idea: Moore tries to show that 'good' is indefinable by relying on a bad dictionary definition of 'definition'.
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by Alasdair MacIntyre - After Virtue: a Study in Moral Theory Ch.2
     A reaction: An interesting remark, with no further explanation offered. If Moore has this problem, then Plato had it too (see Idea 3032). I would have thought that any definition MacIntyre could offer would either be naturalistic, or tautological.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / a. Idealistic ethics
The naturalistic fallacy claims that natural qualties can define 'good'
     Full Idea: The naturalistic fallacy ..consists in the contention that good means nothing but some simple or complex notion, that can be defined in terms of natural qualities.
     From: G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903], 044)
The Open Question argument leads to anti-realism and the fact-value distinction
     Full Idea: Moore's Open Question argument led, however unintentionally, to the rise of anti-realism in meta-ethics (which leads to distinguishing values from facts).
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by Stephen Boulter - Why Medieval Philosophy Matters 4
     A reaction: I presume that Moore proves that the Good is not natural, and after that no one knows what it is, so it seems to be arbitrary or non-existent (rather than the platonic fact that Moore had hoped for). I vote for naturalistic ethics.
Can learning to recognise a good friend help us to recognise a good watch?
     Full Idea: How could having learned to recognize a good friend help us to recognize a good watch? Yet is Moore is right, the same simple property is present in both cases?
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by Alasdair MacIntyre - A Short History of Ethics Ch.18
     A reaction: It begins to look as if what they have in common is just that they both make you feel good. However, I like the Aristotelian idea that they both function succesfully, one as a timekeeper, the other as a citizen or companion.
Moore cannot show why something being good gives us a reason for action
     Full Idea: Moore's account leaves it entirely unexplained and inexplicable why something's being good should ever furnish us with a reason for action.
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by Alasdair MacIntyre - A Short History of Ethics Ch.18
     A reaction: The same objection can be raised to Plato's Form of the Good, but Plato's answer seems to be that the Good is partly a rational entity, and partly that the Good just has a natural magnetism that makes it quasi-religious.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / c. Ethical intuitionism
Moore's combination of antinaturalism with strong supervenience on the natural is incoherent
     Full Idea: Moore incoherently combines his antinaturalism with the thesis that intrinsic-value properties are logically strongly supervenient on (or explanatorily reducible to) natural facts.
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by Robert Hanna - Rationality and Logic Ch.1
     A reaction: I take this to be Moore fighting shy of the strongly Platonist view of values which his arguments all seemed to imply.
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 1. Utilitarianism
Relationships imply duties to people, not merely the obligation to benefit them
     Full Idea: Moore's 'Ideal Utilitarianism' seems to unduly simplify our relations to our fellows. My neighbours are merely possible beneficiaries by my action. But they also stand to me as promiser, creditor, husband, friend, which entails prima facie duties.
     From: comment on G.E. Moore (Principia Ethica [1903]) by W. David Ross - The Right and the Good II
     A reaction: Perhaps it is better to say that we have obligations to benefit particular people, because of our obligations, and that we are confined to particular benefits which meet those obligations - not just any old benefit to any old person.