George Edward Moore: Biography
George Edward Moore (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 was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1894 to 1901, and the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club.
Moore was born in Upper Norwood, Croydon, Greater London, on 4 November 1873, the middle child of seven of Dr Daniel Moore and Henrietta Sturge. His grandfather was the author Dr George Moore. His eldest brother was Thomas Sturge Moore, a poet, writer and engraver.
He was educated at Dulwich College and in 1892 went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to study 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.
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".
He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1918-19.
Paul Levy wrote in Moore: G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles (1979) that Moore was an important member of the secretive Cambridge Apostles.
G. E. Moore died on 24 October 1958; he was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium on 28 October 1958 and his ashes interred at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge; his wife, Dorothy Ely (1892-1977) was buried there. Together they had two sons, the poet Nicholas Moore and the composer Timothy Moore.
The title page of Principia Ethica
His influential work Principia Ethica 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
Main article: 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?).
Main article: 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.
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 person born totally blind 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".
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
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
Main article: Here is one hand
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 that their metaphysical premises were more plausible than the reasons we have to accept the common sense claims about our knowledge of the world, which 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 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 is raining" and "I don't believe that it is raining." because the former is a statement about the weather and the latter a statement about a person's belief about the weather, and it is perfectly logically possible that it may rain whilst a person does not believe that it is raining.
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.
Moore’s description of the principle of organic unity is extremely straightforward; nonetheless, and a variant on a pattern that began with Aristotle:
The value of a whole must not be assumed to be the same as the sum of the values of its parts .
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 .
Analytical Philosophy - Moore
It was only in the 1960s that the phrase "analytical philosophy" came into frequent use as a way of describing the kind of philosophy characteristic of much English-language philosophy of the twentieth century. But occasional references to "analytical" (or "analytic") philosophy as a new kind of philosophy can be found much earlier, where it is primarily used to introduce a contrast with "speculative philosophy." The thought here is that whereas traditional philosophers have attempted by means of speculative arguments to provide knowledge of a kind that is not otherwise possible, "analytic" philosophers aim to use methods of philosophical analysis to deepen the understanding of things that are already known—for example, concerning the past or concerning mathematics. In doing so analytic philosophers will seek to clarify the significance of essentially uncontentious historical or mathematical truths and to explain the possibility of our knowledge of them. This program does not require that analytic philosophers deny the possibility of speculative philosophy; but many did so, most famously those associated with the Vienna Circle such as Rudolph Carnap (1891–1970), who held that "all statements whatever that assert something are of an empirical nature and belong to factual science" and went to claim that, for philosophy, "What remains is not statements, nor a theory, nor a system, but only a method: the method of logical analysis"
Methods of philosophical analysis are in fact as old as philosophy, as in Socrates' dialectic. The method was especially prominent in the theory of ideas characteristic of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century philosophy, which involved the analysis of complex ideas into simple ones. One of Immanuel Kant's (1724–1804) insights was to recognize the priority of complete judgments over ideas, or concepts, and this led him to hold that analytic methods of inquiry were subordinate to the elucidation of synthetic unities, such as the unity of consciousness. Kant's successors in the tradition of German idealism took this subordination much further as they sought to articulate the internal relations that hold together ever more encompassing "organic wholes" such as the state and the universe. For them, analysis was only ever a preliminary stage of inquiry, a kind of falsification to be transcended once a relevant organic whole and its relationships had been identified.
Metaphysics and Epistemology
Two facts make it difficult to separate Moore’s contributions to metaphysics from his contributions to epistemology. First, his main contributions to metaphysics were in the ontology of cognition, which is often treated as a branch of epistemology. Second, his main contributions to epistemology were motivated by what he called the “commonsense” or “ordinary” view of the world, and this is properly a metaphysical conception, a worldview or Weltanschauung. Consequently, the next section treats Moore’s metaphysics and his epistemology together.
Internal Relations and Absolute Idealism
Moore became interested in philosophy at a time when Absolute Idealism had dominated the British universities for half a century, in a tradition stretching from S.T. Coleridge and T.H. Green to F.H. Bradley and J.M.E. McTaggart. McTaggart was Moore’s earliest philosophical mentor. Moore’s earliest philosophical views were inherited directly from him.
Absolute Idealism is a brand of metaphysical monism. It implies that, although the world presents itself to us as a collection of more or less discrete objects (this bird, that table, the earth and the sun, etc.), it really is one indivisible whole, whose nature is mental (or spiritual, or ideal) rather than material. Thus it is also a form of anti-realism, since it claims that the world of ordinary experience is something of an illusion—not that the objects of ordinary experience do not exist, but that they are not, as we normally take them to be, discrete. Instead, every object exists and is what it is at least partly in virtue of the relations it bears to other things—more precisely, to all other things. This is called the doctrine of internal relations, which Moore understood as the view that all relations are necessary. On this view, my coffee cup is not just the apparently self-contained entity that I lift off the table and draw to my lips. Instead, it contains, as essential parts of itself, relations to every other existing thing; thus, as I draw it to my lips, I draw the universe along with it, and am responsible for, in a sense, reconfiguring the universe. Since, on this view, everything that exists does so only in virtue of its relations to everything else, it is misleading to say of any one thing, for example, my coffee cup, that it exists simpliciter. The only thing that exists simpliciter is the whole—the entire network of necessarily related objects.
Though Moore accepted Absolute Idealism for a short while in his undergraduate years, he is best remembered for the views he developed in opposition to it. In fact, what is most characteristic of Moore’s mature philosophy is a thoroughgoing realism about what he came to call the “commonsense” or “ordinary” view of the world. This involves a lush metaphysical pluralism (the belief that there are many things that exist simpliciter) that stands in sharp contrast to the monism of the Absolute Idealists.
Inklings of Moore’s misgivings about Absolute Idealism begin to appear as early as 1897, in his first (unsuccessful) Prize-Fellowship dissertation on “The Metaphysical Basis of Ethics.” Though in it he openly identifies with the British Idealist school, it is here that Moore first raises a point that proved to be the hole in the Idealists’ dike. The Idealists’ doctrine of the internality of all relations has implications for the ontology of cognition. Specifically, it implies that objects of knowledge/cognition are not independent of their knowers. In other words, being known (cognized, perceived, etc.) makes a difference to the nature and being of the thing being known, the “object” of knowledge. Indeed, it was this aspect of the view which marked it as Idealist, as the Idealists commonly posited a great Mind, often simply called “the Absolute,” that “grounded” the whole of reality by cognizing it. And it is this view in the ontology of cognition that Moore obliquely rejects in his 1897 dissertation. He does not address it directly and in specie, but only in the restricted context of moral epistemology. In discussing Kant’s moral epistemology, Moore argues that Kant’s conception of practical reason conflates the faculty of judgment with judgments themselves (that is, bearers of objective truth), which he thinks should be kept separate. To maintain a sharp distinction between cognitive faculties and their activities, on the one hand, and their objects, on the other, is a staple of Austro-German philosophy from Bolzano and Lotze to Husserl, and it is likely that Moore got the idea from reading in that tradition (cf. Bell 1999).
At this point, Moore had neither the doctrine of internal relations nor British Idealism in his sights. It is probably more accurate to say that he was objecting to what is frequently called psychologism—the view that apparently objective truths (for example, of logic, mathematics, ethics, etc.) are to be accounted for in terms of the operations of subjective cognitive or “psychological” faculties. Psychologism was common to nearly all versions of Kantian and post-Kantian Idealism, including British Absolute Idealism. It was also a common feature of thought in the British empirical tradition, from Hume to Mill. For the British Idealists, psychologism was a consequence of the doctrine of internal relations as the latter applies to the ontology of cognition.
It was not long before Moore recognized this. Accordingly, he expanded the scope of his 1897 criticism from the ontology of moral knowledge to the ontology of knowledge in general, and this quickly became the principal weapon in his rebellion against British Idealism. This began in earnest in his successful 1898 Prize-Fellowship dissertation, which formed the basis for his first influential paper, “The Nature of Judgment” (Moore 1899). In both of these works, Moore pushes the anti-psychologistic distinction between subjective faculties/activities and their objects. He couples this, however, with a peculiar account of the nature of truth, of propositions and of ordinary objects.
Although few of Moore’s theories achieved general acceptance, his unique approaches to certain problems and his intellectual rigour helped change the texture of philosophical discussion in England. His other major writings include Philosophical Studies (1922) and Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953); posthumous publications were Philosophical Papers (1959) and the Commonplace Book, 1919–1953 (1962).