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Book Title: Principia Ethica|
The size of the: 923 KB
Edition: Cambridge University Press
Date of issue: October 26th 2002
The author of the book: G.E. Moore
Format files: PDF
ISBN 13: 9780521448482
Read full description of the books Principia Ethica:It appears to me that in Ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which its history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer.All ethical questions fall under one or other of three classes:
1) What is good?
2) What things are good in themselves or has an intrinsic value?
3) What kind of actions ought we to perform or what is the right action to do? (Practical Ethics)
A great part of the vast disagreements prevalent in Ethics is to be attributed to failure in analysis and in differentiation between the 3 questions. Unless we know what good means, unless we know what is meant by that notion in itself, as distinct from what is meant by any other notion:
1) We shall not be able to tell when we are dealing with Good and when we are dealing with something else, which is perhaps like it in some aspects, but not the same.
2) We can never know on what evidence an ethical proposition rests. We cannot favor one judgment that this or that is good, or be against another judgment that this or that is bad.
By the use of conceptions which involve both that of intrinsic value and that of causal relation, as if they involved intrinsic value only, philosophers found in answering questions 2 and 3, an adequate definition of Ethics and not that they are defined by the fact that they predicate a single unique objective concept. This what Moore calls the "Naturalistic Fallacy", i.e equating a property with a thing that has a relation to this property, ex. this property possess the thing (Good possess pleasure so Good is pleasure) or equating a means with a property as an end (an action which is a means to pleasure is Good so Good is pleasure). Accordingly we face two problems with Philosophers' ethical systems:
1) Confusing Question 1 with Question 2 in which the casual relation is "Possession"
2) Confusing Question 1 with Question 3 in which the causal relation is "means"
The source of this confusion, is that Good is undefinable. Good is a simple notion, just as yellow is a simple notion; that it isn't composed of any parts, which we can substitute for it in our minds when we are thinking of it because they are the ultimate terms of reference to which whatever is capable of definition must be defined, there is no relevant evidence whatever which can be cited from any other truth, except themselves alone. 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." It can only be shown. We can only show a sighted person a piece of yellow paper and say "That is yellow." So just as you cannot explain "what yellow is" to anyone who does not already know what a color is, you cannot also explain what good is. So Good is self-evident. By saying that a proposition is self-evident, we mean emphatically that its appearing so to us, is not the reason why it is true: for we mean that it has absolutely no reason. Consider yellow, for example. We may try to define it, by describing its physical equivalent; we may state what kind of light-vibrations must stimulate the normal eye, in order that we may perceive it. But a moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that those light-vibrations are not themselves what we mean by yellow. They are not what we perceive. The most we can be entitled to say of those vibrations is that they are what corresponds in space to the yellow which we actually perceive.And there must be an indefinite number of such undefinable terms; since we cannot define anything except by an analysis, which when carried as far as it will go, refers us to something, which is simply different from anything else, and which by that ultimate difference explains the peculiarity of the whole which we are defining: for every whole contains some parts which are common to other wholes also.Every one does in fact understand the question "Is this good"? When he thinks of it, his state of mind is different from what it would be, were he asked Is this pleasant, or desired, or approved? It has a distinct meaning for him, even though he may not recognize in what respect it is distinct.Moore proposes a method to know what degree of value a thing has in itself, is that we should see it as if it existed in absolute isolation, stripped of all its usual accompaniments.
He then discusses a few concepts that show the mistakes of the philosophers whose ethical statements fall in the category of the first problem.
It has just been said that what has intrinsic value is the existence of the whole, and that this includes the existence of the part; and from this it would seem a natural inference that the existence of the part has intrinsic value. But the inference would be as false as if we were to conclude that, because the number of two stones was two, each of the stones was also two or in reverse all the parts of a picture may be meaningless unless they are put together thus makes the whole meaningful. We may admit, indeed, that when a particular thing is a part of a whole, it does possess a predicate which it would not otherwise possess, that it is a part of the whole. Thus, to take a typical example, if an arm be cut off from the human body, we still call it an arm. Yet an arm, when it is a part of the body, undoubtedly differs from a dead arm. So in considering the different degrees in which things themselves possess a property, we have to take account of the fact that a whole may possess it in a degree different from that which is obtained by summing the degrees in which its parts possess it. This what Moore calls the principle of Organic Unity.
I'll give an example related to Theodicy, courage and compassion seem to involve essentially a cognition of something evil or ugly. In the case of courage the object of the cognition may be any kind of evil; in the case of compassion, the proper object is pain. These virtues involve a hatred of what is evil or ugly and if so, there are admirable things, which may be lost, if there were no cognition of evil. Once we recognize the principle of organic unities, any objection to this conclusion, founded on the supposed fact that the other elements of such states have no value in themselves, must disappear. It might be the case that the existence of evil was necessary, not merely as a means, but analytically, to the existence of the greatest good. But we have no reason to think that this is the case in any instance whatever. So the right action entails the suppression of some evil impulse, is necessary to explain the plausibility of the view that virtue consists in the control of passion by reason. Accordingly, the truth seems to be that, whenever a strong moral emotion is excited by the idea of rightness, this emotion is accompanied by a vague cognition of the kind of evils usually suppressed or avoided by the actions which most frequently occur to us as instances of duty; and that the emotion is directed towards this evil quality. We may, conclude that the specific moral emotion owes almost all its intrinsic value to the fact that it includes a cognition of evils accompanied by a hatred of them.
The Open Question ArgumentFor it is the business of Ethics, I must insist, not only to obtain true results, but also to find valid reasons for them. The direct object of Ethics is knowledge and not practice; and any one who uses the naturalistic fallacy has certainly not fulfilled this first object, however correct his practical principles may be.Moore proposed a test, to see whether goodness is identical to X, he called it The Open Question Argument which depends on our common sense and that Good is self-evident.X is not identical to goodness if the question, “Is X good?” is open.Applying it in a few examples:
The question, “Is pleasure good?” is open and meaningful. It makes sense to wonder about this.
The question, “Is pleasure pleasure?” seems settled and pointless. It doesn't make sense to wonder about this; the answer is trivially “yes.”
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Read information about the authorGeorge Edward "G. E." 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 was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1894, and the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club.
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