George Edward Moore OM FBA (4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958) was an English philosopher, who with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and earlier Gottlob Frege was among the initiators of analytic philosophy. He and Russell began deemphasizing the idealism which was then prevalent among British philosophers and became known for advocating common-sense concepts and contributing to ethics, epistemology and metaphysics. He was said to have an "exceptional personality and moral character".[6] Ray Monk later dubbed him "the most revered philosopher of his era".[7]

G. E. Moore
Moore in 1914
George Edward Moore

(1873-11-04)4 November 1873
Hastings Lodge, Victoria Road, Dulwich Wood Park, Upper Norwood, London, England
Died24 October 1958(1958-10-24) (aged 84)
Other names
  • "Moore" (colleagues)
  • "Bill" (family)
EducationTrinity College, Cambridge
(B.A., 1896)
SpouseDorothy Ely
ChildrenNicholas Moore, Timothy Moore
RelativesThomas Sturge Moore (brother)
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
InstitutionsTrinity College, Cambridge
Aristotelian Society
(president, 1918–19)
Ethical Union
(president, 1935–36)
Academic advisorsJames Ward[1]
Doctoral studentsCasimir Lewy
Other notable studentsR. B. Braithwaite[5]
Main interests
Philosophy of language
Notable ideas

As Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, he influenced but abstained from the Bloomsbury Group, an informal set of intellectuals. He edited the journal Mind. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles from 1894 to 1901,[8] a fellow of the British Academy from 1918, and was chairman of the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1912–1944.[9][10] As a humanist, he presided over the British Ethical Union (now Humanists UK) in 1935–1936.[11]

Life edit

George Edward Moore was born in Upper Norwood, in south-east London, on 4 November 1873, the middle child of seven of Daniel Moore, a medical doctor, and Henrietta Sturge.[12][13][14] His grandfather was the author George Moore. His eldest brother was Thomas Sturge Moore, a poet, writer and engraver.[12][15][16]

He was educated at Dulwich College[17] and, in 1892, began attending Trinity College, Cambridge, to learn classics and moral sciences.[18] He became a Fellow of Trinity in 1898 and was later University of Cambridge Professor of Mental Philosophy and Logic from 1925 to 1939.

Moore is known best now for defending ethical non-naturalism, his emphasis on common sense for philosophical method, and the paradox that bears his name. He was admired by and influenced other philosophers and some of the Bloomsbury Group. But unlike his colleague and admirer Bertrand Russell, who for some years thought Moore fulfilled his "ideal of genius",[19] he is mostly unknown presently except among academic philosophers. Moore's essays are known for their clarity and circumspection of writing style and methodical and patient treatment of philosophical problems. He was critical of modern philosophy for lack of progress, which he saw as a stark contrast to the dramatic advances in the natural sciences since the Renaissance. Among Moore's most famous works are his Principia Ethica,[20] and his essays, "The Refutation of Idealism", "A Defence of Common Sense", and "A Proof of the External World".

Moore was an important and admired member of the secretive Cambridge Apostles, a discussion group drawn from the British intellectual elite. At the time another member, 22-year-old Bertrand Russell, wrote "I almost worship him as if he were a god. I have never felt such an extravagant admiration for anybody",[7] and would later write that "for some years he fulfilled my ideal of genius. He was in those days beautiful and slim, with a look almost of inspiration as deeply passionate as Spinoza's".[21]

From 1918 to 1919, Moore was chairman of the Aristotelian Society, a group committed to systematic study of philosophy, its historical development and its methods and problems.[22] He was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1951.[23]

Moore died in England in the Evelyn Nursing Home on 24 October 1958.[24] He was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium on 28 October 1958 and his ashes interred at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in the city. His wife, Dorothy Ely (1892–1977), was buried there. Together, they had two sons, the poet Nicholas Moore and the composer Timothy Moore.[25][26]

Philosophy edit

Ethics edit

The title page of Principia Ethica.

His influential work Principia Ethica is one of the main inspirations of the reaction against ethical naturalism (see ethical non-naturalism) and is partly responsible for the twentieth-century concern with meta-ethics.[27]

The naturalistic fallacy edit

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 an item has certain properties, then that item is 'good.' A hedonist may argue that 'pleasant' items are 'good' items. 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 edit

Moore's argument for the indefinability of 'good' (and thus for the fallaciousness in the "naturalistic fallacy") is often termed the open-question argument; it is presented in §13 of Principia Ethica. The argument concerns 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 that 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 edit

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. (Principia, § 10 ¶ 3)

Therefore, we cannot define 'good' by explaining it in other words. We can only indicate a thing or an action 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 edit

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 analyzable by "natural science".

Moral knowledge edit

Moore argued that, once arguments based on the naturalistic fallacy had been discarded, questions of intrinsic goodness could be settled only by appeal to what he (following Sidgwick) termed "moral intuitions": self-evident propositions which recommend themselves to moral thought, but which are not susceptible to either direct proof or disproof (Principia, § 45). As a result of his opinion, he has often been described by later writers as an advocate of ethical intuitionism. Moore, however, wished to distinguish his opinions from the opinions 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.

Moore distinguished his view from the opinion of deontological intuitionists, who claimed 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 (Principia, § 89), and so were matters for empirical investigation rather than direct objects of intuition (Principia, § 90). According to Moore, "intuitions" revealed not the rightness or wrongness of specific actions, but only what items were good in themselves, as ends to be pursued.

Right action, duty and virtue edit

Moore holds that right actions are those producing the most good.[28] The difficulty with this is that the consequences of most actions are too complex for us to properly take into account, especially the long-term consequences. Because of this, Moore suggests that the definition of duty is limited to what generally produces better results than probable alternatives in a comparatively near future.[29]: §109  Whether a given rule of action is also a duty depends to some extent on the conditions of the corresponding society but duties agree mostly with what common-sense recommends.[29]: §95  Virtues, like honesty, can in turn be defined as permanent dispositions to perform duties.[29]: §109 

Proof of an external world edit

One of the most important parts of Moore's philosophical development was his differing with the idealism that dominated British philosophy (as represented by the works of his former teachers F. H. Bradley and John McTaggart), and his defence of what he regarded as a "common sense" type 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 for accepting 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 preferring 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. (the "Here is one hand" argument also influenced Ludwig Wittgenstein, who spent his last years working out a new method for Moore's argument in the remarks that were published posthumously as On Certainty.)

Moore's paradox edit

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 now commonly termed "Moore's paradox". The puzzle is that it seems inconsistent for anyone to 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[by whom?] 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 edit

Moore's description of the principle of the organic whole 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 (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 different 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, of themselves, 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. Hence the value of a whole must not be assumed to be the same as the sum of the values of its parts.

Works edit

The gravestone of G. E. Moore and his wife Dorothy Moore in the Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge.
  • G. E. Moore, "The Nature of Judgment" (1899)
  • G. E. Moore (1903). "IV.—Experience and Empiricism". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 3: 80–95. doi:10.1093/aristotelian/3.1.80.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). "James Ward". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. by Pierfrancesco Basile.
  2. ^ G. E. Moore (15 December 1919), "External and Internal Relations", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 20 (1919–20): 40–62.
  3. ^ G. E. Moore, "The Refutation of Idealism" (1903), p. 37.
  4. ^ Robert Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature. Clarendon Press, 2006, p. 60.
  5. ^ Alice Ambrose, Morris Lazerowitz (eds.), G. E. Moore: Essays in Retrospect, Volume 3, Psychology Press, 2004, p. 25.
  6. ^ Preston, Aaron [in Swedish]. "George Edward Moore (1873—1958)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  7. ^ a b Monk, Ray (3 April 2020). "He was the most revered philosopher of his era. So why did GE Moore disappear from history?". Prospect. London. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  8. ^ Levy, Paul (1979). Moore: G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 319. ISBN 0297775766.
  9. ^ Stern, David G.; Rogers, Brian; Citron, Gabriel, eds. (2016). Wittgenstein: Lectures, Cambridge 1930–1933: From the Notes of G. E. Moore. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316432136. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  10. ^ Ahmed, Arif (6 September 2013). "The Moral Sciences Club (A Short History)". Faculty of Philosophy. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Annual Reports of the Ethical Union" (1946-1967). British Humanist Association, Series: Congress Minutes and Papers, 1913-1991, File: Minute Book. London: Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives.
  12. ^ a b Levy, Paul (1979). Moore: G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. pp. 28–30. ISBN 0297775766.
  13. ^ Gwynn, Frederick L. (1951). Sturge Moore and the Life of Art (PDF). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  14. ^ "Father Daniel". The National Archives. Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. Retrieved 16 February 2022.
  15. ^ Eminent Old Alleynians : Academe Archived 25 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine at, accessed 24 February 2009
  16. ^ Baldwin, Tom (26 March 2004). "George Edward Moore". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  17. ^ Sheila Hodges, 1981, God's Gift: A Living History of Dulwich College, pp. 87–88, Heinemann: London.
  18. ^ "Moore, George Edward (MR892GE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  19. ^ The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (Volume I, 1872-1914), George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1971, p. 64. He added: "He had a kind of exquisite purity. I have never but once succeeded in making him tell a lie, and that was a subterfuge. 'Moore', I said, 'do you always speak the truth?' 'No' he replied. I believe this to be the only lie he ever told."
  20. ^ Moore, G. E. (1903). Principia Ethica. Cambridge: University Press. ISBN 0879754982. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  21. ^ Baldwin, Thomas (25 September 2020). "G. E. Moore: A great philosopher?". The Times Literary Supplement. London. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  22. ^ The Aristotelian Society – The Council
  23. ^ "Three New Barons in Honours List". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 7 June 1951. p. 3. Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  24. ^ Baldwin, Thomas (23 September 2004). "Moore, George Edward (1873–1958)". In Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, Brian (eds.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 38 (online ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 936–939. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35090. ISBN 0-19-861411-X. OCLC 54778415. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  25. ^ Yau, John (11 January 2015). "Nicholas Moore, Touched by Poetic Genius". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  26. ^ Marshall, Nicholas (10 March 2003). "Timothy Moore". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  27. ^ Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). "Metaethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. by Geoff Sayre-McCord.
  28. ^ Schneewind, J. B. (1997). Singer, Peter (ed.). A Companion to Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 153. ISBN 0-631-18785-5.
  29. ^ a b c Moore, George Edward (1903). Principia Ethica. Project Gutenberg.

Further reading edit

External links edit