Moore summer reading
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 18 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.
Two things that you ought to know if you ever want to teach for CTY are: (1) it’s a thrilling, challenging, wonderful experience that changes the lives of nearly everyone involved in it for the better; and (2) you will have almost no time whatsoever to yourself for six weeks, and certainly no time to follow the news. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for you is a question I leave to you and your god.
But though I may be in no position to offer any timely analysis, I do at least have time to offer some analysis. So, hot off the presses from October 1903, I’m glad to announce that the completed transcription of Chapter V of G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica is now available online from the Fair Use Repository. This chapter is Moore’s treatment of
Ethics in Relation to Conduct, and it highlights one of the odder parts of Moore’s ethical system. Moore was, as I’ve mentioned before (in GT 2005-06-01 and GT 2005-06-28) a sharp critic of utilitarianism, and has given the philosophical tradition what I think is one of the loveliest arguments ever given against it. But he wasn’t a critic of consequentialism; in fact, he seems to have regarded consequentialism as more or less obviously true, and a direct consequence of properly distinguishing things good as ends from things good only as means. Although he alludes to this early on, it’s Chapter V that does the real heavy lifting for the argument. If Moore’s arguments go through, then it will turn out that no human action is good as an end in itself, but rather that actions are good only insofar as they are the causes of good effects. But unlike most consequentialists, Moore does not think there is any reason, other than prejudice, to start out assuming that the kinds of effects that are relevant for moral questions are effects on human consciousness at all, let alone the specific effects of promoting happiness (or pleasure, or satisfaction) and minimizing misery (or pain, or frustration). In fact, he takes himself to have shown already (with the Open Question Argument) that there’s no reason, other than prejudice, to start out assuming that you can characterize the quality that all good effects have in common in any terms except the bare fact that they are indeed good. (N.B.: That doesn’t mean that it can’t be the case; Moore thinks that the OQA proves only that if there is some non-ethical property that all good effects in fact have in common, that’s a substantive, synthetic finding about ethics, which will have to be justified by an appeal to ethical intuitions, rather than logical analysis of ethical terms. His discussion in Chapter III is intended to give some ethical reasons why even if there is such a property, it can’t be pleasantness; his positive reasons for thinking that there isn’t any such common quality will have to wait until the forthcoming transcription of Chapter VI.)
The upshot of all this is that although I think Moore goes seriously astray in his argument in Chapter V, he can’t be engaged on the same terms that most criticisms of consequentialism work from–because most criticisms of consequentialism are criticisms of utilitarianism and Moore is no utilitarian. Since he defends, at some length, the intrinsic value of many things (beauty, knowledge, friendship, some character traits, etc.) against utilitarian attempts to treat them as mere means, he can easily stand with anti-consequentialists during most of the common criticisms of utilitarianism–that it requires you to be willing to approve of injustice or lies in principle if there is enough of a pay-off in pleasure, for example; since Moore defends the intrinsic value of many things besides pleasure he is not at all committed to that; since Moore, in Chapter V, so sharply distinguishes the question of what ought to exist from what we ought to do, he may have an easier time than most ethicists would agreeing with Bernard Williams’ criticism that utilitarianism seems to obliterate me and my projects in favor of rigidly impersonal rule-following. If there’s something that Moore’s doing wrong here–and I think that there certainly is–it probably won’t be successfully picked out by most of the arguments that pick out something wrong with more familiar forms of consequentialism.
From here, the transcription will continue with the final chapter, Chapter VI: The Ideal, in which Moore attempts to give his full positive discussion of the sorts of things which are good in themselves. I hope to keep up my pace of 1-2 sections per day (although I probably won’t be able to begin until tomorrow). If you want to keep up with the progress of the transcription, you can subscribe to the Atom feed of Chapter VI, which will be updated as each section is completed. Onward to the ultimate end!
- GT 2004/12/19: One Moore for the free world: Chapter I of Principia Ethica is now online
- GT 2005/02/18: Philosophy Break
- [GT 2005/06/01: Other things][GT 2005/06/01]
- [GT 2005/06/28: Chapter IV and much, much Moore…][GT 2005/06/28]
For those of you who just can’t get enough fin-de-siècle English philosophy, you’re in luck. Not only is the transcription of Principia Ethica nearing completion, but you may also be interested to know that:
I’ve also found and transcribed G. E. Moore’s review of Franz Brentano’s The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong, which appeared in the International Journal of Ethics in the same month that Principia Ethica was published; Moore refers to Brenatno’s book and his review of it in the Preface to Principia Ethica, where he says that he discovered the book after completing PE but
found [in it] opinions far more closely resembling my own, than those of any other ethical writer with whom I am acquainted. The review singles out Brentano for praise mainly because of Brentano’s parallel emphasis on the irreducibility of
The great merit of this view over all except Sidgwick’s is its recognition that all truths of the form), but offers some criticism of Brentano’s attempt to define
This is goodin itself are logically independent of any truth about what exists
goodin terms of other ethical predicates (as that which it is right to love). Also, apparently, the translation sucked, but that was Cecil Hague’s fault, not Brentano’s.
I’ve transcribed several articles from the April 1895 issue of Mind, and will probably finish transcribing the rest of the contents within the next several days. I picked that issue out in particular because it had Lewis Carroll’s fantastic three-page essay, What the Tortoise said to Achilles; the issue also features some rather mediocre material from Bradley, an apology for the Common Sense school of Scottish philosophy by Henry Sidgwick, an early book review by Bertrand Russell (not yet online), and an interesting introductory essay on Hindu Logic by S. N. Gupta.
I hear tell that the court scribes of the Austro-Athenian Empire have also been hard at work, with three new transcriptions of essays from Herbert Spencer’s 1902 book Facts and Comments. In addition to his essay Patriotism, which Roderick made available online a while ago, you can now also find his (sadly topical) denunciations of war, empire, and its corrosive effects on civilization in Imperialism and Slavery, Re-barbarization, and Regimentation.
Just a reminder: just because something’s old doesn’t mean it’s not topical; and just because something’s not topical doesn’t mean it’s not good. So, enjoy!
Roderick T. Long /#
Now all we need is for someone to transcribe Moore’s 1912 sequel, Ethics!
Kelly Jolley /#
Rod’s right. Especially the terrific sections on the objectivity of moral judgments. Among their glories is one of the most subtle and suggestive treatments of relativism in the literature.
Rad Geek /#
Well, I’ve always been a fan of direct action…
Since the Skidmore College library seems to have a copy of Ethics available and just begging to be checked out, and since I was looking for a project to follow PE once I finish Chapter VI, I think Ethics will probably be heading for a web browser near you in the near future.