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Philosophy Break

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

A couple of notes on the subject of philosophical follow-ups, before I skip town for the weekend:

  1. After a brief hiatus, the effort to transcribe G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica for the web has reached another milestone: Chapter II of PE–Moore’s discussion of Naturalistic Ethics–has now hit the web. After doing the heavy meta-ethical lifting in Chapter I, Moore goes on to apply the tools that he has developed to questions of normative ethics. The most popular naturalistic theory by far–Hedonism–is left for a detailed treatment in Chapter III (which you’ll just have to wait for); Moore uses Chapter II as a place to first set out the options, and then systematically demonstrate the fallaciousness of attempts to ground ethical theory in appeals to (1) natural propensities and (2) the outcomes of Evolution. (The latter half of the chapter spends some time knocking Herbert Spencer’s ethical theory–which is, if nothing else, remarkable in that it’s one of the few examples of Hebert Spencer being criticized for dumb things he really did say.)

    There is at least one big gap in Moore’s argument: like most moderns, and most Analytics in particular, he doesn’t have much sympathy for teleology, and that hobbles his discussion of what natural might mean when we appeal to natural living or natural function in ethics. Moore shows that, if you’re using natural in the sense of statistically normal for your kind, or in the sense of necessary for life, the only way to make an ethics based on what’s natural for us even remotely plausible is by committing the naturalistic fallacy. But since Moore hasn’t got any real notion of teleology, he just doesn’t consider the meaning of natural that forms the backbone of the Aristotelian tradition in ethics–where what is good for us is made out in terms of what is suited to our nature, i.e., suited to the form of life of rational animals. I don’t actually think that a carefully framed naturalistic ethics in the Aristotelian sense would be in any conflict with Moore’s ethical non-naturalism. Moore has polemical reasons for wanting to distinguish his ethical position from naturalism, but the important thing for Moore is that ethical judgments aren’t reducible to descriptions of a situation’s non-ethical properties; but the Aristotelian appeal to nature always irreducibly involves an appeal to how creatures of so-and-so kind ought to be. So the only thing to fight over so far is whether irreducibly ethical properties ought to be called natural or non-natural; but that’s an issue of more interest to lexicographers than philosophers. In any case, Moore is mostly on solid ground throughout the chapter–and everything he has to say could be directed just as effectively today against the proponents of the oxymoronic doctrine of naturalized ethics, or those who think all you need to do to get your ethics to cook up some sociobiological story about how people came to have the particular sentiments that they actually do have.

    Anyway, you really should read the whole thing. Cite and be merry!

  2. I’m heading South–straight to the Mississippi River, in fact–to present my essay on Hume and the Missing Shade of Blue for the 2005 Mid-South Philosophy Conference in Memphis, Tennessee. The draft I’ll be presenting is available online; I’d love to hear any comments, questions, applause, or brickbats you might have about it. (For the super-condensed version of the argument, there’s my post on an earlier draft of the same essay from back in October.)

I’ll see y’all once I’ve returned from my brief vacation in Tennessee. Enjoy the weekend!

8 replies to Philosophy Break Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Anonymous

    PE, Chap. 1, Sec. 3 has a typo – “answreed.” At any rate, keep up the good work, Charles!

  2. Rad Geek

    Thanks for the kind words, and for the typo catch. This (and several other typos as well) has now been fixed; the corrected version of Chapter I is now online for browsing. Be sure to let me know about anything else that might need to be fixed!

  3. a

    One more: PE, Chap. 1, Sec. 8 – “nad”

  4. Rad Geek

    Try reloading–the nad/and typo in section 8 is one of the typos I fixed in the corrected version that I uploaded earlier this evening.

· June 2005 ·

  1. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Other things: Chapter III of Principia Ethica is now online

    As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been on something of a break from writing here for the past few weeks (due partly to travel, partly…

  2. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Chapter IV and much, much Moore…

    This is old news, but I was too busy packing for my temporary relocation to upstate New York to put a post up about it…

· July 2005 ·

  1. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Moore summer reading

    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…

· September 2005 ·

  1. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Insert silly pun on G. E. Moore’s last name here: Principia Ethica and Ethics are available in full online

    I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while, but other projects (some of them tangentially related, others not) delayed the happy announcement…

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