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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


MOORE

(1873 — 1958)

 

REALISM/ ANALYTICAL PHILOSOPHY

George Moore was born in Upper Norwood, London. His father was a medical doctor, his mother came from a Quaker merchant family. He was educated at Dulwich College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied classics and philosophy. He graduated in 1896, and in 1898 was elected Fellow of Trinity for six years, during which time he engaged in frequent discussions with Russell. In 1911 he was appointed university lecturer at Cambridge and in 1925 professor of mental philosophy and logic. He remained actively engaged in writing and discussion from his retirement in 1939 until his death. He was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1951.

 

LOGIC AND METAPHYSICS

[1] Although influenced initially by such theories, Moore came to reject the doctrines of internal relations and 'psychologism'. And he also disagreed that material implication means the same as formal implication [a]. He subscribed to an objectivist theory of a plurality of real universal concepts which are separable from our mental acts and are the objects of our judgements [see 'The Nature of Judgement']. They are what 'material things', propositions, facts, 'complexes, numbers, and minds are made up of. Propositions are relations between the real concepts; and indeed he seems to identify propositions with things and 'complex conceptions'. He also distinguishes between empirical universals (and thence propositions), which exist through time, and a priori ones, which do not [b].

Because of the problem of false beliefs [see sec. 2] Moore subsequently changed his views and decided that there could be no propositions in any 'realist' sense. And he came to think of the universe as consisting of two independent categories of entities or things which have 'being': things that exist, and things which do not exist but 'are' [see 'The Refutation of Idealism']. (He thus rejected the view that there are degrees of reality. The former category covers particulars (material things, sense-data, mental acts, spatial volumes, and instants of time); while the latter is made up of facts and universals (relations, relational properties, and others which do not involve relations, such as numbers, and qualities such as good, and perhaps colour). Things that do not have any being at all are imaginary objects, describable by incomplete symbols, whereas things which do have being can be referred to by proper names [c]. What is or is not imaginary and therefore non-denoting, however, depends on the context in which the relevant statement containing the symbol is made. The phrase 'the king of France' in 'the king of France is wise, for example, would not have been an incomplete symbol if asserted in 1700. Implicit in this approach is a commitment to a form of philosophical analysis [d]; and although Moore repudiated this description of his methods, he did argue that philosophers differ from each other in the kinds of analysis they employ ['The Nature and Reality of Objects of Perception']. In general Moore's mode of analysis consists in describing concepts by other concepts and often in ways such that references to the original concepts are eliminated (as 'brother' is analysed as 'male sibling', for example). [See Moore's reply to Langford in Schillp.] Likewise in his treatment of free will [Ethics, ch. VI] he argues that it is certain that, if we had we so chosen, we often could (in some sense) have done what we did not do; and that this sense is such that 'should' can be substituted for 'could'. By implication [according to Austin] 'if'-clauses state the causal conditions [e] on which any different course of action would have followed.

 

KNOWLEDGE

[2] In his lectures of 1910-11 [Some Main Problems of Philosophy, ch. 6] Moore had regarded propositions (or complexes of things) as objects of belief — not beliefs themselves. Some propositions are true (they are 'facts'), some false, truth being something we can directly 'intuit'. Knowledge is thus our awareness of propositions, while perception is knowledge of existential propositions [a]. How then do we account for false beliefs? There must be false propositions, Moore said; they are the objects of false beliefs. But when we have a false belief we believe 'what is not', so there cannot be an object. He therefore concluded not only that there were no false propositions but also that there were no true ones either. Nevertheless in later lectures of the 1910-11 series [ibid., chs 13-16] he maintained that when we believe something to be true its truth must consist in its correspondence to a fact [b].

In his 'Refutation of Idealism' Moore undertook a thorough critique of idealism, which he supposed to be epitomized primarily by Berkeley's 'esse est percipi' (though he seemed also to include 'being thought' as an aspect of 'being perceived'). Moore wanted to separate the concept of being from that of being perceived; they are neither identical nor connected in an 'organic unity'. He thus distinguished between an act of consciousness and the actual object. This act of consciousness, however, is also an act of cognition: to have an idea or sensation is to know, that is, be aware of something outside, which is not now a proposition but may be a physical object [c]. Later ['Nature and Reality of Objects of Perception'] Moore argued that the term 'sensation' is ambiguous. The actual 'content' of, say, a seeing experience (he uses the term 'sense-datum' to refer to this content) may cease to exist, in which case the seeing itself also ceases. But what is experienced (the physical object we ordinarily believe we directly perceive) may continue to exist [d].

Knowledge in a general sense, for Moore, consists in a relationship. He firstly distinguishes between knowledge by direct apprehension (acquaintance) and knowledge by indirect apprehension. A typical example of the former is the relationship between the consciousness of a perceiver and, say, a patch of colour. Memory experiences illustrate the latter — as when we remember seeing an object but neither it nor the associated sense-data are present to our consciousness. Knowledge in a 'proper' sense is now defined as involving (1) a complex relation between an act of consciousness and a direct apprehension of a proposition; provided (2) the proposition is true, we believe it to be true, and there are grounds for our belief (though Moore does not say what these might be). If the proposition is known to be true directly without further support, this form of 'proper' knowledge is called immediate. Moore also refers to what we might call latent knowledge, that is, knowledge we have in one of the previous senses but where there is nothing we are actually conscious of at the moment (for example, that 12 x 3 = 36). But in general he is critical of any distinction between 'acquaintance' and 'description'. Knowledge by acquaintance, he says, is neither knolwledge nor acquaintance [Some Main Problems of Philosophy].

The kinds of things that, according to Moore, we may be supposed to know include not only material objects but also acts of consciousness, sense-data, universals, matters of fact, synthetic necessary truths, and 'entities' such as 'the good' [e]. But his account of knowledge raises two problems. (1) How can we be sure of our knowledge of these various things? To answer this Moore generally invokes commonsense or 'ordinary' belief ['A Defence of Common Sense' and 'Proof of an External World']. We can appeal to facts and point to objects. There are also other people we can communicate with [f]. Thus he is broadly empiricist, though it is clear that 'experience' for him includes much more than what we gain through the senses. (2) In perception, how should we describe sense-data and account for the relationship between them and (a) universals, and (b) physical objects? As to the nature of a sense-datum, what we immediately perceive, Moore says, is not part of the surface of an object, nor is it the appearance of such a part. Still less is it the name of a set of actual or possible sensations. Rather we must suppose a sense-datum is some sort of object that exists only when we are perceiving it. Indeed different people have different and often inconsistent sense-data. He concludes that a visual sense-datum is a patch of colour which, as a particular, relates to the colour itself, colour being a non-relational universal. As for the relationship between sense-data and material objects, Moore oscillated between a logical constructivist or phenomenalist theory and a version of representationalism [g], both of which raise difficulties concerning our knowledge of physical objects.; and he was never really satisfed with either. He suggested later that these problems might be dealt with by means of inductive or analogical arguments.

 

ETHICS

[3] [See especially Principia Ethica.] Moore rejects any attempt to define 'the good' in terms of some natural quality, or indeed in terms of any quality at all. To try to do so is to commit what he calls 'the naturalistic fallacy'. If, for example, we define good as pleasure, then when we say 'pleasure is good' we are saying no more than 'pleasure is pleasure'. Good, for Moore, is essentially indefinable and unanalysable; it is a non-natural entity which we can 'intuit' in things. At best, all we can do is to see how 'good' relates to other value terms to determine its meaning by engaging in a kind of descriptive language analysis [a]. What kinds of things can be said to be good? Moore's account is 'organicist', that is, he thinks of the goods man aspires to as unities whose goodness is more than just a mechanical sum of their parts. And of such goods he singles out friendship and appreciation of beauty. To determine this he imagines each whole to be the only thing existing in the universe and then considers whether it would be better if it existed than if it did not.

Ethics is also concerned with rights, duties, and virtues; and each of these concepts, Moore says, is definable — in terms of goodness. To determine the rightness of an action, how we ought to behave in a given situation, or what being virtuous consists in, therefore requires a consideration of the causal consequences — how much good is produced, whether it is the greatest amount as compared with what alternative actions might bring about. (This is not the same as saying that an action is morally obligatory if the actual performing of it makes the universe better than if one were to perform a different action [see Ethics].) However, he recognised that any assessment of consequences is not an easy task and that that following the conventional rules (rights and duties) of society is best calculated to maximize the good [b].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Moore's arguments in his metaphysics and theories of knowledge are generally inconclusive. But they do illustrate the importance for him of careful examination of the meanings of words, in both their 'ordinary' and philosophical contexts — though as a means of achieving clarification rather than to show that the relevant philosophical problems are in any way spurious. Nevertheless, for all their supposed simplicity his conclusions are not immune to criticism; and there are many assumptions and unanswered questions. The following issues are particularly important:

(1) What is the basis or justification for the distinction between the 'act of consciousness' and its objects?

(2) The relationship of sense-data to physical or material objects and to universals needs to be clarified. What are sense-data (e.g., a patch of colour)? Are they particulars or universals? Moore says they exist only when we are perceiving them. They do not belong to the surface of objects. But is it not physical objects that we perceive? How then do sense-data relate to objects? Moore does not seem to offer any definitive conclusions on these matters. Likewise, in his metaphysics we are left with a multitude of 'entities', which are not to the taste of many recent philosophers, any more than is his distinction between 'exist' and 'are'.

(3) As for his ethics, it is generally held now that Moore's 'naturalistic fallacy' is less devastating than has often been supposed in the past. There is no objection to defining good stipulatively in terms of, say, pleasure (though this may not be a fruitful approach to human behaviour). In any case, if there is a fallacy, it consists in the attempt to define good (a value) in terms of a non-moral quality (fact) rather than being any inherent inconsistency in ethical naturalism itself. However, against Moore it might be said that we do in fact define 'good' — in different ways and in different contexts, as a qualification of some object (good book, good person, good mark, and so on). Another objection is that Moore has a limited view of ethical qualities. There are also the standard difficulties with his utilitarianism. Should consequences be used as the criterion of morality? Are consequences quantifiable, measurable? It is arguable also that Moore's conventionalism does not cope adequately with moral conflicts.

 

READING

Moore: 'The Nature of Judgement' (1899); Principia Ethica (1903); Some Main Problems of Philosophy (lectures, 1910/11); Ethics (1912); Philosophical Studies [including 'The Refutation of Idealism' (1903) and 'The Nature and Reality of Objects of Perception' (1905)]; and Philosophical Papers.

Studies

A. J. Ayer, Russell and Moore.

T. Baldwin, G. E. Moore.

A. R. White, Moore, A Critical Exposition.

Collections of essays

A. Ambrose and M. Lazerowitz (eds.) G. E. Moore: Essays in Retrospect

P. A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of G. E. Moore.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Moore

 

[1a] Rejection of psychologism and internal relations

   Bradley

Russell

[1a 1d]

[1f 2a]

 

[1b; cf. 2a c] Universals (propositions, facts, minds) as plurality of real concepts; separate from mental acts; propositions as relations between concepts, and hence things; empirical and a priori universals (and propositions)

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Kant

   Bradley

Russell

[1b d]

[2a]

[1a b]

[1b 2b 3a 5a b]

[1e 2a]

 

[1c] (Later) propositions not real; universe consists of existents (sense-data, mental acts, etc.) and non-existents (universals, facts) — both denoted by proper names; no degrees of reality; imaginary non-existents described by incomplete symbols

   Bradley

Russell

Ayer

[5c 6a]

[1c]

[1c]

 

[1d; see also 3a] Denoting of symbols and relevance of context; philosophy as analysis

Russell

Wittgenstein

Austin

[1d]

[3d]

[1a]

 

[1e] Problem of free will: 'should' substitutable for 'could'; 'if'-clauses state causal conditions

Austin

Davidson

[1b]

[2c]

 

[2a; cf. 1b 2e] Truth intuitable; direct awareness of propositions; perception as direct knowledge of existent propositions (relations between concepts); so no 'correspondence'

Bradley

Russell

[5a b 6a]

[1e 1g]

 

[2b] [Later] problem of false belief: propositions neither true nor false; but truth as correspondence to a fact

   Plato

   Bradley

   Russell

[7f]

[6a]

[1g]

 

[2c; cf. 1b] Distinction between act of consciousness and actual object; act is cognitive → awareness of externality (judgements about what 'ideas' point to, i.e. 'concepts')

   Locke

   Berkeley

   Hume

   Bradley

Russell

Austin

[1a]

[2b]

[2c]

[1b]

[2c 2f]

[1c]

 

[2d] [Later] sense-data as contents of experience; sense-data not mental ideas; physical objects may continue in absence of experience

   Locke

   Berkeley

Russell

Austin

[1a]

[2b]

[2b]

[1c]

 

[2e; cf. 2a] Knowledge (of sense-data, material object, universals, the 'good') as relation between act of consciousness and direct apprehension of proposition (if true, and given grounds); rejection of distinction between 'acquaintance'and 'description'

   Russell

Wittgenstein

   Ayer

[3a]

[2h]

[2b]

 

[2f] Knowledge — criteria of sureness: commonsense, people's views, etc.

   Bradley

Russell

Wittgenstein

[3b]

[3c]

[2h]

 

[2g] Perception: sense-data exist when perceived; relation to material objects possibly in terms of logical constructions/ phenomenalism, or representationalism

   Locke

   Mill

   Russell

Ryle

Ayer

Austin

[1a]

[2b]

[2b]

[3d]

[2a]

[1c]

 

[3a; cf. 1d] Attempts to define the 'Good' commit the 'naturalistic fallacy'; meaning of value terms; good intuitable

   [Representative:]

   Plato

   Spinoza

   Kant

   Mill

   Bradley

   Dewey

Russell

Ayer

Hampshire

Hare

Putnam

Searle

   

[8b 11f g]

[5c]

[6a-e]

[3b c]

[7b]

[3c]

[4a 4b]

[5a 5b 5c]

[2b]

[1a]

[1i]

[5a]

 

[3b] Ethics concerned with rights and duties — defined in terms of goodness; actions right as judged by consequences; conventional rules as guide

   Kant

   Bradley

   Mill

Russell

Ayer

Hampshire

Hare

[6a-e]

[7d]

[3a]

[4c]

[5a]

[2b]

[1f]