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Principia Ethica: With the Preface to the Second Edition and Other Papers [Paperback]

G. E. Moore , Thomas Baldwin
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Nov 1993
Principia Ethica is recognised as the definitive starting point for twentieth-century ethical theory. Its influence was first largely confined to the Bloomsbury Group - Maynard Keynes wrote that it was 'better than Plato' - who took it up for its celebration of the values of art and love; but later it achieved the widespread recognition it still retains as a classic text of analytic ethical theory. It is particularly renowned for Moore's argument that previous ethical theories have been guilty of a fallacy - the 'naturalistic fallacy'. Principia Ethica is reprinted here with the previously unpublished Preface Moore wrote for a planned, but never completed, second edition. Though unfinished, it sets out clearly Moore's second thoughts about his own work. The volume also includes two important pieces from his later ethical writings, 'Free will' and 'The conception of intrinsic value', and a new introduction by Thomas Baldwin.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (11 Nov 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521448484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521448482
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 520,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"All future work on the nuanced development of Moore's ethical theory of necessity will have to make reference to this volume. The editor is to be commended for his useful introduction, appendix, and editorial skills." Ethics

Book Description

Principia Ethica is reprinted here with the previously unpublished Preface Moore wrote for a planned, but never completed, second edition. The volume also includes two important pieces from Moore's later ethical writing, 'Free will' and 'The conception of intrinsic value', and a new introduction by Thomas Baldwin.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a perfect compliment to my study of Meta-Ethics. Whilst one may disagree with the ideas that Moore sets out, for one reason or another, it still serves as a highly significant work of Philosophy, providing an alternative to the more traditionalistic naturalism, as well as the seemingly dogmatic anti-realism or non-cognitivism. His theories, though rather dubious in nature, are constructed in a way that prevents the work being accused of naturalistic fallacy, as Intuitionism is a theory that disregards the prospect of truth being obtained from the natural world. His theory would also explain why different societies regard murder as wrong, doing justice to the possibility that humans (though unlikely!) may have an innate sense of morality. His theory is also independent of any religious faith, leaving it's message open to interpretation for almost anyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Study book 9 Dec 2013
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Misses liked this book thanks for the prompt service. I would recommend your services and look forward to using you again.
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8 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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Despite its fame, "Principia Ethica" by G.E. Moore is actually a philosophical hoax. It's a long, incoherent rambling which shows that there is indeed something very wrong with a certain kind of modern philosophy. With apologies to Richard Dawkins: "Modern philosophy? Is that even a subject?"

Moore makes (or seems to be making - I couldn't always make it out) the following propositions:

1. The "good" cannot de defined in terms of anything else. The good is simply good, and that's the end of it. Everyone who tries to define "good" in terms of something else, commits the "naturalistic fallacy". This is proven by the Open Question Argument.

2. Hedonism is wrong.

3. Aesthetic pleasure and the pleasure of love are good. However, that's not hedonism.

4. We can know that hedonism is wrong. That's a self-evident truth. Such truths are known by intuition.

5. Intuition isn't certain.

6. Right actions increase the amount of good in the world. However, we can never be sure whether an action actually does this. We can only guess. (And remember: the good cannot be defined, and our intuitions aren't certain either.)

7. No action is good in itself.

8. The action of aesthetic contemplation *is* good in itself.

9. None of the above makes any sense whatsoever (admitted by Moore in an unpublished manuscript).

*This* is the most famous metaethical text of the 20th century? Gee, what a mindjob. Whaddya say to a thing like that?

Perhaps it's best not to say anything at all...

Besides, Moore never answers the most important question: Why were people afraid of Virginia Woolf?!
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great... 24 Sep 2000
By Pedro Rosario - Published on Amazon.com
G. E. Moore offers a great evaluation of all the ethical philosophies, from the psychologist propositions (John Stuart Mill), to the naturalist, evolutionary ethics, utilitarianism, hedonism, etc. You see how they all fall into the "naturalistic fallacy", that the "good" is somehow related to some physical, psychological, emotional or evolutionary aspect. Bright refutation of all of these positions. Very good for those who want to start knowing about ethics, specially analytical ethics.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Ethical Thought Begins With This One! 4 April 2005
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
George Edward Moore has the unfortunate privilege of having spawned one of the most uninformedly invoked ideas of all time - the naturalistic fallacy. Like Thomas Kuhn's "paradigm shift," the naturalistic fallacy is tirelessly invoked by writers to mean any number of things, not many of which agree with the author's original usage. That is perhaps one reason to read G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica. Another, of course, is that it is a classic of twentieth century ethics!

Most of the chapters, of course, deal with Moore's idea about the naturalistic fallacy. Contra those numerous authors that use it to mean simply the fallacy of supposing what is natural to be de facto good (that is one manifestation of it, but not it), the naturalistic fallacy has a much broader meaning. The fallacy, in Moore's view, is to explain what is "The Good" in any way other than to say "it is The Good," - to suppose, that is, that "The Good" is definable in any way. To Moore, "The Good" is simply "The Good" because it is good and that is all we can say. Any attempt to equate "The Good" with something else - pleasure, a metaphysical entity, what is natural, etc. - is a manifestation of the naturalistic fallacy.

Moore uses the first chapter to explain why the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy. The answer is similar to Hume's is/ought gap. That is that any attempt to say what "The Good" is - i.e., the Good is what causes pleasure; The Good is what exists in the natural order - is nothing other than a criterion for recognizing things that are good; what explanations of this sort are not are actual definitions of the good. (In other words, saying that things which give pleasure tend to be good is much different than saying that "The Good" is constituted by what gives pleasure and that alone.) Another question that the above definitions can always be met with is WHY pleasure (nature, etc.) are good? In which case, the only real answer - owning to "The Good's" ineffability, is "They just are; it is obvious."

The next few chapters (the bulk of the book) is spent trying to prove a negative case - that most ethical theories en vogue suffer from the naturalistic fallacy. Moore spends most of his time on utilitarianism but devotes a good amount also to metaphyiscal theories of the good, also.

After the negative cases are made (I found some more convincing than others), he gives a positive case. Here is where Moore is suprising. While he argues that "Good" and "Bad" in regards to ends are factual matters, he is something of a utilitarian in practical ethics - meaning that he sees right conduct as judged by the consequences of the conduct in question. He is also a certain type of relativist who allows that what is right conduct often varies from time to time and situation to situation, as an act performed at one time in one scenario may well have different consequences as the same act performed in a slightly different situation in another time.

All in all, I found this book exciting to read. Moore is a clear and engaging writer, and with a few exceptions of repitition, the book was easy and fun to digest. I am giving it four stars despite the fact that I disagree with much of it. While I am prepared to say, with Moore, that "Good" may well be essentially indefinable, I did not see him do anything to try and prove that "Good" was a property of the object, rather than a sentiment of the speaker. And if that is so, then we've no reason to suppose "Good" and "Bad" to be ethical facts of the matter, as opposed to sentiments that different speakers with different intuitions are expressing.

Be that as it may, everyone concerned with ethics should read this book. Moore argues strongly for recognition of the naturalistic fallacy and what it means for ethics. Whether you agree or disagree, modern ethics is often a response to this guy.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seminal Text in Twentieth-Century Philosophy 21 Feb 2004
By ctdreyer - Published on Amazon.com
Moore's Principia Ethica is a central text in twentieth-century meta-ethics. According to the familiar history of the subject, the story of much of twentieth-century meta-ethics can be understood as a series of reactions to this book. In this book Moore argues for non-naturalistic intuitionism. He argues that moral properties are an irreducible part of reality, and that they are sui generis. And he argues that we can acquire knowledge of these sui generis moral properties only through intuition.
The first chapter includes Moore's famous Open Question Argument, his argument that intrinsic goodness is a simple, unanalyzable, non-natural property. There appear to be two strands of the OQA; both of them appeal to our linguistic intuitions. The first focuses on our intuitions about whether certain claims about intrinsic goodness are tautological. Borrowing Moore's own example, suppose someone tries to define 'good' as 'what is pleasant'. All competent users of the language can see that this definition must fail. How? They simply need to ask themselves if "the good is what is pleasant" has the same meaning as "the pleasant is what is pleasant," for these two sentences would be synonymous if 'good' could be correctly defined 'what is pleasant.' And, Moore claims, these sentences clearly aren't synonymous: the claim that "the good is what is pleasant" is not a tautology like "the pleasant is pleasant." This shows that 'good' and 'what is pleasant' have different meanings. Furthermore, Moore argues that thinking about other examples will show that, in principle, we could develop that a structurally similar argument against any other attempted definition of 'good'.
The second strand of the argument draws on our intuitions about what is and is not an open question. If 'what is pleasant' is a correct definition of 'good', then the following should not be an open question: Is what is pleasant good? For, if the proposed definition is correct, then it is true by definition that this what is pleasant is good. But, Moore asserts, competent users of the language don't think it's true by definition that what is pleasant is good; they do, and should, regard this question as an open one. It might be true that what is pleasant is good--but, importantly, it is not true by definition. Again, Moore argues that a similar argument will show that any other attempted definition of 'good' fails.
The conclusions Moore draws from the OQA are that the term 'good' is indefinable, and that goodness is a simple and unanalyzable property. It is somewhat unclear how Moore thinks he can draw any metaphysical conclusion from this argument, but he seems to have reasoned in the following way. If goodness were identical to some natural or metaphysical property, it would be definable in terms of some natural or metaphysical predicate. The OQA shows that it is not definable in this way, and so it shows that goodness is not identical to a property of either of these types. Moore also provides a label for the error made by those who don't understand the nature of intrinsic goodness: they commit "the naturalistic fallacy." The naturalistic fallacy is committed by anyone who identifies intrinsic goodness with some other property, and Moore claims that nearly all previous ethicists have committed this fallacy.
The Preface involves a very brief sketch of Moore's epistemological views, views that he apparently thinks follow from his conclusions about the nature of intrinsic goodness. Moore claims that knowledge of intrinsic goodness can be acquired only through intuitions. There is no non-intuitional evidence for propositions about the intrinsic goodness of things, and they cannot be deduced from any other propositions. How, then, do we come to know these things? We think very carefully about them, ensure that we don't confuse these propositions with other, and then we have an intuition of the proposition's truth or we don't.
The final two chapters are concerned with issues in normative ethics. The substantive moral theory he defends is a form of act-consequentialism. According to Moore, in all situations, the action one ought to perform is the action that will result in the greatest net amount of intrinsic goodness in the world. In the fifth chapter, he discusses what practical conclusions one can draw from this account of right action. He argues for a fairly extreme form of moral conservatism according to which we have good reason to act on the principles constituting conventional morality almost all the time. For we simply don't know enough about the consequences of the possible actions available to us to discover which of them will lead to the greatest amount of net intrinsic goodness. Given our ignorance of these matters, what we ought to do is follow most of the common moral rules in our community. (Moore does allow for exceptions in a limited number of cases, however.)
The sixth and final chapter includes Moore's discussion of which things are intrinsically good. He argues that two things, aesthetic enjoyment and personal affection, are the most intrinsically good of intrinsically good things.
For the most part, this isn't an exciting book. It's filled with the sort of philosophizing one expects from Moore: close reading, lots of subtle distinctions, and patient and careful analysis. His work is slow and painstaking--that's a given. And, to be honest, this book is occasionally dull. But Moore's scrupulous attention to detail doesn't preclude insight and interesting ideas. Nor does it bury them in pages and pages of tedious nit-picking and quibbling.
For students of meta-ethics and anyone interested in the history of twentieth-century ethical thought, this is mandatory reading.
Concerning the revised edition of Principia, edited by Thomas Baldwin. The buyer should know that the text of Principia is unedited in this edition. However, there are reasons to prefer this edition to cheaper alternatives. First, and most importantly, this edition includes the so-called "Preface to the Second Edition," which consists of Moore's later misgivings about the first chapter of Principia. (Moore never published this preface in his lifetime.) He doesn't repudiate his substantial conclusions there, but he raises issues about the statement of those conclusions and the arguments he provided for them. If you're interested in serious study of Principia, knowledge of this preface is crucially important. Second, this edition includes Moore's paper "The Conception of Intrinsic Value," which helps to clarify his views about the nature of intrinsic goodness. Third, Baldwin includes a helpful editor's introduction for this edition.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A first crack at modern ethics 8 Oct 2003
By Dr. Lee D. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
One of the most famous treatises on ethics in the twentieth century, "Principia Ethica" attempts to give a non-naturalistic foundation for ethics, for what constitutes "the good". The author clearly believes that "goodness" is not the result of sensory experience or even that it exists temporally. "Goodness" is a fundamental entity and cannot be defined: any attempt to do so results in the "naturalistic fallacy". This fallacy is a failure, the author says, in the acknowledgement that "the good" is a unique and indefinable quality.
When reading the book, one can detect somewhat the author's departure from his latter doctrine of "ordinary language philosophy" and its emphasis on how concepts "do their jobs". He does not want to analyze the word "good" in terms of its usage, in terms of how it can, as a word denoting a concept, exemplify certain objects or phenomena existing in the world. Evidence of the "good" is thus not obtainable by external evidence, or custom, but instead is obtained by "intuitions". An "intuition" is both a proposition incapable of proof and a psychological state, the latter being a collection of considerations that are capable of "determining the intellect." The psychological meaning of intuition is brought about by the author's attempted refutation of hedonism due to the philosopher Henry Sidgwick. Intuition though, is not to be thought of as an alternative to reason. It furnishes a reason for holding that a proposition is true, and this adherence must occur of course for "self-evident" propositions. His "disproof" of ethical hedonism consisted only of showing what the principle "pleasure is good" means, and how it contradicts other propositions which appear to be equally true. The author's goal is to convince the reader of the "untenability" of ethical hedonism. However merely convincing, he says, does not prove we are correct, it merely justifies "holding" that we are so. His thinking on "intuition" might with complete justification be labeled as "common sense" and gives credence to the characterization of Moore as being a "common-sense" philosopher.
The theory of evolution was relatively new when this book was first published, but ethical theories based on evolution were already in place. It is not surprising therefore to find some of the author's commentary on these ethical formulations in this book. The "evolutionary ethics" of Herbert Spencer and M. Gayau is argued to be another example of the "naturalistic fallacy". That the direction in which biological systems are evolving is confused with the direction in which they should evolve, is a manifestation of this fallacy, he argues. The equating of "is" with "ought" has been thought of by many ethicists after Moore as being the main sticking point in developing a scientific theory of ethics.
The author's argumentation on ethics would be mere sophistry if he did not relate it to actual human conduct. "Practical ethics" answers what we ought to do, i.e. what actions are to be deemed right and what are to be deemed wrong. The answers it gives are to be cast into a framework that makes clear the relation of the actions to what is good in itself. A duty is thus thought of as an action which will result in a situation that is better than any alternative. Such duties though rarely transcend the historical context in which they are to be practiced. Actions that are proved to be of "general" utility should always be performed, but those that are not are to be judged as to the "probable" results in particular cases. Thus the author unwittingly gives an early hint of the ethical theories of the 21st century: the theories of rational agents.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cornerstone of Modern Ethical Thinking 15 Dec 2005
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
`Principia Ethica' by the very influential Cambridge philosopher, G. E. Moore may easily be one of the very few philosophical works in English written in the 20th century that is widely known outside circles of professional philosophers. The only other works I suspect can fall into this category are Russell and Whitehead's `Principia Mathematica' and Wittgenstein's `Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' and `Philosophical Investigations'. Oddly enough these last two works were originally written in German; however their influence has been based almost entirely in the English speaking world of intellect.

Moore was very fond of high faultin Latin names for books. This volume was not named after Russell and Whitehead's work, which was published around 1918, but after Isaac Newton's `Principia Mathematica'. Talk about hubris! Being a major influence on Wittgenstein in his early days at Cambridge, he was also the one who suggested the English name for Wittgenstein's first major philosophical work.

What is so nice about approaching this work is that its primary thesis can be boiled down to a relatively simple statement. Moore is claiming that statements about good and bad cannot be reduced to statements about facts in the physical world. Those philosophers who claim that you can do this are committing `the naturalistic fallacy'

The primary object of Moore's argument is the eminent 19th century British philosopher, John Stewart Mill, whose pamphlet, `Utilitarianism' is one of the four or five most important writings on ethical doctrines, along with Kant's `Groundwork...', Thomas Hobbes `Leviathan', and this work by Moore. Mill's doctrine, refining a cruder statement of Utilitarianism by his mentor, Jeremy Bentham, is that all good must be based on observable pleasure. If there is no way that an action can be traced to the pleasure, it cannot be considered `good'. To be sure, Mill, being an exceptionally smart man, put a lot more into his argument than this statement, but you get the idea from this.

Before Moore, Mill's biggest difficulty was the classic dilemma in ethics between `the right and the good'. In many ways, this is the ethical analogue of the dual nature of light, where sometimes it exhibits wave properties and sometimes it exhibits particle behavior. Before Mill, the greatest proponent of a theory of right and wrong was Immanual Kant, who outlined his ideas in his `Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals' and laid out the categorical imperative. Looking at Mills' and Kants' basic principles, you would hardly know they were talking about the same thing, as Mill reduces everything to pleasure while Kant reduces everything to the `good will'.

Moore's writings bring him down squarely in the camp opposing Mill, however, his reasoning may not be too familiar to Kant and Hobbes. Moore was one of the founding fathers of what was to become the `ordinary language' movement in Anglo-American philosophy, which was ultimately to be inspired primarily by the later writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein of Cambridge and John Austin of Oxford. Aside from this `Principia Ethica', Moore's most famous philosophical argument was his defense of common sense when he demonstrated the existence of everyday objects by pointing to first his right fist then his left fist as two examples of real physical objects. One can't appreciate the power of this argument until you try it out in a philosophical argument as I once did in a friend's introductory philosophy class.

Moore's naturalistic fallacy says that all statements about good and bad and right and wrong must, when they are reduced to their basic meaning, involve some irreducible statement(s) about duties and right and wrong. There have been philosophers who build whole careers on extrapolating this analysis to fill several books, as in the case of Oxford's R. M. Hare, writing in mid-century under the influence of Austin and Wittgenstein.

If Moore's argument has any problem at all, it is in having been trivialized by so many writers taking the same tact by turning doctrines they don't like into `fallacies'. Simply saying something is a fallacy may have enormous rhetorical impact, but it has no substance to it. Being accused of committing the `ad hominom' fallacy of attacking the person rather than the position can really destroy a position, since this is so universally accepted as a mistake. On the other hand, very smart people have claimed that all questions of value are reducible to questions of pleasure.

Therefore, Moore must put up a fairly detailed argument to show why Utilitarianism, for one, is wrongheaded because it violates this fallacy, thereby showing that it is, indeed a fallacy.

This is a difficult book to read. It is certainly more difficult to read than the average political polemic, but not quite as difficult as Wittgenstein's principle works or of works by European phenomenologists and existentialists after Nietzsche and Kierkegard.

But it is well worth the effort!
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