Sunday, May 10, 2009

80a George Edward Moore

In 1911 Moore said in one of his first lectures, that the first and primary aim of philosophy is to provide a metaphysical inventory of the universe, that is, "a general description of the whole of the universe,

mentioning all the most important kinds of things which we know to be in it, considering how far it is likely that there are in it important kinds of things which we do not absolutely know to be in it."

With this aim he probably was one of the last philosophers of his days who believed in the feasibility of such a grand scheme. On the other hand he was the first one to discard the elaborated abstract theories of idealism and empiricism.

If it is the aim of philosophy to do so, then it should be based on common sense arguments and not on all that fancy philosophical reasoning about e.g. whether reality is an illusion or at least not a sound basis for certainty of knowledge.

So he formulates the second aim of philosophy. It is epistemological: to classify the ways in which we can know things.

The third topic of philosophy is ethics. That will be the subject of our second lecture on Moore. It is impossible to discuss Moore's work on epistemological issues and on ethics in one lecture.

Moore's major philosophical efforts concern what we may call the ontology of cognition. What is it that is known? The idealist says: what constitutes knowledge is the whole of ideas, that we are conscious of. And more so, these ideas are independent of the individual mind. Check Kant and Hegel on this.

The empiricists said no, our knowledge is based on the images and ideas derived from our sensory experiences. Thus you could say that all knowledge claims refered to what is in our mind and only indirectly to something that is outside our mind.

Even when all our ideas where based on an illusion, we stlll had knowledge. To brush up your memory on this approach you can have another look at men like Descartes, Locke and Hume.

Moore was objecting to what is frequently called psychologism—the view that apparently objective truths (for example, of logic, mathematics, ethics, etc.) are to be accounted for in terms of the operations of subjective cognitive or “psychological” faculties.

Moore wanted to discard all these psychological intermediary things like ideas and judgements. ideas and judgements were processes in the knowing subject. But for him there was a clear distinction between the judgement and the object or content of the judgement. So he used for that the terms 'concept' and 'proposition'

To quote Moore: " A proposition is composed not of words, nor yet of thoughts, but of concepts. Concepts are possible objects of thought; but this is no definition of them. … It is indifferent to their nature whether anybody thinks them or not."

This may sound all rather technical to you, but why did Moore put so much effort in his epistemological research and put an emphasis on common sense?

What Moore observed was a constant increase of scientific knowledge in his days. There was progress. And when he looked at seemed that there was no progress at all and that there was put a lot of energy in quarreling over problems which weren't real problems at all in his opinion.

To give an example of the use of common sense instead of philosophical scepsis a standard sort of skeptical argument:

1. If I cannot tell the difference between waking and dreaming, then I cannot be sure that I have a body.
2. I cannot tell the difference between waking and dreaming.
3. Therefore, I cannot be sure that I have a body

Moore would change that argument like this:
1. If I cannot tell the difference between waking and dreaming, then I cannot be sure that I have a body.
2. I am sure that I have a body.
3. Therefore, I can tell the difference between waking and dreaming.

A second new approach Moore suggested was Criteriology. Whereas the ontology of cognition deals with the problem of how we know, criteriology deals with the problem of what we know, in the sense of what we are justified in believing.

Moore used the term 'common sense' to refer to two different, but related things. He sometimes meant by it simply those beliefs that man universally or almost universally subscribe to at some particular epoch. At other times he meant either those beliefs that we are naturally inclined to hold or the propensity that issues such beliefs.

Does this lead to discarding of a lot of superfluous philosophical debates? Wittgenstein pointed already in that direction and some others of the Analytical School will continue this approach. A fact is that the days of elaborated metaphysical systems to describe the whole universe are over nowadays.

The Discussion

[13:20] Herman Bergson: If you want to read a good article on the epistemology of Moore, go to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy....very good article (
[13:20] Herman Bergson: so much on the epistemology of Morre
[13:20] Mickorod Renard: cool
[13:21] Mickorod Renard: I see there is some reference to 'sense datum' in his work
[13:21] arabella Ella: herman do u remember Moore's example (or proof) of how things exist outside the mind by throwing a stone on his foot and by showing his five fingers when extending his hand?
[13:22] Herman Bergson: What is so interesting in the article of the IEP is that you get explained the route from Idealism --> Emipiricism --> Realism Moore took
[13:22] arabella Ella: i think that is part of his common sense outlook too if i recall correectly?
[13:22] Herman Bergson: Yes...He showed his two hands
[13:22] Herman Bergson: the example is quoted in the IEP article
[13:23] Laila Schuman: i am still hung up on Neitzxche... and, from my point of view... he semed to take a lot on FAITH...
[13:23] Laila Schuman: this way of seeing things... the modern way...
[13:23] Laila Schuman: it would just thrrow him out ... wouldn't it?
[13:24] Herman Bergson: maybe there is an analogy between Nietzsche's ideas and the common sense idea
[13:24] Laila Schuman: oh?
[13:24] AristotleVon Doobie: I love that Neitzche, I think we must glean the best from both
[13:24] Herman Bergson: If you think of Nietzsche as propagating the basic instincts and drive
[13:25] Laila Schuman: nods
[13:25] Laila Schuman: is common sence then intuitive
[13:25] Herman Bergson: Fact is that there has come an end to the great metaphisical theories
[13:25] arabella Ella: Nietzsche was anything but an empiricist though and he foreshadowed postmodernism which is not something Moore would agree with
[13:26] Herman Bergson: I think there isnt a single philosopher left who wants to develop a metaphysical theory like Hegel and others
[13:26] itsme Frederix: But we still need truth as illusion to run our lives?!
[13:26] AristotleVon Doobie: it would be nice if any individual philosopher was the Wizard of Oz
[13:26] Laila Schuman: or illusion as truth?
[13:26] arabella Ella: those philosophers concerned with religion and theology still come up with metaphysical debate
[13:27] Herman Bergson: yes Itsme...the problem remains
[13:27] itsme Frederix: as Nietzsche said I just quoted him freely
[13:27] Herman Bergson: they are theologists Arabella..:-)
[13:27] arabella Ella: and i think nietzsche and moore exemplify the analytical and continental divide in philosophny ..which is so unfortunate in my opinion
[13:27] Laila Schuman: agreed
[13:27] arabella Ella: some are philosophers too herman
[13:28] arabella Ella: like father copplestone and today daniel dennett has joined that debate too
[13:28] arabella Ella: copplestone wrote a history of philosophy in four volumes some time back
[13:28] Herman Bergson: Oh....Is Copplestone still alive?
[13:28] arabella Ella: and he published his arguments with russell on the existence of god
[13:29] arabella Ella: i have no idea if he is still alive but i had found his history of philo useful in my undergrad days
[13:29] Herman Bergson: Not Moore's line of thinking, I would say
[13:29] arabella Ella: yes true
[13:29] arabella Ella: and if i may say so ... i agree with moore that there are a number of superfluous arguments in philosophy which require simplification but ...
[13:30] Herman Bergson: Copplestone is a classis, true
[13:30] arabella Ella: i also personally think that Moore often oversimplifies matters so much he borders on trivialising them
[13:30] Herman Bergson: Yes...
[13:30] Herman Bergson: and I hope we'll see a number of the Wiener Kreis philosophers say the same
[13:30] Laila Schuman: when they are overworked... they can become trivial too
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: Einstein said that if one can not explain something simply, the do not understand it to begin wiith
[13:31] Herman Bergson: and have a close look at their arguments regarding metaphysics
[13:31] Laila Schuman: :-) Ari
[13:31] arabella Ella: that will be interesting herman like Schlipp for example, poor guy was murdered at uni of vienna just for his ideas and ideology
[13:31] Tiara Calvert: lol, that's easy for a genius to say though isn't it? :)
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: :)))
[13:32] Herman Bergson: Well I think with Moore we really have began the debate on the sense or nonsense of metaphysics
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: caution should be excerized against those who want to convolute things
[13:33] Herman Bergson: ok Aristotle..:-)
[13:33] Laila Schuman: or oversimplify... like politics
[13:33] Herman Bergson: Yes..for also Moore's pleading for common sense isnt that helpful
[13:33] arabella Ella: but Ari you cannot just accuse someone you dont understand of convoluting things cos i often did not understand some philosophers at first but after lots of effort one begins to realise that a lot of what they say does make a lot of sense and is not convolution ... which one may think at first
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed
[13:34] Herman Bergson: you are still left with the justification of choosing for common sense, or common sense opinions
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: that is why we should 'pray for the gift of discerment'
[13:34] arabella Ella: then we may also need to raise the question ... what is common sense? is there a definition?
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: discermant
[13:35] Laila Schuman: yes... i asked earlier if it is instinctive...
[13:35] arabella Ella: yes Ari u r right but it is not just a gift it also requires as u know a great deal of time and effort
[13:35] Herman Bergson: I mentions two interpretations Moore had
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: surely
[13:35] Herman Bergson: but they never were clear definitions
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: thinking is not a fleeting thing
[13:36] Herman Bergson: Maybe in science we accept the definition of intersubjectivity
[13:37] arabella Ella: but herman surely science is very different from philosophy and different guidelines to follow there which may not be as rigorous as the ones which philosophy adopts?
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: actually, thinking done right is hard work
[13:37] Herman Bergson: but is again raises questions of relativism and skepticism
[13:37] Mickorod Renard: maybe he wanted to put his energies into forwand thinking rather than the opposite
[13:37] arabella Ella: or rigorous in a different sense - different criteria
[13:38] arabella Ella: i think if moore lived today he may have been a best selling philosopher like roger scruton
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: i agree
[13:38] arabella Ella: cos i think he tried to appeal to the masses with his appeal to common sense
[13:38] Herman Bergson: Yes might even raise the question : is there philosophical KNOWLEDGE
[13:38] arabella Ella: but in those days philosophy was still quite a rigorous 'closed shop'
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Yes..when you read on Moore and how he discussed things with Russel was all a universitay Cambridge thing
[13:39] arabella Ella: exactly that is what i meant herman
[13:39] arabella Ella: ehrmmmmm ..... is there philosophical knowledge?
[13:39] arabella Ella: what do u think herman? is there?
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: him and Russell wer close?
[13:40] arabella Ella: like a gentleman's club
[13:40] Herman Bergson: Yes they were Aristotle
[13:40] arabella Ella: only for the select few
[13:40] Herman Bergson: yes indeed arabella
[13:40] arabella Ella: they were contemporaries
[13:40] arabella Ella: i think the only prominent woman in those days was anscombe
[13:40] Herman Bergson: Russell as a student was two years ahead of Moore
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: ahh
[13:41] Mickorod Renard: I went to a gentlemans club once and did lots of philandering
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: :)) than MIck
[13:42] arabella Ella: did u Mickorod ....
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: you rascal
[13:42] arabella Ella: LOL
[13:42] Laila Schuman: smiles... i thought only gentlemen were allowed in
[13:42] Mickorod Renard: grin
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: hahaha
[13:42] Herman Bergson: Well....I think this may conclude our discussion on Moore
[13:42] arabella Ella: i have been to one too ... but Moore takes us back to the 20s i think
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: thank yu Herman
[13:43] arabella Ella: and so much has changed
[13:43] Mickorod Renard: Thank you herman
[13:43] arabella Ella: thanks Herman
[13:43] itsme Frederix: nice lecture
[13:43] Herman Bergson: We are left with questions regarding the sense of metaphysical issues...we'll see to that in the near future
[13:43] itsme Frederix: finding the right question is our grale
[13:43] Herman Bergson: We still have an open end on the real definition of common sense and how it works
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: well.. if we would have a definition .. would be great... I'm searching every day fro one ,-)
[13:44] Herman Bergson: and finally we could start a debate on the justification to choose common sense as our knowledge base
[13:45] arabella Ella: excellent herman
[13:45] Mickorod Renard: cool
[13:45] Herman Bergson: and as homework you could try to read the IEP article on is worth the effort
[13:45] Jay Horches: IEP?
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: i tried today .....really much ....
[13:45] arabella Ella: altho to use common sense we have to posses it first ... after investigating what it is ... and how many of us would lay claim to possessing it i have my doubts ;)
[13:45] Herman Bergson:
[13:46] Herman Bergson: You will find a link in Aristotle's magnificent PDF
[13:46] Alarice Beaumont: well... i know a lot of people who do claim to have common sense
[13:46] Herman Bergson: if you dont receive it...give Aristotle your email address
[13:46] arabella Ella: are their claims sufficient to justify possession Alarice?
[13:46] arabella Ella: cos i can claim to be rich, famous or intelligent but how justified is my claim?
[13:47] Herman Bergson: The claim of common sense is a psychological matter
[13:47] Herman Bergson: what concerns ius iis the concept of common sense
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. think you are right Herman
[13:47] Mickorod Renard: I know you are intelligent Ara
[13:47] itsme Frederix: do not claim just be
[13:47] arabella Ella: thanks Mickorod ... (altho I am not so sure ....)
[13:48] Herman Bergson: Well.....ther should be criteria to to pin down the concept of CS
[13:48] arabella Ella: hiya Aya
[13:48] Aya Beaumont: ello people
[13:48] itsme Frederix: maybe these criteria are part of common sense
[13:48] Laila Schuman: hey Aya
[13:49] Herman Bergson: yes already point in the problematic direction..:-)
[13:49] itsme Frederix: and we boot up like Baron Munchausen
[13:49] arabella Ella: Oh and if I may ... I think thanks are due to Ari here for his hard work and support with the pdf which he updates so diligently and which i am sure we all appreciate receiving so much
[13:49] itsme Frederix: o sorry
[13:49] Mickorod Renard: yes thanks Ari
[13:49] Herman Bergson: Very TRUE Arabella
[13:49] Mickorod Renard: love them pickies
[13:50] Mickorod Renard: although most dont make sense
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: thank you arabella
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: thanks all, blushing
[13:51] Alarice Beaumont: yes that has been a very good idea...everything together
[13:51] arabella Ella: i was about to say ... dont blush Ari ...
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: :))
[13:51] Alarice Beaumont: ;-)
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: you know how shy I am
[13:52] arabella Ella smiles
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: :)

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-09-08 08:02:35

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