Sunday, May 10, 2009

80b George Edward Moore on Ethics

In 1903 Betrand Russell published " The Principles of Mathematics" and in 1910 his famous "Principia Mathematica". Also in 1903 Moore published his "Principia Ethica". I wonder if Russell was inspired by Moore, when he was looking for a title of his publication of 1910? Not important, I just wondered (^_^)

While digging into the theory on ethics of Moore I also wondered what I was reading. On the one hand a clear and analytical approach of the problems and on the other the end I definitely had the feeling, that I came out really empty handed.

I have some explaning to do here, for the ideas of Moore had a great impact on both philosophy and culture. So I guess I yet have something in my hands here for you.

In accordance with Moore's “identity theory” of truth, ethical propositions, just like non-ethical propositions, are objectively true or false in themselves.

Combined with his view that ordinary objects are identical to true existential propositions, this implies that ordinary objects which possess value do so intrinsically: they are true existential propositions that involve the concept “good.”

What does this mean? When I raise my hand and say "This is my hand" the showing of it proofs that it is an external object, thence real, existing. The proposition has a one on one correpondence with an external reality and thus contains the concept that represents my hand and the concept of existence.

When I speak about an object, state of affairs and say that this or that is good, then this is a proposition that contains specific concepts and also the concept 'good'

And there we get to the central thesis of Principia Ethica: “good” is a simple, non-natural concept (or property). Simple and non-natural. What should that mean?
A simple is not made up out of anything, and thus cannot be broken down into anything.

This means, according to Moore, that the concept of "good" is unanalyzable. This may sound weird, but yet he has a point. Take a color e.g. When you look at a color, say green, you will use the concept 'green' in the statement "This is green".

The question, can you define 'green?' makes little sense. Don't you is green! You only can take refuge to what Saussure suggested to establish a meaning: you could say...well, green is different from any other color, in other words, green == green....that's all I can say about it.

And that applies to the concept "good" too. Indeed a main point of Moore's theory is that the fundamental entity of ethics cannot be defined at all and that any attempt to define it must commit what he termed as the "naturalistic fallacy". That is essentailly the falacy that results from construing the "is" from attribution as an "is" of identity.

Let me explain this. You may remember philosophers like Epicurus, Benthem and Stuart Mill, whose ideas were still well accepted in Moore's time, namely the idea that you could define the concept "good" by good = lust , or good = pleasure, or good = the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

But the question "Is goodness really pleasure ?" makes sense like the question "Is pleasure truly good?" does. Moore’s point is that every attempt at definition leaves it an open question as to what good really is. But this could be the case only if the definition failed to capture all of what is meant by “good.”

Suppose you say 'A widow is a woman whose husband has died' and someone would ask you 'Is a woman whose husband has died really a widow?' That makes no sense, even if she would have a secret lover :-) The concept "widow" is fully captured by "a woman whose husband has died"

Thence it is a mistake to read the '=' in good = pleasure as stating 'good is identical with pleasure', for this definition of “good” fails to capture its full meaning. Since this is true of every socalled definition of “good,” “good” cannot be defined; it can only be recognized in particular cases through acts of intuitive apprehension.

And here I am....empty handed. Good can not be analyzed, it can not be defined. I only have the statement good = good and a justification which refers to an intuitive grasping of the meaning of the concept.

But there is another thing we did not yet investigate: the concept 'good' is according to Moore also non-natural. Well, what have we here? Does he mean that it is spiritual, transcendent, an enlightment by God?

A lot of fog here...what is 'non-natural' and keep in mind, it is 1903. Only in a 1922 paper on “The Conception of Intrinsic Value” Moore holds that value concepts alone are to be counted as non-natural, so that “non-natural” is practically equivalent to “moral” and “natural” to “non-moral.”

Does this relying on intuition to grasp the meaning of 'good' by intuition disqualify Moore, because of the weakness of his argument? On the contrary. The analysis of Moore had a great influence on further developments. The naturalistic definition of 'good' was ruled out as well as the metaphysical definition. What was left was a realistic definition in line with his epistemology.

The Analytical philosophers jumped on the status of the ethical proposition. If it is not an empirically verifiable statement, what is it then. This debate went on till the early 1960s. We'll meet a few philosophers , who participated in the debate soon.

Main Resources:
Philip Stokes, Philosophy: 100 essential thinkers
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition

The Discussion

[13:24] Herman Bergson: So much on Moore's theory
[13:24] Herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks..:-)
[13:25] Herman Bergson looks at Jay who seems sound asleep and smiles
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: his theory is so detailed only ads to our question list!!!!
[13:25] Alarice Beaumont: well. it does imply that it depends on the point of view of a person what "good" means
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:25] Qwark Allen: yes for sure
[13:25] Herman Bergson: first sight you would say that..
[13:25] AristotleVon Doobie: my my my, what could non-natural ever be? perhaps he has it confuesd with cerbral reasoning?
[13:25] Alarice Beaumont: but if a person says he feels good.. the others know what he means
[13:25] Herman Bergson: but the approach was different
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: exactly all open for opinion of the individual it seems
[13:26] Menard Wemyss: the problem is that "good" should be associated with a moral value, thats what we are talking about right?
[13:26] AristotleVon Doobie: is he saying that only goodness comes from god?
[13:26] Herman Bergson: The philosophers of the Wiener Kreis discarded moral propositions as meaningful
[13:27] Herman Bergson: because they were empirically unverifiable
[13:27] Herman Bergson: BUT..
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie: morality is relative to both the individual and tribally
[13:27] Herman Bergson: ethical discourse was a fact.....and it held arguments and propositions
[13:28] Menard Wemyss: but if we talk of good, we are not talking of a good or bad car
[13:28] Herman Bergson: so the further philosophical analysis focused on the question...if a moral proposition is a proposition, what kind of proposition is it?
[13:29] Herman Bergson: No Menard, this is a good car is not a ethical proposition...but
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: communal morlas seem to me to be like lanuage...a democratic affair
[13:29] Herman Bergson: it is not just a descriptive statement leads to gonna buy that car
[13:29] Menard Wemyss: agreed
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: yes
[13:30] Herman Bergson: and that was the new approach...
[13:30] Herman Bergson: empirically verifiable statements had a reference in reality: My coat is black....look
[13:30] Herman Bergson: TRUE or FALSE
[13:31] SALDOG Brezoianu: Every color but black. :)
[13:31] Herman Bergson: Ethical statements didnt have that TRUE / FALSE quality
[13:31] Herman Bergson: so what is their reference....
[13:31] Alarice Beaumont: a yes.. that is right....
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: but goodness appears to be open to interpretation
[13:32] Herman Bergson: and like your car statement....the reference might be an emotion, or an intention to act
[13:32] Herman Bergson: So saying that something is good could be the expresion of an emotion or an intention
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. if given from the person which has not the same interpretation of it could lead to a wrong actin
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: Hello Hope :-)
[13:33] Herman Bergson: So the statement...This is a perfect car, so I dont ever intend to buy it, is ilogical
[13:34] herman Bergson looks around...."Hope?"
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: Moore is incorrect, or at least misguided, in saying that good is non-natural, it surely rest squarely in the human mind
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: goodness Hope!! ages!!
[13:35] Herman Bergson: So to solve ethical debates, we might focus on the logic of actions or intentions to determine what is good or bad
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: but... one cannot solve it with logic...?!
[13:35] Menard Wemyss: so is the questioning now slideing to the interpretation and the judgement of good or bad ?
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: mmmm, intentions may be even more slippery to ascertain
[13:36] hope63 Shepherd: me being back-- will my intentions be good or bad lol
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: the harm done or the lack of it should be the determing factor
[13:36] Herman Bergson: That, Hope, will depend on the consequences...a turn Elizabeth Anscombe took
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: good ol'lizzie... smile
[13:37] Alarice Beaumont: oh it is good.. cause you join in the discussion ;-)
[13:37] Herman Bergson: might say that good should be defined by the consequences of our intentions
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, I think so
[13:38] Herman Bergson: But this still leaves the question what consequences are called 'good'
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: is this all leading to situation ethics????????
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: but only the indivdual has an insight into their intentions
[13:38] Herman Bergson: Could be an option Gemma
[13:39] Alarice Beaumont: but - depending in which group of ppl one is- even the intention will be interpreted differently?!
[13:39] Herman Bergson: But I have a feeling that we still end up in some utilitarian justification
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: hmmm, if the consequences cause physical harm then it is bad
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: not good
[13:40] Alarice Beaumont: yes... there you got a point Ari
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: we always end in something utalitarian for us as an individual herman..
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: intentions, thoughts, ideas are not bad, only the results of acting upon them can be good or bad
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: for society or the individual ari'?
[13:41] Herman Bergson: Moore held the idea that general and universal acceptance was an argument.
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: well, society's interpretations vary greatly from tribe to tribe
[13:41] Herman Bergson: Deep down inside I already see the preying eyes of scepticism and relativism
[13:42] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: If you harm noone then you are acting ethicly
[13:42] Herman Bergson: One day we'll do a lecture on these two....they are hard to beat, I can tell you
[13:43] Menard Wemyss: but interesting herman
[13:43] Herman Bergson: That wont hold, Aristotle
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: hmmm
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: agreed herman..
[13:43] Jay Horches: Why?
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: only if the results are based on others opinions
[13:44] Herman Bergson: when someone has broken his leg I only can help him by hurting him if we are somewhere far from civilisation
[13:44] Lakaye Dezno: 0
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: well, ok they has to be some specail situations
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: oh
[13:44] Jay Horches: expand, please
[13:44] Herman Bergson: or when the girl threatens to jump from the building I only can prevent it by grabbing her hair
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: but the results are good
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: oh... not for the person.. perhaps
[13:45] Wisdom Streeter: thats true
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: and therefore no harm is done
[13:45] Herman Bergson: yes...the result of actions...
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: if the girl did not want to live...
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: unless you have interfered with the jumpers choice
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: and you don't help her afterwards to get out of that situatin...
[13:45] Herman Bergson: but the people she hurts, her parents e.g?
[13:45] Menard Wemyss: wait a moment
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: but those are her responsibilities
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: not yours
[13:46] Menard Wemyss: this is about what you are doing..trying to help her
[13:46] Alarice Beaumont: an one does not know wether they are hurt
[13:46] Menard Wemyss: isnt it highly moral ?
[13:46] Alarice Beaumont: what if she was ill and had very great pain?
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: ahhh, back to the defintion of moralalit
[13:46] Alarice Beaumont: and no medcine could help?
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: more classical example: mountain tour.. two fall.. you can save one by cutting the rope...
[13:47] Herman Bergson: Well....we can go on forever like this.....
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. that is an awful decision
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: hope you analize which has the better cance of survial
[13:47] Herman Bergson: always seems the right answer to eldue us
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: always
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: we talk about help-ethics..?
[13:47] Herman Bergson: Always means relativism Gemma
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: i read he was critical of the slowness of the philosophers
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: of the past
[13:48] Herman Bergson: Moore...? Yes..
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: my point is that morals and ethics area indvidual realm, as lot has you harm no one else
[13:48] Herman Bergson: How simple this sounds Aristotle
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: of course I think it is simple
[13:49] Herman Bergson: We'll keep this on our list definitely
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: that cannot be generalized.. it depends on the situation
[13:50] Herman Bergson: Well Moore set a new course for the ethical discourse in philosophy
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed
[13:50] Herman Bergson: In the near future we'll get back to this issue
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: it will never go away I fear
[13:51] Herman Bergson: May I thank you for this good debate ^_^
[13:51] Alarice Beaumont smiles
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you Professor
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: :-0
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:51] Alarice Beaumont: thanks Herman
[13:51] hope63 Shepherd: ari.. thanks for the mails.. let me keep in touch with all of you:)
[13:51] Rodney Handrick: Thanks Herman
[13:51] Wisdom Streeter: thank you
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: excelent lecture
[13:52] Wisdom Streeter: wide awake
[13:52] Herman Bergson: thank you Aristotle
[13:52] hope63 Shepherd: looking forward for this lecture to keep up with you...
[13:52] Rodney Handrick: sure Hope
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: we wil be back Thursday for more :-)
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: looking forward to it !
[13:52] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:52] Herman Bergson: Nice to see you again have you been?
[13:52] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: long time hope
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Hope
[13:53] Rodney Handrick: yes Hope

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-09-11 08:40:50

No comments:

Post a Comment