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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

George Edward Moore is famous for the great contribution to the development of modern philosophical thought.

Being an editor of philosophical journal Mind a teacher at Cambridge University, George Moore also dedicated much time to the research work and developed a number of influential theories, which have had a great impact on the contemporary philosophical though. He became the most famous British philosopher of the 20th century. In contrast to the adherents of absolute idealism, Moore believed in the perception of reality in the way it was. He stated that common sense beliefs should have been perceived the way they appeared. He saw the main purpose of science in general and philosophy in particular, not in doubting these beliefs, but in the analysis of them. Moore had a great influence on the philosophical credo of such influential philosophers as Russell, Wittgenstein and Ryle.

Moore’s Criticism of Idealism

Moore put forward a number of serious arguments against idealism in Anglo-American philosophical thought, peculiar for those times. Moore’s ethics and analytical approach had a great influence on all further philosophical methods of investigation. In one of his first works called The Nature of Judgment Moore stated states that propositions can exist independently from mental judgments they express. This way the truth should be a simple property, which belongs to these propositions. Truthfulness of the propositions does not depend on the interpretations of these propositions, done by human mind. The subjective explanation of false beliefs in particular raises significant doubts about the legitimacy of an idealistic account (Moore, 1965, 136).

In his other work called The Refutation of Idealism Moore shaped out his negative attitude to absolute idealism.

He rejected the main principles of idealism and gave his own ideas based on the principles of realism. Moore stated that all contemporary idealistic theories were based on Berkeley’s idealistic theory. Berkeley is the supporter of the idealistic theory in philosophy. He states that idealism is self-evident. His own words can prove it: idealism is so near and obvious to the mind that a man need only open his eyes to see [it] (Berkeley 79). Berkeley theory is mainly a response to Hobbes and Locke’s philosophical works. Lock is an empiricist and he states that people get knowledge by the means of senses and record it in mind. Nevertheless, he leaves no role for God in his theory and, Berkeley, being a Bishop, could not accept this fact. Moore believed that Berkeley’s phrase esse est percipi, which is translated like to be means to perceive perfectly reflected the main principles of contemporary idealism (Moore,1965, 210).

Idealists stated that knowledge is the result of perception with the help of senses. Sensible things can be perceived only immediately. The process of perception is a mental act and so sensible things can be treated as mental objects.

Reality can be only deduced or perceived. Causes and effects of sensible things are not sensible, they are a deduction.

Moore agreed that belief that all true things were nothing but an object of perception perfectly fitted an idealistic scheme. At the same time he pointed out that these beliefs did not have an analytic basis. He explained this by the difference between the state of being and state of being perceived. Idealists simply assume without evidence the truth of their most important principle. Each object of experience is assumed to be nothing more than a part wholly contained within the organic whole that constitutes the subject or perceiver (Moore, 1962, 119). For example, if a person perceives soothing as a blue color, this perception is based only on his or her sensations and is not reflected in the objective reality. This perception of the blue color becomes a personal mental entity of the perceiver without any references to the objective truth. According to Moore such an approach leaves individual perceivers without any external evidence of their experience. In the realism, developed by Moore, personal experience should have been separated from an object of this perception. As he states,the reality of the object is beyond question. Of course, this position is itself an assumption, for the truth of which he offered (here) no proof other than the untenability of the idealist alternative (Moore, 1963, 25).

Later Moore developed a methodological basis of his realism. The ordinary beliefs human beings hold are to be accepted at face value: they mean what they say and are true, standing in no need of philosophical correction or proof (Moore, 1965, 112). In his work Common Sense Moore gives a list of common beliefs, peculiar to all people.

He starts with simple ideas about body, personal experiences and experiences common for all human beings.

According to Moore these common beliefs are true only when they are perceived as common truth. Moore divided those philosophers who did not believe in the truthfulness of common beliefs into two groups. To the first group belong those, who did not believe in the truthfulness of the beliefs. Idealists, who reject the reality of time, space and self make a part of this group. The second group consists of the philosophers, who deny the fact that people can know these beliefs. Moore proved both positions to be logically inconsistent. Following this kind of logics Moore then proves that there are common sense beliefs, which are true and people know about it.

So, the analysis of these beliefs become the main goal of the philosophy and becomes the center of the philosophical debate. In his arguments against idealism Moore gives an argument about metal facts about conscious experience, which do not possess a timeless nature they are supposed to have. Idealists, who reject the reality of time, do not make conscious experiences timeless and this way they contradict themselves. At the same time, Physical facts may be explicableboth logically and causallywithout any direct reference to their mental representation (Moore, 1965, 169). Moore’s type of realism can be characterized as representational realism. Moore did not escape attendant difficulties, peculiar to this kind of realism. He could not distinguish an exact position of sensory data and the degree of its independence from individual sensory acts. Moore put much attention to the analysis of ordinary language as one of the methodological means. He used linguistics as one of the means to prove the existence of physical objects.

He used an analysis of such phrases in order to prove his thesis. Moore stresses on the inconsistency, which appears while pronouncing a sentence like It will rain but I do not believe that it will. This paradox, later called Moor’s paradox, to his mind reflects the existence of common beliefs. Logically there is no contradiction between the two parts of the sentence, but taken together they make no sense. This part of Moor’s research and analyses inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to further research on this subject. Wittgenstein believed this paradox to be one of the most influential parts of Moor’s philosophy.

Moore’s Ethical Views

Moore’s ethical views are reflected in his famous work Principia Ethica, in which he presented his ethical theory.

The core of this theory is the concept of good. Good cannot be deduced logically or reduced to something else (utility, pleasure, etc): its meaning is primitive (Moore, 1993, 6). Moore analyzes the concept of good with the help of the so-called Open Question Argument.

Moore rejects all the possible definitions of this concept that existed earlier because they all cannot cover all the essence. Moore defines good as non-natural quality that can characterize certain things. Good, then, denotes one unique simple object of thought among innumerable others; but this object has very commonly been identified with some other – a fallacy which may be called the naturalistic fallacy’ (Moore, 1993, 9). A number of western philosophers and thinkers of the 20th century defined good as some other characteristic or feature of our world.

Moore could not agree with such definition. This definition presumes relevance to something. Irrelevance of this concept can be easily proved by the open question. If we say that good is something pleasant we should always put a question, whether this pleasant something is always good. For example: good means pleasant but is pleasant always good? Moore’s arguments for good as an indefinable quality is often regarded as Open Question Argument. Any statement about good presumes question. Moore calls this question open and this statement significant and the object or quality that is referred to good is of no importance. Moore made a conclusion that any analyses of value are senseless because then this question and statement becomes obvious. Good cannot be deduced logically or reduced to something else (utility, pleasure, etc): its meaning is primitive (Moore, 1993, 112). So, all western concepts of good were not appropriate in Moore’s understanding. He stated that it confused effect with cause and whole with part.

Moore finds out that conception of good as a reference to something is naturalistic fallacy because we cannot compare good with natural property. The nature of this fallacy is easily recognized; and if it were avoided, it would be plain that the only alternatives to the admission that good’ is indefinable, are either that it is complex or that there is no notion at all peculiar to Ethics (Moore, 1993, 15). Moore’s definition is based on the notions of cause -effect and part – whole. Moore also could not agree that property goodness refers to good. These are two different notions: one denotes qualities that make the object valuable and another analyzes the value itself. Moore insisted that ethical theorists confused these two notions. Good,’ then, denotes one unique simple object of thought among innumerable others; but this object has very commonly been identified with some other – a fallacy which may be called the naturalistic fallacy’ (Moore, 1903, 9).

Defining good as indefinable quality Moore proposes his theory of ethical intuitionism. The relations which ethical judgments assert to hold universally between goodness’ and other things are of two kinds: a thing may be asserted either to be good itself or to be causally related to something else which is itself good – to be good as a means (Moore, 1993, 21). According to this theory we cannot explain what good is, but we use this notion every day saying that this is good or bad. This notion cannot be explained with common sense but it goes from our experience and we feel it on the level of subconscious. Moore explains that people usually like things and physical objects with ethical and aesthetical value. The bright example here can be human friendship.. Moore’s ethical intuitivism is his response against ethical naturalism. Difference between will and feeling helps to better understand Moor’s theory of goodness. The actual relations between goodness’ and Will or Feeling, from which the false doctrine is inferred, seem to be mainly ( a ) the causal relation consisting in the fact that it is only by reflection upon the experiences of Will and Feeling that we become aware of ethical distinctions; (Moore, 1993, 130). He also states that ( b ) the facts that a cognition of goodness is perhaps always included in certain kinds of Willing and Feeling, and is generally accompanied by them (Moore, 1993, 130).

Another characteristic of good according to Moore is its non-natural property along with indefinable one. Two qualitatively identical objects can not be identical in all manifestations. For example, two yellow skirts have different shades of color, they are produced at different factories by different producers. Nevertheless, despite all the differences they can have one identical value of good (Moore, 1993). The property of good is combined from other object’s properties. We can say that two qualitatively identical objects can be considered as good not taking into account how these identical properties were achieved. In this way we are able to justify (1) the attribution of value to knowledge, over and above its value as a means, and (2) the intrinsic superiority of the proper appreciation of a real object over the appreciation of an equally valuable object of mere imagination: emotions directed towards real objects may thus, even if the object be inferior, claim equality with the highest imaginative pleasures (Moore, 1993, 198). Our perception of objects is based on intuition and that is why property good is also intuitive.

Moore uses Sidgwick’s notion of moral intuition when he speaks about intuitive perception of good properties.

Of Prof. Sidgwick’s two arguments for the contrary view, the second is equally compatible with the supposition that pleasure is a mere criterion of what is right and in his first, the appeal to reflective intuition, he fails to put the question clearly (1) in that he does not recognize the principle of organic unities (Moore, 1993, 91) Moral intuitions are obvious propositions which make people think on moral issues but do lead to direct conclusions.

Moore in his Principia Ethica rejected his support of Intuitionism common doctrine. He said that he was not an Intuitionist in common understanding of this word. In Preface to Principia Ethica he underlines his main distinctions from intuitionists: In order to express the fact that ethical propositions of my first class [propositions about what is good as an end in itself] are incapable of proof or disproof, I have sometimes followed Sidgwick’s usage in calling them Intuitions.’ But I beg that it may be noticed that I am not an Intuitionist,’ in the ordinary sense of the term (Moore, 1993, 2).

Moore was more a consequentialist. He did not agree with deontological intuitionists who stated that intuitions present the difference of the actions that are our own and so right, and the actions required by duty. Moore believed, in his turn, that moral rules and duties were not direct consequences of intuition. He stated that they were rather the result of particular actions. Intuitions could not characterize this or that action as right or wrong, they could only adopt the notion of good properties to them and define whether things were good in themselves (Moore, 1995, 123).

Moore’s Here is a Hand Argument

George Moore is considered to be a dynamic philosopher. His philosophic thought was in constant development and his conversation from idealism to realism can easily prove this fact. In his Defence of Common Sense, which was published in 1925, he insists claims a protest against skepticism and idealism because, in his opinion, they did not give enough grounds to accept their metaphysical premises. Moor’s realism is defined as a common sense form of realism. He does not find enough reasons to accept ideological premises of idealism and skepticism. His essay called Proof of the External World published in 1939 contains Moor’s arguments against skepticism. His arguments became famous under the name here is a hand. This argument is based on the comparison between two hands.

Here is one hand, and then raising his left and saying And here is another, then concluding that there are at least two external objects in the world, and therefore that he knows (by this argument) that an external world exists (Moore, 1965, 123). Moor’s method became convincing for many philosophers and they turn to his proof of an external world.


George Moore is a famous and influential English philosopher of the 20th century. At the beginning of his philosophical researches Moore was the follower of the idealistic theory but later he could not find explanations of some phenomena with the help of metaphysical premises of idealism and that is why he focused his attention on the common sense realism. He is famous for his critical arguments against idealism. In his famous work The Refutation of Idealism George Moore presented his critics of absolute idealism. In his theory of realism Moore presents a list of common beliefs common for all people. This list is the foundation of this theory and all his realistic concept is based on it. He accused the ethical philosophers of those times in the Naturalistic fallacy because they analyzed the concept of good in relation to other qualities. Moore’s ethical and realistic theories have become the basis for the development of the philosophical thought in the middle and at the end of the 20th centuries. He is appreciated by other philosophers because his theories are based on persuasive arguments and facts.

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