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Philosophy III. Ethics Honours Lectures.

A Course of Lectures on Moore: “Principia Ethica”. Delivered in 1930. Professor John Anderson, M.A. Trinity. 17 June—11 November.

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Lecture 1: Ethics

Moore developed his ethical theories on the basis of Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics and his theory of intuition. In chapter III of the Principia Ethica he devotes considerable attention to Sidgwick's theories, and he rejects his theory of hedonism and also Mill's, but his insistence on means and ends shows that he was influenced by utilitarian theories. That notion is connected with the whole history of ethical speculation although it is most prominent in the utilitarian schools. Sidgwick's work was based on Mill's, so that we get the development from Mill, through Sidgwick to Moore. Since the time of Moore there have been no outstanding works in English on ethics. Moore did make a definite contribution to the science of ethics; he introduced what was a fresh way regarding ethics, and that would have had fruitful results if it had been followed up. There is a somewhat similar view in Rashdall's theory of ethics. The point of notice is that ethical theories generally have been much concerned with a utilitarian theory because they have treated the relation of means to ends as of supreme importance and have practically identified end with good.

Now the appearance of this view in Moore comes out in the way he contrasts good as a means with good in itself or intrinsically; and the fact that he puts the contrast in that way means that he practically identifies good in itself with good as an end. Now any theory, in so far as it makes that identification is a utilitarian theory because that implies that good has to be considered in relation to certain activities which lead up to it or bring it about; and those activities, considered as means or as leading up to good, that is, have value in terms of their effects, are brought under the conceptions of right and wrong, as contrasted with good and bad.

The relation of right and good is discussed by Moore in the fifth chapter, “Ethics in Relation to Conduct” . Now, of course, Moore does not simply identify right with being a means to good but on the contrary, while there may be many actions in a given situation which might be productive of good, there cannot, Moore contends, be more than one action which is right; that is to say, the right action in a certain situation is that which, of all the actions that are possible, would produce the greatest amount of good. Now that means that we have two different modes of valuation or estimation introduced into ethics; we have, in the first place, the simple determination of goodness or badness; then, in the second place, we have the consideration of different possible actions and of their effects, and in connection with these, we have comparison of amounts of good.

Now there have been ethical theories which employed the conception “good” without employing the conception “right”; and conversely, there have been ethical theories which put all the emphasis on right. And one main question we shall have to consider is precisely whether it is possible to find a place for both these conceptions in the same theory, that is, whether we can consistently do so or whether they do not really imply two divergent and irreconcilable types of ethical theory. It is apparent, however, that if we introduce either of the conceptions of means or ends, we shall have to introduce the other; and so it may be argued that, while any theory of right involves an implicit reference to good, whatever inconsistency this may involve, it is possible to have a theory of good in which the notion of right is not introduced.

We can easily show the prevalence of the notions of means and

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ends by considering the theories dealt with in the Pass Course. For example take the end of the first book of the Republic. There is the notion of “function” which is substantially the notion of end.

Each thing is regarded as having a certain function or purpose and, in accordance with the doctrine of forms, that is not only the end or good of the thing, but it is the reality of the thing; or the thing is real and is also good only in so far as it fulfils its function. Now there we find Socrates upholding an ethics in which the notion of end is fundamental and which is therefore utilitarian. In the Protagoras, we find that Socrates upholds a hedonistic view and it has therefore been considered that Socrates was actually a hedonist. But, as Taylor points out, the position is maintained only in relation to the way in which the discussion develops; and what Socrates is concerned with is not what particular quality, pleasure or any other, good things may have, but only what follows, granted that good is something definite and something of whose appearance we can take account. Goodness has to be a measureable thing in order that we may be able to plan our lives in relation to it; and while Socrates would not agree that goodness is pleasure because he does not think that pleasure can be pursued in a systematic way, as we see, for example, from the later books of the Republic, it is sufficient for his purpose in the Protagoras to take goodness as something about which calculations can be made and towards which efforts can be directed; so that while Socrates is not committing himself to hedonism, he is committing himself to utilitarianism, that is, to a good which can be reasonably pursued.

What the Republic brings out in addition to that is that it is this pursuit which constitutes man's whole existence in so far as he partakes of true reality, and that any deviation from the pursuit of human goodness is a deviation from true humanity. Now the development of this theory appears at the end of the Republic, Book VI where Socrates introduces the theory of the Good of the form of the Good. The form of a thing and the function of a thing are the same, as we have seen, and what now appears is that the Good is the form of forms or the ultimate function which sustains all subordinate functions; so that each thing's good is good just in so far as it partakes of this ultimate good. Thus ethical theory is dominated by the conception of ends and, of course, since Socrates thinks that a thing's reality is its purpose or the end it strives after, it follows that all theory for him is ethical theory; or, taking a teleological view of things, that is, defining reality in terms of ends and calling these ends goods, Socrates makes no distinction between ethical and other science. He himself says in the Phaedo that he gave up natural science because the natural scientists could not show that according to their theories, things were arranged for the best, and therefore apparently because he considered that natural science had to be teleological if it were really to be scientific.

Moore's theory depends to a large extent on considerations of a sort similar to Socrates'. Thus in the first chapter of the Principia Ethica, “The Subject-Matter of Ethics” , there is the treatment of good as something which is not natural, good, according to Moore, having to be distinguished from all natural objects; and this is because he is really treating it as a form in the Socratic sense, that is, as something of a higher nature than the things to which it is attributed. Of course, Socrates endeavoured to maintain that all characteristics of things are forms whereas, according to Moore, we have to distinguish natural characteristics, for example, colour, from

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higher characteristics, such as good. But still the logical basis of the two theories is the same.

Now in Aristotle's ethics, we have a similar concentration upon ends; Aristotle also makes the fundamental assumption that a thing's good is its end or what it aims at, and accordingly he describes the good for man as happiness considered as that at which all men aim. But when we come to consider what precisely this happiness is, we find that it is not any definite state of mind or human activity but that happiness is really just the general notion of something that we can aim at and having got which we shall be satisfied.

Now there is nothing in this to say that all men have some common end and there is nothing to tell us what this end will be in any particular case; so that having been told that the good is something which could be an end and satisfied us, we are left uninformed as to what its characteristics are. Now this same type of theory comes out in Aristotle's account of wish as an element in voluntary activity. We have deliberation which is concerned with means and we have wish which is concerned with ends; and these ends, as wished for, are therefore described by Aristotle as good. In this case, then, good really means nothing more than “chosen as an end” and we still do not know the characteristics of that which is so chosen. To that extent, then, in spite of his criticism of the doctrine of forms, Aristotle has taken up a position similar to Socrates'.

On the other hand, in the tenth book of the Ethics Aristotle considers the theoretical life as something which is good in itself apart from being considered as an end at which all men aim or should aim; and he distinguishes this sort of good from what he has regarded as the good for man and described as happiness by saying that it has something of the divine in it. On the other hand, he does describe it as a kind of activity that men can undertake. In fact, we may say for Aristotle that, although much of his work appears to be utilitarian, this is due to his special purpose in the Ethics which was to be regarded as part of the course on politics; and it may be argued that when he speaks of the good for man he means the type of good that can be aimed at, particularly by the legislator and the educator.

Now that legislator has to know himself what is really good and he has to act so that people will purpose or behave voluntarily so as to make possible an orderly society, that is, one in which real goods will be possible, goods which for Aristotle have a touch of the divine, provided the ability to pursue such goods is present. Aristotle seems to imply that that ability cannot be created by the legislator; legislation can only provide an opportunity for its activity if it is already present.

Now whether Aristotle's conception of the legislator is politically sound or not is another question; but it cannot be criticised as an ethical theory if Aristotle did not intend it as an ethical theory in our sense but only as part of his political theory. At the same time there is much in the Ethics to make it appear that Aristotle did not always clearly distinguish between political questions and questions which we should call ethical, just as he fell into confusion in rejecting the theory of forms while accepting the theory of ends.

Lecture 2


Now, of course, a science of good should properly be concerned with what goods are and what things are good; and then it may inquire, in a subordinate way, into how goods are brought about; but even so,

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it cannot treat goods as essentially ends or having it in their nature to be ends because that means bringing the relations of a thing within the thing's own nature; or, as it is sometimes put, regarding the thing as constituted by its relations or what it is related to (cf. Journal, June 1930: “Realism and some of its Critics” where the ethical and other aspects of this question are considered). Socrates and Aristotle are both utilitarians in this sense, and the same may be said of Butler and Kant; that is, according to Butler, there is a faculty of conscience which prescribes right conduct and at the same time there is a faculty or reflective principle of self-love which aims at the happiness or personal good of the individual in question, so that Butler at least thinks that there is something definitely to be called happiness, to be thought of as Aristotle thought of it, as an end for man; and although he does not say that this happiness determines the prescriptions of conscience, he still considers, first that if there were any actual conflict in the individual between self-love and conscience, conscience would have to yield. But in the second place, he considers that there can be no such conflict because conscience speaks with certainty whereas self-love can only give probability, and thus conscience must always be a better guide to our true interest; and the element of uncertainty in the prescriptions of self-love would make them give place to the prescriptions of conscience.

Now apart from any difficulty about the use of the notion of probability here, and there is a considerable difficulty because men may believe without any dubiety whatever that certain acts are in their own interest, apart from that there is the still more important fact that there could be no question of conflict and no question of the merely probable giving way to the certain unless the objects of the two faculties or principles were to some extent the same; that is, we should not compare the value of the two as guides unless they both appear to guide us to the same things. If on the other hand, the objects of self-love were quite different from the objects of conscience, then the uncertainty of the guidance of the former (self-love) would be of no account in the argument because that, defective as it was, would be the only guide we had in attempting to achieve a particular object or class of objects; and in fact it turns out that both of these faculties are concerned with something that can be called our welfare, each promoting this object in its own way. And thus we see that, to a large extent at least, and if he is to be consistent, Butler also is a utilitarian, that is, he is concerned in ethics with the promotion of a certain state which is to be regarded as the end of our activities. And, of course, just like Socrates in the Republic he thinks of this end in terms of harmony, that is, of the working of our various faculties in a coherent system. And there is the same objection to Butler's theory as there is to that of Socrates', namely, that since a perfectly harmonious or consistent life is impossible, since conflict or tension is characteristic not only of all living things but of all existing things, we cannot determine what the supposed good life would be like; and if we regard it as an ideal, we cannot even determine what steps should be taken to approach as near to it as possible; that is, we may have two opposing tendencies and if one of these is removed we may say that we have reduced the degree of conflict, but this does not tell us which of the two should be removed and whichever it might be, there would still be conflict in the result.

Then there is the further point that confusion is made between a consistent and a single-minded life as a means of pursuing more

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effectively whatever our end might be and as itself the end which we are to pursue. This confusion is particularly noticeable in the theory of Socrates where he says that guidance is valuable both in itself and for what it produces, wishing in this way both to treat it as the good to be aimed at and the aiming at the good.

Again Aristotle discusses the intellectual powers as a means of bringing about consistent behaviour and effective pursuit of welfare, and this emphasis on these powers would lead us to cast doubt on the genuineness of the ethical view which he ultimately arrives at, namely, that the contemplative life is good. This may be true, but as far as Aristotle's exposition is concerned its plausibility depends partly on the great emphasis that has been placed on thinking in connection with the other treatment of ethics as dealing with the methods of producing goods whatever these may turn out to be. Still while, as far as Socrates is concerned, the confusion appears to be complete, with Aristotle we have the suggestion of an ethical proposition and of a set of propositions in ethics, having nothing to do with the notion of ends. And in Butler we have an even more definite suggestion of how such an ethics might be arrived at, although he does not work it out to any extent; that is, he is concerned in his Sermons with how people may be brought to pursue goodness and how their minds would have to be organised if they are to do so. And he places most emphasis on this faculty of conscience which, as we have seen, he has difficulty in reconciling with the other faculties he specifies. But if we neglect that aspect, we have this position: that there is a faculty in us which enables us to pass ethical judgments or, putting it more generally, we are so constituted that we can assert propositions of the form: X is good.

Now if we can, then naturally we should take these propositions themselves and not the fact that we can assert them as the starting point of ethical investigation.

Now Butler only gives a few examples of what such propositions would be, and these examples are not particularly satisfying. He considers that truthfulness and justice are good etc.; that is, he takes some of the traditional conceptions of the virtues which themselves were worked out in terms of the ethical dualism of means and ends; that is, virtue is confusedly conceived both as the behaviour which is good and the behaviour which promotes good. But whatever we may say about those propositions of Butler's the fact remains that they are put forward as ethical propositions and that he thus showed the possibility of an ethical theory which should be quite distinct from the inquiry into how we should set about improving ourselves or others, or in general set about promoting good.

The terms virtue and happiness cover confusion between the relations things have and the characters of those things themselves. Socrates exposed this type of confusion as it appeared in Sophistic thinkers, for example, in Euthythro. There the question to be discussed is What is piety or holiness; and the dialogue shows that the question is of a certain set of good acts which have a relation to the gods. The main point is that if we suppose that there is a class of pious acts, then the term “piety” has to be defined in terms of its own characters and not in terms of the relations it has to another thing; compare Euthythro's definition of piety as what is pleasing to the gods.

Now Socrates argument is that in order that something should

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be pleasing to the gods, it must itself have distinguishing marks; it cannot be imagined that the gods take things and say that these are pleasing and displeasing; you can only imagine them as being pleased by certain types of things; and so the question still remains, namely, what is the character of pious things. Socrates also points out there that the relation “pleasing to the gods” can give no information as to the nature of the thing; in fact it is only in so far as it has a nature of its own that it can have that relation to the gods (see Taylor who points out that this view of Socrates is in opposition to the view that what is good is what is commanded by the gods or God).

In the same way the argument with Polemarchus in book one of the Republic is concerned with the other characters of good acts. On the question of justice, again, you have the conception of justice or of social goodness put forward in a relative way as the rendering of benefits to people, and Socrates shows, in the same way as in the Euthyphro that this relative definition is not a satisfactory one, that it does not enable us to make the necessary distinction between the just and the unjust; to do so, we should have to recognise their own natures and characters.

There is another point in the Euthyphro: you cannot divide virtue into classes, for granted that any good act is pleasing to the gods, all good acts are pleasing, and so there would be no distinction between those acts of a man concerning the gods or man. Socrates maintained that if we make the distinction between holy and unholy, just and unjust, and if these divisions are not the same, then we should be forced to say that some holy acts are unjust and that some unholy acts are just: Holy—Unholy;: Just—Unjust

Lecture 3

We find that even so apparently a moralistic thinker as Kant also takes up a utilitarian point of view. Kant sets up an ethical dualism in the notions of virtue and happiness, a dualism which corresponds to his treatment of the self in a dual manner, namely, as having empirical or phenomenal and transcendental or noumenal aspects.

Now these are sometimes distinguished as different selves, but they are still supposed to correspond in some way and to be aspects of the same self or, more exactly, the empirical self which is made up of those mental phenomena which we are aware of, is a phenomenon or appearance of the transcendental self; and it is precisely his moralistic attitude that confirms Kant in his transcendental doctrines. In The Critique of Pure Reason in the “Transcendental Dialectic”, Kant shows that the chief arguments which had been employed to establish the transcendental objects of metaphysics are fundamentally of an ontological character, that is, they reduce to the type of the ontological argument and that, as such, they are fallacious. The ontological argument, sometimes referred to as the proof of the existence of a thing by the very conception of it, is improperly so described because this appears at least to refer to the processes of our thought, whereas the real argument is not concerned with our thought at all. What we are concerned with is something whose existence is established by its own nature, something which sustains itself or makes itself exist. On the scientific side the argument takes the form of propositions which are self-evident or which are their own proof; and the argument against this type of

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theory is that if a proposition is not evident, it cannot be made evident by itself; in other words, that assertion is one thing and proof is another, and that the attempt to combine the two in the notion of self-evidence is a confusion between a thing's own character and a relation which it has.

Accordingly anything that we can call “proof of a proposition” must be based upon other propositions. Now the objection sometimes taken to this view is that these propositions in turn would require to be proved and so in the absence of self-proved propositions, no proposition could ever be proved. But the answer to that is that proof is not valid inference from proved propositions but valid inference from true propositions; and thus anything that a particular person accepts as proof will be an argument which he considers valid from propositions which he regards as true, propositions, in other words, which he believes. And thus it is no requirement of science that we should begin with self-evident propositions; it is enough that we should begin with evident propositions, propositions, that is to say, which are evident to us or which we believe. And it is, of course, possible for us to believe what is not the case, but that is no argument against any particular belief, the only argument would be the attempted demonstration of the truth of the contradictory.

Now such a demonstration, even if as a matter of fact it is sound and even if its premises are true, may fail to convince the person against whose views it was directed; but this does not show that science in the field in question, whatever it may be, is impossible; it merely shows that particular persons make mistakes in that field which is something which no scientist is concerned to deny. And thus when we take up the study of a certain science, it is enough that we should have certain beliefs as to the material in question and that we should be prepared to extend and correct our knowledge by further attention to the material. But the scientific position that we do hold at any point consists simply of certain propositions that we believe and certain implications that we recognise. Now this is opposed to rationalism in science, to the idea that there are certain rational entities from which all existence has to be developed. It is to be noted that the same point comes out in Moore when he talks of “indefinables”, this being a perfectly rationalistic conception, and so it is the ultimate, uncriticisable entity on which ethical science is to be based. The propositional view is to the effect that there are no uncriticisable entities in any science, the empiricist view as opposed to the rationalist. The empiricist tries to show that his beliefs are necessary for the progress of any science and the rationalist attempts to do the same.

Self-Subsistent entities in rationalist theory are very closely connected with primitive propositions, such propositions being merely the detailed exposition or the expression of a certain entity, as in the theory of Leibniz. We find that in this case also there is a confusion between a thing's own character and the relations which it has, a confusion, that is, between the existence or history of that thing, which is really identical with the thing itself, with its various qualities from its beginning to its cessation, and the conditions under which the thing exists, that which causes it or is required if the thing is to exist.

Now such conditions must be other things. We are thoroughly acquainted with the use of the term “condition” to express the relation between one thing or event or another, but we are not acquainted with the self-conditioned. According to the doctrine of Leibniz and his rationalistic predecessors, there is an essence or nature of a

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thing which embodies the thing's whole character and history; but unless that essence is identical with the thing's whole character and history, in which case there is no relation of conditioning, we have, exactly as before, a relation of conditioning between one thing and a different thing, and there is nothing to show that the conditioning thing is unconditioned. On the contrary the mere fact that it has relations to other things is sufficient to show that it is conditioned.

A parallel case is the argument of Socrates in the Phaedo as to the relation between body and mind. According to Socrates the mind is shown to be higher and better than the body because it can control the body while the body cannot control it. But to say that the mind controls the body is to say that it acts in a certain way upon the body when the body is in a certain condition, and therefore we are just as much entitled to say that the previous condition of the body controlled or determined the action of the mind as to say that the action of the mind determined the subsequent condition of the body. In other words, we have the general principle that there is no action without interaction or there are no pure agencies, things which are entirely active and have no element of passivity about them; and correspondingly that there are no unconditioned conditions and there are no things which exist except in relation to other things and having the course of their history influenced by these other things.

We find an attempt in Berkeley's Principles to work out a theory of the purely active in relation to the purely passive, but this attempt fails; Berkeley is forced in the course of his argument to attribute passivity to what he has described as active and activity to the things he has described as purely passive.

Now what Kant pointed out in his “Transcendental Dialectic” was the inadequacy of the traditional rationalists' arguments, the fact that we cannot prove existence from essence or show that it is a thing's nature to exist but must either begin by assuming its existence or else never succeed in arriving at its existence. Now in accordance with this argument, we can describe as ontological entities those entities which are supposed to exist by their very nature, those entities which exist because they must exist, that is, which determine themselves to exist and the conception of which, therefore, involves the confusion between a thing's character and its relations.

Now what enables Kant to establish his moral theory in the dual manner in which he does so is precisely an argument of the ontological type. He sets up morality as an unconditioned condition of phenomenal or empirical activities. His “goodwill” in particular is established by an ontological argument, that is, it is that which must be good if anything is to be good or that which is unconditionally good; and what Kant fails to establish is that there is such a thing as the “goodwill” at all. Now this conception of the goodwill involves this very same confusion between relations and characters as is shown in the mere description of it as “will” because “willing” is a relation. What he points out is that certain things which are called good are only conditionally good because they can be abused, for example, health and wealth; and therefore he is looking for something which cannot possibly be abused as a basis for his ethics; and he finds it in “goodwill” which is simply the abstract conception of good usage itself or that whose nature it is to be well used, and which is thus just as empty as Mill's pleasure or that whose nature it is to be desired, and which, of course, shows the same confusion

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between character and relation.

Now the relative character of the notion comes out in this, that Kant has to show some relation between the goodwill and empirical human activities; but the abstract nature of the conception is such that he cannot show any real relation between the two, because any actual conditioning of empirical activities would have to be equally empirical. Now Kant's solution is expressed in the notion of commanding or of an imperative; the relation between the goodwill or the moral law and the sensuous acts of the self is that of commanding. But this cannot be commanding as we ordinarily understand it because that is an empirical or historical relation between one empirical thing and another. Accordingly Kant has to have some sort of sensuous good to balance his rational good and to suggest a connection between the goodwill and sensuous activity; and this is simply the satisfaction of inclination, and it is on this basis that the notion of happiness rests. And thus Kant's utilitarianism comes out both in his notion of happiness and in his notion of the goodwill which, as will, must be directed to some end even if Kant tries to avoid the difficulty by saying that the end it is directed upon is itself or its won goodness.

Lecture 4

Now in his opening chapter, Moore makes a definite distinction between good as means and intrinsic goodness or good in itself. Now the notion of good as a means is equivalent to the notion of being good for something or other in the sense of promoting or bringing about that thing, and if Moore wishes to refer specifically to that which promotes good, then he should simply refer to that which is a means to good and not use the expression “good as means” because the latter expression suggests a confusion with the general relation “good for” which could be applied whether the thing produced is itself good or not. Suppose a certain thing was evil and suppose a certain action brought that evil about, then we could say that the action was good for that evil in the sense of promoting it; but if we are to use the term “good” to convey not a relation but a quality, then it only leads to confusion if we also apply that term to the relation instead of using another term; and there are many quite unambiguous terms that we can use such as “productive of”.

Now the use of the expression “good as means” suggests that there is something peculiar about those things which are productive of good and it suggests that some sort of goodness which is not quite that of good things themselves adheres to those things which are productive of good; and this is again to introduce the notion that things are somehow characterised by the relations they have or, in particular that they participate in what they lead to, a view which also appears in Mill's theory of virtue when he says that what promotes the moral end or general happiness becomes a part of that end, and thus virtue comes to be valued in itself and not merely because it promotes happiness.

Now this is an absolute inconsistency on Mill's part because if virtue in any way becomes an end, then according to Mill's previous theory it is a state of happiness and therefore we are adding nothing to the previous theory in saying that this virtue must be included in the end; but if it or any part of it is included, it is included not in the least for what it leads to but entirely for what it is. On the other hand Mill has said nothing to show that what promotes the end in any way becomes part of the end.

There is no question, then, of distinguishing between intrinsic goodness and goodness as a means, but we can naturally distinguish between good things and things which lead to good things. And it may

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turn out that those things which regularly lead to goods are themselves good things; that if, for example, we were to take the spirit of investigation as a good thing, it would be found that what most regularly and effectively leads to the spread of that spirit is its prior existence in certain minds, that, for instance, an activity of investigation in one person communicates itself to another; but the good character of such conditions is quite distinct from the relation they have of “leading up to” or “promoting” other activities of the same class.

It is no doubt because of this fact, that is, of the relations among goods, that such notions of good as means tend to arise and are rendered plausible; but we cannot assume, prior to investigation, that that relation among goods does hold, that is, that one promotes another and we cannot in any event confuse that relation with the goodness of each of the things. Thus Moore ought to speak not of good as means but of means to good or, more exactly, of what things are productive of good, a question which is quite worth considering but the consideration of which must be subsequent to the determination of what things are good.

In the second place, the contrast between good as means and intrinsic good suggests that the intrinsic good or thing which is good in itself is taken to be good as an end, that is, that its goodness somehow consists either in the fact that people do pursue it or at least in its being a possible object of human pursuit, so that it might be said that they ought to pursue it or, by an ambiguous use of the term “good”, that it is good for them to pursue it, and this, of course, is just as relative a notion as the notion of good as means. Yet the use of the latter expression, the constant reference to the relation of means and end and the attempt to estimate human conduct in terms of its results, all these indicate the strength of the utilitarian strain in Moore's thinking, that is, of his treatment of good as in its own nature an end.

Now this, and all other relative views, are opposed to what is put forward as Moore's fundamental position and what distinguishes his ethics from all preceding systems, namely, the recognition of the objective character of moral judgments, that is, properly speaking, of the fact that ethics deals with certain actual situations or assertions that something or other is the case; and with this goes the recognition of goodness as an actual character of things. If we take up any relative theory of ethics, then we do not get positive judgments, we do not get the objective issue which Moore insists upon when he refers to the fact of contradiction in ethical judgments, that is, the fact of real disagreement.

Now so long as we use relative terms, we get apparent disagreements which are not real; for example, if one person says that this is great and another that it is small, then they are not contradicting one another because the thing can be both great and small, that is, it is greater than a number of things and smaller than a number of other things. Of course, it cannot be both greater and smaller than the same thing, but then if we define the object of reference we are dealing with an actual relation between two things, each having qualities of its own, and we are no longer using relative terms. Similarly the same thing could be good and not good in the sense of being pursued or not pursued, that is, it would be pursued by someone and not by someone else, and similarly it might be capable of being pursued by someone and incapable of being pursued by someone else. And if we get rid of the relative terms and determine who is the person referred to, or who are the persons, then we can get

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a solution of such difficulties but we have now no reason to say that we are judging the things ethically; that is, we cannot show that what certain persons pursue or could pursue is good unless we can show independently that the thing is good. And similarly even if there were things which are pursued or could be pursued by every being who is capable of pursuit, still we should not be entitled to use the term “goodness” in that connection and we should have no solution of the difficulty that the very thing which is called good by some people is called bad by others.

Explicitly, then, Moore seems to be opposed to relative theories of goodness and he presents some of the fundamental objections to relative theories; but implicitly he himself adopts a relative theory and this comes out in the contrast he draws between good as means and intrinsic good. And it also comes out in his theory of the indefinability of good and of its non-natural character. And here the position he takes up is very closely related to the Socratic doctrine of forms.

For Socrates natural objects are what they are in virtue of their participation in certain forms which are their real nature; and these forms in turn participate in the Good which is the real nature of things in general, and thus the realm of nature is of inferior or subordinate reality and is to be understood only relatively to those transcendental forms which are the true reality. Now, of course, this is another relative doctrine and is open to the same objections as can be brought against such doctrines in general and as Socrates himself brought against the doctrines of the Sophists. The fundamental objection is that if the true reality of the natural resides in what we may call the supernatural, then truly or in reality there is no such thing as the natural; only the forms, only what has real being, can be said to exist; and these forms depend upon the Good in the same way as things are said to depend upon them, we are forced in the end to say that only the Good exists. On the other hand the mere fact that we talk about a thing which is said to have a certain end or function shows that we recognise its existence and its possession of certain characters which are distinct from that function, and obviously we ought to say that the reality of a thing consists in the character which it really has and not in some ideal character which it may be supposed to be aiming at.

Now Moore's doctrine of the indefinability of good and of its non-natural character depends on his conceiving it as ultimate in the same way as Socrates conceived what he called the Good. (For Moore “the good” is definable; it can be defined in terms of “good”, but it is “good” which cannot be defined). It was because Moore treated “good” as ultimate that he regarded it as indefinable, that is, good is thought of as something above the level of any other thing and if it could be subordinated to any other thing, then it would not be truly good; and definition, in particular, is regarded by Moore as a subordination of that kind; that is, just like Socrates he believes in a hierarchy of characters and he believes that the business of science is to set out those notions which are primitive and then to build up results on that basis. And his objection to any attempted definition of good is that when we have defined good in a certain way we can still go on significantly to ask whether the thing whereby we define it is itself good; that is, suppose we say that: Good is X, then taking this as a supposed definition, we can still ask:

  ― 12 ―
Is X good?, and this is supposed to show that “good” must be a more ultimate conception than X; that it cannot in any way be reduced to X; that is, he adopts the rationalistic theory that definition consists in reduction and that science itself consists in the reductions of things to their simplest elements from which complex states of affairs have afterwards to be built up; and this is equivalent to the Pythagorean theory of ultimate units which was later developed by the later Pythagoreans and Socrates into the doctrine of forms. And the answer to the rationalists is that such units cannot be made the basis of a construction of a complex system and that in finding the real relations among things we are not in any way reducing or subordinating one to another.

Lecture 5


The two points that Moore most insists on in his introductory discussion are that good is indefinable and that good is not a natural object, and both of these views are connected with the Socratic theory of forms and functions; it is just because good is taken as an end and as a standard in the way in which Socrates takes the forms that these results are arrived at. Good cannot be defined in terms of anything else because it would then be possible to pursue good on account of those characteristics and that would mean that we had substituted some other good for what was given as good, that we had taken it as more ultimate; and the fact that that is held to be impossible shows that Moore understands good as the ultimate object of pursuit, that is, that for the sake of which other things can be pursued but which cannot be pursued for the sake of other things but only for its own sake. In other words, Moore is giving an implicit definition of good and a relative one at that in the act of declaring it indefinable.

Now exactly the same considerations apply to Moore's treatment of good as not being a natural object. In the opening chapter he refers to the identification of good with something other than good as a fallacy and he describes it particularly as the naturalistic fallacy because it commonly takes the form of identifying good, which is not a natural object, with something which is a natural object. But, he says, the fallacy would be the same, although it would not have that particular name, even if good were a natural object; it would still be fallacious to confuse it with some other natural object (p. 14). Now this position illustrates Moore's rationalism. We should admit, of course, that it is an error to identify good with something which is not good, but we should not call it a fallacy. But Moore regards it as a wrong method of thinking because for him knowledge consists in the discovery of what is elementary or primitive, and the various elementary objects are all distinct from one another. And this is in line with the Socratic or Pythagorean theory of units, that is, of the elementary units of being to which all things which are said to exist require to be reduced; so that the proper method of thinking is the distinguishing of units from one another and the identification of one with another represents a wrong method of thinking or a fallacy.

As opposed to this the empirical view is that we cannot

  ― 13 ―
reduce things to elements or units but that we are dealing all the time with complex things, with various characters and that these pass through one another and interest with one another and are expressible in terms of one another.

From this point of view definition does not mean identification but means the discovery of characters which are necessary and sufficient for the existence of a certain sort of thing, that enable us, so to speak, to identify anything of that sort. For Moore, on the other hand, we have the elements or elementary conceptions which are indefinable and quite distinct from one another, and what is definable for him, as for the Pythagoreans, is simply an aggregate or compound of a number of the elements. Thus in suggesting what would be a proper definition of the term “horse”, Moore refers to an enumeration of the animal's parts, so that what we get is not a complex but a mere aggregate or arrangement of elements. And the difficulty here, as with the Pythagoreans, is to show how such an aggregation is possible. If what is real about the thing is just the elements which go to make it up, then we should appear to be left with the elements alone and to have to deny that there was anything which could be defined as an arrangement of them, that is, for example, we can say that if this arrangement is not itself something elementary, then on this showing it is not ultimately real and so we have failed to define anything in terms of it. On the other hand, if the arrangement is elementary, then we should appear to have added only one more element to the number we have already and to be no nearer showing how they go together. (This is similar to Berkeley's criticism of Locke's theory of substance although the same objections can be brought against Berkeley's theory itself).

On this basis, then, we still do not have a definition of anything which is not elementary, and so we find that Moore's objection to identification is really an objection to the treatment of things as complex; and by means of the mere verbalism that we should be wrong to identify good by reference to what is not good, he arrives at the conclusion that we can identify good only by itself, that there can be no general marks of goodness, because on his view if there were these would be elements to which good could be reduced and thus good would not be an ultimate notion.

And it is just this theory that leads Moore to uphold the view that beauty is good, that is, that we have a good state of affairs if beauty exists at all, apart altogether from the attitudes of persons in relation to that beauty. In this way Moore finds an exception to the common assumption that all goods are human activities or in some way parts of human life. To admit that would be to admit that there is some general characteristic of goods and that good could be defined if we could discover what differentiates these human activities which are good from those which are not good. And so in order to be able to maintain that good is good and nothing else, Moore proposes to regard as good certain things which are not human activities and particularly beauty. And if we did define goods as those human activities which have the quality X, where X is not the same as good, we should be proceeding exactly as we do in defining any other term and there would be no possibility of describing our procedure as fallacious although it might actually be erroneous.

Now in dealing with the further question whether good is a natural object, Moore makes the distinction between natural and other objects in a rather indefinite way. He begins by contending that what he means is that ethics cannot be reduced to one of the natural

  ― 14 ―
sciences, including psychology under that term. For instance, if we take good as pleasure, then we are reducing ethics to psychology, and similarly if we take good as anything psychological at all. And other passages show that what Moore really means is that we should be making good something to which there is no incentive. If you say ‘this will produce pleasure’ or again ‘this is in accordance with evolution’ or ‘this conforms to the laws of nature’, then you are not giving any reason for doing this particular thing; but the assumption is, if you say ‘this promotes good’ then that is a reasonable ground for taking this particular action. You might, of course, be mistaken in supposing that there was this relation but any reason capable of determining the mind would always be a reason of that kind. Thus we could say: ‘this produces pleasure’, and then the question could be asked, ‘but is pleasure good?'; and if both the disputants were satisfied that the answer was in the affirmative, then discussion would be at an end and the action would be regarded as justified.

That is what Moore really means when he says that ethics cannot be identified with any natural science and that is what shows, in spite of the way in which he began his argument, that his conception of goodness is really relative; that he thinks of it not as a certain character of things but as that which is pursued for its own sake; in other words, he defines it, not as it is in itself, but in terms of our attitude to it; and he describes it as an indefinable meaning simply that it is an ultimate reason, that, as indicated, when we arrive at it argument is at an end.

He develops his view further by making a distinction between what is in time and what is not in time, a distinction which is further in accordance with the Socratic distinction between particulars and forms. But apart from the difficulty of showing that goodness is not in time, Moore's theory already breaks down on account of the relativist assumption that he has made. There is, of course, nothing to show that an object which is not in time, if there were any such object, could not be pursued for the sake of something else or that there was any reason for pursuing it for its own sake. But the reference to temporal and non-temporal reality is at least a corroboration of the view that Moore's theory, on this matter, is thoroughly Socratic and rationalistic.

Lecture 6

The notion of a distinction between ethics and natural science implies a conception of goodness which is really incompatible with Moore's treatment of it as a quality or character of things and which indeed suffers from the same defects as the Socratic doctrine of forms expounded in the Republic but with more detail in the Phaedo.

The difficulty, as we saw with regard to the Socratic theory, is that in speaking of the real nature of the thing as something outside or above the thing itself, an ideal which it is aiming at, we imply a distinction between the thing and its real nature, and to make that distinction we require to recognise some character of the thing not outside or above it but in it; and when we thus recognise both what a thing actually is and what it ideally is or what is its ideal, it is obviously impossible to say that the latter is the real nature of the thing while the former is not; in other words, if the thing really aims at or strives after some ideal, then the thing itself or the real thing is what aims and not what is aimed at. Now it might still be argued that, granting that this is so, things do have ideals and can be recognised as striving to attain them although we do not call the ideals the real nature of the things. But the point here is that if we are to recognise such a situation as a thing's striving after an ideal, then the two terms of that relation

  ― 15 ―
as well as the relation itself must all be on the same level of reality; that is, we must be able to recognise the striving as a fact just as we recognise the thing as actual; and in terms of an argument of this kind it may be said that in order that goodness should have any relation to natural things at all, it must also be natural since “natural” in this context merely means what is commonly called actual; that is, the natural sciences are those which deal with facts, and when an attempt is made to distinguish between fact and value the answer is that the value must likewise be a fact if we are to be able to study it at all.

Now Moore actually suggests that we could know a thing and know all about that thing as it existed without being aware of the goodness or badness of the thing; but this would really mean that the thing had not goodness or badness as one of its characters. It is possible to get a fairly coherent theory, though one which has logical defects, if we treat all the characters of a thing as ideals to which the thing conforms in a greater or less degree; but it is obviously incoherent to say that one of these characters is such an ideal while all the other characters are simply in the thing. The result of this method of procedure is that the application of the terms “good” and “bad” to things would be quite arbitrary as is indeed implied by Moore's theory of the intuition of ethical propositions, that is, that such propositions as that: “This is good” do not admit of discussion.

The difficulty of connecting different types of reality, if such are supposed to exist, is paralleled by the difficulty of connecting our ways of knowing such different realities. Now if what we know by intuition is: “X is good”, that whole proposition, and if we can know X and such propositions as: “X is yellow” by perception, then it appears that some of the objects of perception are the same as some of the objects of intuition, and in that case we are not able to maintain the distinction between them; we are not able to say that what intuition deals with perception cannot deal with. On the other hand, if intuition can know anything about X at all, it must be acquainted with X as a natural fact or natural existent and so its knowledge is not confined to the ethical and we may have a conflict between intuition and perception. But it would really be two perceptive processes which were in conflict in that case, so that if he wishes to maintain the distinction between intuition and perception, Moore is driven to the conclusion that all that intuition recognises is the notion “good” or the notion “bad”; and the mere fact that intuition has one of these notions at the same time that perception is directed upon an object X would give us no reason for asserting the proposition that X is good; and in addition this assertion could not be made either by intuition or perception but only by some faculty which included them both, which

  ― 16 ―
was therefore capable of dealing equally with the natural and the supposed non-natural.

Now Moore's distinction between the natural and the non-natural, as made in his second chapter on page 41, is based on whether a property can or cannot be conceived as existing by itself in time and not merely as a property of some natural object. Now Moore says that with the greater number of properties it is the case that they can be thought of independently of the objects and, as he says, they are rather parts of which the object is made up than mere predicates which attach to it; and he adds that if all these natural properties were taken away no object would be left because they give substance to the object. But he says it is not so with good; and this would appear to mean that if we take away the goodness of a thing we make no substantial alteration in the thing; and the only possible conclusion from that is that there is no real goodness of the thing but that the thing is in some way labelled good or, as Moore puts it, is a mere predicate.

Well, this is a quite untenable position and some of the objections to it are worked out in the Euthyphro in which Socrates criticises Euthythro's view that the pious or holy is what the gods love, that is, that the distinction between the pious and the non-pious depends not on anything in these things themselves but on something outside of them, in Euthythro's view, the attitude of the gods.

Now Moore, of course, as a realist argues very strongly that the moral judgment does not create its object, that although we can recognise goodness, goodness is independent of our recognition, but at the same time his theory of intuition does not provide a real alternative to the conception of good as subjective because it implies that good is not a subject of discussion and demonstration in the way in which the objects of observation are.

Now as regards the question of subjects and predicates, it may certainly be said that a predicate cannot exist without a subject although the same predicate may be found in different subjects. But the argument is the same whether the predicate be good or those properties which are admitted to be natural; that is, yellow does not exist except as a character of something and when we speak of it as existing by itself what we really mean is that it exists as a subject; but when we express this term as a subject, we have to speak of a “yellow thing”. We agree, then, that a yellow thing can exist by itself or has a substantial existence and if that were not so, we could not use the term “yellow” as a predicate. But in exactly the same way we can talk of a good thing and it is only because there are such things that we can use “good” as a predicate.

Now in speaking of a good thing as a subject and of good as a predicate, we are not really using two different terms but we are using the same term in two different ways, once as subject and again as predicate, the term “thing” being merely a sign that we are using the term as a subject; and more especially in the plural this sign is commonly omitted, that is, goods and good things are really the same in meaning just as men and human beings are the same, so that if we suggest that there is a difference between the ways in which the predicate is used in different propositions we are really introducing confusion into the most fundamental conceptions of logic.

Now if we say that a thing is in time but that its goodness is not in time, then we are implying that its goodness can never be brought about; the thing itself can be brought about but, according to this theory, the goodness of the thing is quite unaffected by that occurrence. If any goodness is unaffected by the occurrence of

  ― 17 ―
a thing and equally, of course, by its non-occurrence, then clearly it is not the goodness of that thing so that, strictly according to Moore's theory, good would be an eternal entity which had nothing to do with natural things at all and there would be no science of ethics distinct from the mere contemplation of the entity “good”.

Now when Moore speaks about things which are good as means he is referring to things which lead on to something good and if they led on to something only as a natural object and not to the goodness, then they could not be called good as means or means to good.

Now this part of Moore's theory really brings out further its resemblance to the Socratic theory because just as one natural thing, X, might lead up to or be a means to Y, so on the view that good is non-natural Y is not so much good itself as something that leads up to or points to good; on the other hand, just as this natural thing which points to goodness is said to be good or to partake of goodness, so the thing X which points to or leads to Y is considered indirectly to partake of goodness and thus is called good as a means. We see in Moore's terminology, then, that he does think of ethical propositions as propositions of a peculiar kind, as having, that is to say, a teleological meaning just as Socrates thought that all propositions had a teleological meaning and that material truths could only be arrangements of things for the best (cf. the Phaedo).

Summing up: if it is the case that a natural object can lead to good, and all moral theories would seem to imply it with the exception of the theory of Kant, then good must be recognised as something which can be brought about, that is, as a natural occurrence. The science of ethics, that is, cannot be regarded as an unhistorical science, and the alternative is that good should be regarded as a single eternal entity without actual relations to anything else.

Lecture 7

It may be said that Moore's reason for taking good as indefinable is simply his treatment of it as an ultimate end; that is to say, that if anything could be said about good in general, then good might be taken as a means to that end; that is, if we could say that: Good is universally X, then we might want good because it is X. But that would mean that we were taking X as our real good and not the thing we are calling good. In so far as his argument conforms to this condition, Moore is really identifying the term “good” with the term “end” and thus is taking up an attitude which comes at once very close to the teleological theory of Socrates and to the modern utilitarian theory of Mill.

Now the actual reason that Moore gives for not accepting any statement of the form: “Good is X” is that we can always go on significantly to ask: “Is X good?” Now, of course, that would be impossible if, when we said: “Good is X”, for instance, “pleasure”, we were trying to reduce good to X; if we were proposing thereafter to stop using the term “good” altogether and always to use instead the term X. Now if in that way the two

  ― 18 ―
terms were not really distinct, then the question: “Is X good?” would have no significance; but for exactly the same reason the statement: “Good is X” would have no significance. But if there were any fallacy or error in formulating a statement of the type: “Good is X”, then there would be error in formulating any general statement whatever. What appears to be meant is, or the form of the statement to be rejected is: “Good is to be reduced to X”, and the reason why that type of proposition cannot be accepted is that in order to be intelligible it must make a distinction, “one thing is reduced to another”, and at the same time deny that there is such a distinction by indentifying the two; so that: “Good is reduced to X” means or implies that: both the same as and different from “Good is X”.

Now, of course, there would be a fallacy or confusion at least in our understanding any statement in that way; but then no statement ought to be understood in that way. Propositions of the form: “Good is X” should not be understood in that way and definition should not be taken to imply any such conditions.

Definition, then, does not mean identification; if it did it certainly could not be stated in propositional form because the subject and predicate of a proposition are different. But while, for example, taking the conventional definition for the sake of argument, we say: “Man is a rational animal”, we do not mean that these are two different terms and we do not mean that we are going to give up using the term “man” altogether and hereafter always say “rational animal”, and we also do not mean that the question: “Are rational animals men?” is an insignificant one. On the contrary it is perfectly significant and must have an affirmative answer if “rational animal” is merely to be a correct definition of the term “man”.

Now in Moore's account on page 8 of the different possible meanings of definition, he does not give a meaning which allows of this statement in proposition or at least he confuses the issues by

  ― 19 ―
introducing a reference to the use of words; that is, he says that we may mean merely that when we use the word “horse”, for example, we are referring to a hoofed quadruped of the genus Equus. Now this could never possibly be a definition because if that is how any person uses that word, then he thinks that the thing he calls a horse really is a hoofed quadruped of the genus Equus. The only objection to that definition is that we are not informed what “belonging to” that genus really amounts to; that we should really need to substitute for “of the genus Equus” a statement of the qualities which such things have. But the fact remains that we do come to use such general terms as “horses” and “men” without having defined them; that is, we recognise “horse” and “man” as characteristics of certain individuals, and we later find out how to define these terms, that is, what further characteristics are necessary and sufficient for the character of being a man or horse as the case may be. But just as we used the terms before we defined them, so we continue using them after we have defined them, and, of course, it is impossible to define all our terms because that would involve an infinite process; but we must recognise in a general way the meaning of a term and the presence of the characteristic in question in a particular situation. Thus knowing the characteristics, “man”, “rational” and “animal” and knowing that they are all different from one another, we can find the terms “man” and “rational animal” to be coextensive meaning simply that: All men are rational animals and All rational animals are men; and if that is so we can take “rational animal” to be a definition of “man”. But that, as we have seen, does not mean that the one term is reduced to the other, but on the contrary it means that we recognise both these propositions as matters of fact.

Now from this point of view we should take all terms as being definable although we should recognise that it is not necessary to define a term in order to use it correctly; but Moore's view that they are sometimes indefinable really implies a doctrine of elements which are immediately or intuitively understood and from which what he would regard as complex things are built up.

Now this is in accordance with the third sense in which he says definition can be understood, which, he says, is the really important sense and which is not applicable to goods. We define a horse, he says, by seeing what parts it consists of and how they are put together, whereas he contends we cannot find what are the parts of goodness or how it is built up. Now the main defect of this view, as of all theories of simple units from the Pythagoreans onwards is that it is quite impossible to understand this building up in terms of the units themselves. If the building up is itself a unit, then we simply have added one to their number and we are no nearer getting a complex thing than we were before. On the other hand, if it is not a unit, it is also not derived from the units and therefore we either have something not derived from the units or we have no process of building up.

Putting the matter generally, then, if we have simple units we cannot make complex arrangements of them, in other words, the constituents of complex things are themselves complex (cf. Heraclitus, the earlier opponent of the Pythagoreans) and for the same reason the terms which are used to define a term are themselves definable.

Now actually definition has nothing to do with mere aggregation

  ― 20 ―
or the putting together of parts, although even that is impossible except as a relation among complex things. A complex is not a mere compound, and when we say: Man is a rational animal, we do not mean that man is made up of a bit of rationality and a bit of animality but we mean that each of these predicates apply to him as a whole; and likewise, of course, we do not mean that either the term “rational” or “animal” is a perfectly elementary notion but we mean that each is a feature of actual things and can be recognised and discussed.

Now if we define good in the same way we shall not be trying to break it up into elements but rather to indicate what characteristics are necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of goods and we shall not think it impossible, having got a defining term, to use it as subject with good as predicate. Suppose that we say: All goods are human activities, (Moore denies this because he thinks that there are no common predicates of good), then we can say: Some human activities are good, which shows that the term could be used as subject with the term “good” as predicate, and we should have the problem of discovering which these are. The process of definition which would then ensue would be nothing against our ability to use the term “good” in a general way, that is, to recognise goodness as a characteristic of things.

Thus the logic of Moore's position which implies that there are some terms which can only be predicates while others can be both subjects and predicates and which accordingly treats definition as the discovery of the pure elements or pure predicates of a thing, is defective because along those lines there would be nothing to define, no way of bringing the various predicates or elements together; and this view is supported by the fact that Moore's theory is not in accordance with our actual procedure in definition where it is always significant to predicate the defined term of the defining one, as when we predicate men of rational animals and say: Rational animals are men.

Lecture 8


Now in regard to the doctrine of intuition and of the valuing of good things for their own sake, we find a confusion in Moore between the valuations or estimations made by a particular person and those which are really true; that is, even allowing that goodness is an ultimate reason for praising or for seeking anything, it is still quite possible for an individual to know a thing which is actually good without being aware that it is good and to seek it or pursue it on account of some other character which he recognises it to

  ― 21 ―
possess. Now we can, if we realise that the thing is actually good, recognise that the man is seeking and even possibly bringing about goodness, and in that way we can give an ethical account of his action; but it is not in the least implied that he himself could give that account of his action and that he did not seek it without taking goodness into account at all; so that we are not entitled to take good as that for the sake of which certain things are pursued because, in the first place, we cannot take it so by reference to the qualities of things of which good is one and to the fact that some are recognisable while others are not and, secondly, if the very notion of seeking implies “regarding as good”, then good is not a quality in the same sense as other qualities: it cannot properly belong to the thing at all and the thing cannot be sought for that reason; that is, we cannot properly say we pursue a thing because it is the thing to be pursued. And thus Moore's theory of intuition really implies that good is quite a different sort of entity from the things to which we attribute it and, first, that it can have no real connection with those things and, secondly, that the intuition directed to goodness alone could not be connected with one perception rather than with another, just as if goodness is non-temporal it cannot be regarded as any more intimately associated with one event than with another. And, of course, as we already saw, the theory of good as non-temporal contradicts the doctrine of means to good because unless goodness occurs in the same way as the means occur, then we cannot say that the latter is a means to good; and, of course, if good were non-temporal it might equally be said that we could not at any particular time have even an intuition of it because this implies our entering into a temporal relation with it. But even if we at a particular time could know it, could have an intuition of good, the fact that we were perceiving certain natural events at the same time, would not make it possible or intelligible to say that those events were good or had any special connection with good.

The fact is that we formulate ethical propositions in exactly the same way as we formulate what are admitted to be descriptions of real events, and if there is nothing in the proposition “X is good” to show that goodness is attached any more or any less intimately to X than is the characteristic of “being yellow”, then there is certainly no other way beyond the proposition of expressing or indicating the difference.

And, of course, similar considerations apply to terms; that is, we use the socalled indefinable terms in exactly the same way as we use the admittedly definable terms, and we cannot regard any term as being always predicate and never subject; that is to say, we must admit that it is always possible to convert a proposition and significantly, even if not truly, to state a proposition having the previous predicate as subject and the previous subject as predicate; for example “All pleasures are good”; then the converse is “Some goods are pleasures”, and then: “All goods are pleasures”

  ― 22 ―
is also significant whether it is true or not, so that there is nothing whatever in the term “good” to show that it cannot be used as a subject and it is indefinable; and if an attempt is made to distinguish between the term “good” which may be a predicate and the term “goods” or “good things” which may be a subject, if it is said, in other words, that these different uses, namely, as subject and predicate, make the terms really different terms, then the answer is that this must apply equally to all propositions, so that the expression “human”, for example, would be one which could apply only as a predicate and was quite distinct from the term “human beings” which could appear as a subject, and in that case “human” would be simple and indefinable just like good; and so we should be back at a Socratic position according to which all predicates are forms or non-temporal entities and subjects, being temporal, do not have the reality of the forms but require in some way to be brought under them or point to them in order to be real even in a modified sense. But strictly on this view we could not find any connection at all between subjects and predicates, because in order to find such a connection we should have to give a description of each and thus take them both as subjects and we should be illogically distinguishing between characteristics which were really in the subjects and characteristics which they only pointed to; even in calling the subjects temporal, we should be assuming a non-temporal form of temporality which the subjects could tend towards but never attain and speaking generally we could establish no relation without showing that subjects and predicates are on the same level of reality and that whatever term can be the one can also be the other.

Now just as in speaking of a thing having a certain ideal or form that it approximates to we imply that it has in itself some recognisable character in virtue of which it can be said to point to that ideal rather than to any other but thereby fall into contradictions because it is this last mentioned character which is the real description of the thing, so in taking goodness as a non-temporal character to which certain temporal things somehow point, we have to recognise in them certain temporal characters in virtue of which we say that they point to the non-temporal but the recognition of which really conflicts with the distinction that we have made.

And similar difficulties appear in the doctrine of psycho-physical parallelism when we say that some mental event somehow corresponds to a bodily event, particularly a brain process. The point is that if there were two quite independent series, the physical and the mental, then we have no way at all of connecting a term in one series with a term in another and that to recognise any connection whatever is to recognise the two series as of the same order even if we only say that an event in one is at the same time as an event in the other, because that implies that we can have before our minds a whole situation which we can describe as a case of simultaneity, and therefore the constituents of that situation cannot belong to different series; or, in other words, if there is any connection between mind and body at all, then it is possible that what is mental should also be actually bodily. That will be a question of fact, but the parallelist view that any such relation is impossible is seen to be a mere prejudice which cannot be logically sustained.

Lecture 9

The main position that we arrived at was that Moore takes good to be indefinable because he really views good as essentially an end and thinks that if ethics is to be possible and similarly if ends are to be possible, there must be some ultimate end, something

  ― 23 ―
which can only be pursued for its own sake and thus, in spite of his theory of the indefinability of good, he is really defining good as ‘that which is pursued for its own sake’; and this being a relative definition or the definition of a thing in terms of its relations to other things and not in terms of its own characters is thereby shown to be illogical.

Now Moore's theory of the indefinability of good is further supported by his doctrine of pure or simple predicates, that is, predicates which cannot be subjects, and here again we see the affinity between his position and that of Socrates'; but we also see that it suffers from the same difficulties, difficulties which affect the original Pythagorean doctrine and equally any other form of rationalism, that is, any doctrine of simple entities out of which historical situations have to be constructed. If we consider those simples, logically we find that it is impossible not only to give any description of them and hence to distinguish one from another, but to find any relation between one and another.

This is the general type of criticism made by the Eleatics against the Pythagoreans, namely, that if we say that reality is made up of certain ultimate units, then any relation between such units, not being itself a unit, is not real; and similarly any difference between units, not being itself a unit, is likewise not real. And so the Eleatics arrived at the conclusion that there can be only one real entity which is, of course, the whole of reality; and although similar objections can be brought against this theory, particularly that this one, being quite indescribable, is undistinguishable from nothing at all, still the Eleatic criticism of the Pythagoreans remains perfectly sound, and what we have to argue is that we do not begin with units, elements or atoms but that at any stage we are dealing with complex interrelated things. Compare here James and Russell; this applies to Russell's logical atomism; such atoms could never be built up into a whole; James' criticism of the doctrine of pure units of knowledge or sensation as pure units, the doctrine as it appeared in Locke, Berkeley and Hume being called empiricism though it is really rationalism. As James points out, T. H. Green represents a point of view similar to the Eleatics and can therefore easily criticise sensational atomism in the interests of a theory of a totality of thought and of things; but as James also points out, there never were such things as atomic sensations and, as he puts it, relations are just as immediately given or otherwise as the things between which the relations hold; and this, he points out, is a truly empirical doctrine.

Now in the ethical case we find that Moore's theory of simple goods and his corresponding theory of a peculiar knowledge of goodness which he calls intuition break down because it is impossible, on that view, to show any connection between goodness and anything else; goodness would have to exist or subsist out of all relation to historical events and we should be unable to attribute it as a predicate to any historical subject and likewise to think of any historical thing as in any way advancing or promoting goodness; goodness, on the contrary, would exist eternally in a state of complete indifference to any happening in the historical sphere; and in the same way the object of intuition would be pure goodness and this would never be any sort of proposition, so that there could be no such thing as ethics.

Then, again, the weakness of Moore's position comes out in what he considers to be the nature of definition where such is possible; he sets aside definition as the mere statement of how a word

  ― 24 ―
is used and he considers it as the analysis of a complex into constituents. Now there is no objection to this so long as we regard these constituents as characters; but when we take them, as Moore does, as parts, then we get a complete falsification of what is meant by definition, and something in complete opposition to such definitions as we accept, for example, in geometry. For example, when we say that a triangle is ‘a three-sided rectilineal figure’, we do not mean that one part is three-sided; another, rectilineal; another, a figure, etc., but we mean that each of these descriptions applies to the triangle itself and in taking them together we have a sufficient basis for identifying a triangle; so that to define is to recognise the existence of necessary and sufficient conditions of a thing, and to treat a term as indefinable is to maintain that there are no conditions which are necessary and together sufficient for its existence. And although it is not necessary to have defined goodness in order to use the term, we certainly could not use it unless it had a settled significance or one at least that could be settled and unless this could be stated in a systematic way, that is, as a set of actual interrelations.

The question of organic unities at the end of Moore's first chapter, like the doctrine of good as means and the doctrine of intuition, brings in the subjective and economic considerations involved in estimation or valuation rather than the ethical consideration of the character of goodness as belonging to certain things; that is, the question is really whether one thing is to be preferred to another or not, and the attempt is made to distinguish the various degrees of our preference or to put our preference in a definite order; and that again is connected with the utilitarian outlook which Moore has derived from Mill and especially from Sidgwick.

What Moore says is that the value of a whole may be greater or may be less than the sum of the values of its parts; it need not be equal to the value of the sum of its parts, and from the point of view of values, Moore calls such a whole an organic whole. Now, of course, any whole has characteristics which are not found in all its parts so that there is nothing peculiar to ethics about this question; but the main difficulty of the view is to understand what is meant by the sum of the value of the parts. That implies that there is a certain price put upon each part and upon the whole and that we can add these figures together mathematically. But that does not appear to be goodness because the notion of a sum of goods or of a putting together of the good characters of various things would have no obvious meaning at all. And when we examine the question we find that what Moore means is that the value of a number of things, A, B, C, when put together to form a whole and of the things, A, B, C, when they are not put together, that those two values are not the same. Now there is nothing the least surprising about this; there is nothing peculiar to ethics and nothing warranting the term “organic”; all that we find is that a character belonging to one thing, namely, a combination of A, B, C, does not belong to another thing, namely, a situation in which A, B, C, are all present but are not combined. Now these two things or situations are obviously different and so it is only natural that one should have characteristics which the other has not; in fact it is bound to be the case.


  ― 25 ―

Lecture 10


Now in Chapter 2 Moore discusses particularly the theory of Herbert Spencer that goodness has something to do with evolution; that “better” means “more evolved” or “further along the line of natural development”; and thus in identifying the good with the evolved Spencer, according to Moore, commits the naturalistic fallacy. Then more generally we have the good conceived as the natural or the normal; it is quite common to defend a common line of action by saying that it is “natural”, and similarly to hold up the normal as something worthy of praise.

Then in the third chapter Moore deals with the hedonistic position, the identification of goodness with pleasure, a view which has been much more widely held than any other naturalistic view and which, therefore, Moore considers at much greater length, more especially as the main ethical influence on Moore himself has been that of Sidgwick.

Sidgwick developed Mill's utilitarianism into an intuitional utilitarianism; and as we have seen, there are, in Moore's theory, elements of both intuitionism and utilitarianism, that is, the treatment of good as something immediately recognised, on the one hand, and on the other, as an end or something pursued, although with Moore the emphasis is very different from what it is with Sidgwick.

Now if our criticism of Moore's argument has been sound, then there is no such thing as the naturalistic fallacy and so his criticism of these naturalistic moralists must be defective. It is defective in so far as he objects to any attempt being made to define good and thinks that any definition of good whatever is bound to be wrong. On the other hand, it seems clear that Moore has indicated a certain ambiguity or confusion in these theories; that is, that while identifying good with the natural or the evolved or the pleasant, etc., they also distinguish good from that thing, that they use it in a double sense of an actual character of things and a value attached to things or in some way imprinted upon them in a similar way to Moore's treatment of good and that of the generality of moralists—a use which is exhibited in the common question: What is the good of such and such a thing, what, in the end, is the thing worth?

Now for Moore to indicate this confusion in theories he opposes is not sufficient to establish his own position; we find that one or other of the conflicting lines of thought has to be dispensed with but it is the one which Moore has in common with these thinkers and not the one which he rejects. As we have already noted, his objection to defining good would formally apply to any definition whatever, and thus his real reason for rejecting any definition of good is not this formal one but is the acceptance of goodness as an ultimate end or as something absolutely obligatory, something which is absolutely demanded of men and in terms of which any other demand must be estimated. And Moore does not show or attempt to show that there is such a final obligation or that, if there were, it would be what we are referring to in our ordinary judgments of goodness.

Well, then, formally Moore's objection to the hedonists and other naturalists and his description of them as committing the naturalistic fallacy do not amount to a valid criticism; but it may

  ― 26 ―
nevertheless be true to say that these moralists fall into confusions, that the hedonists, for example, appear absolutely to identify goodness and pleasure, to maintain that the term “pleasure” should be substituted for the term “good” and that this could be done without any loss of meaning; that, in fact, the term requires to be explained for us and that the required explanation is given by the term “pleasure” and at the same time to maintain, to put forward as a significant ethical proposition, that ‘pleasure is good’. And as Moore points out, in terms of the former suggestion, the latter would mean merely that ‘pleasure is pleasant’, and yet these thinkers think they are giving information in putting forward what, on their principles, should be a mere identity. But this is due to that fundamental type of confusion which also appears in Moore himself, that is, to the combination of the conception of good as a quality and a relative conception of goodness as that which is pursued, commanded or whatever it may be.

We have seen that Moore describes good as a quality and yet that his description of it as non-natural and indefinable depends upon his regarding it in a relative way, namely, as an end.

Now an analysis of Mill's defence of utilitarianism shows that he does fall into confusions of this kind, not only about goodness but also about pleasure; and it is quite certain that we have such errors in evolutionary ethics as expounded by Spencer and others; that is, we do have arguments which practically amount to this, that what is further along the line of evolution must be better because being better simply means being further along the line of evolution, because evolution is our only criterion of advance; that is, they do say that goodness means being in the direction of progress, that the later stages of a thing are by nature or definition the higher and also that evolution is gradually making things better, that is, that it is a real progress from lower to higher. And Moore is quite correct in taking those two contentions together and saying that they simply amount to the view that evolution is making things more evolved. Of course, in such evolutionary ethics we find confusions about evolution itself and not merely about its relations to ethics; that is, people think about evolution as a total development of things, as a gradual unfolding of the content of the universe whereas evolution applies only to what takes place in some definite set of circumstances, in a certain field which is called the environment. There is nothing to hinder us in taking as wide an environment as we like although we may find it more difficult to come to some conclusions in such a case; but we are always concerned with a limited field and with the history of things of a certain kind within that field, and whatever it points to is the fact of variation, that is, the way in which members of a species which are reproduced differ from their progenitors and the way in which some variations are more suitable to the environment than others and thus may be preserved.

Now, of course, this is not something which is peculiar to biology but it is something which appears wherever we have similarities and differences among things, that is, everything. But in order to speak intelligibly of evolution whether among physical things or organisms or social activities, we have to define our problem, we have to say what environment we are considering, what species of things we are referring to within that environment and then we can go on to find which varieties are preserved and which eliminated, so that there is no question here of a general evolution in Spencer's phrase from homogeneity to heterogeneity because from homogeneity we could never get anything but homogeneity; and also it is just as much a matter of evolution that variations should be

  ― 27 ―
annulled as that they should be preserved. And again with some change in the environment it may happen that a character which was previously unfavourable is now favourable to preservation and vice versa. Now these conditions of the problem are totally neglected in the phrase “survival of the fittest” and the ethical significance which is attached to that phrase is quite unjustified.

Lecture 11

Now the real point about naturalistic ethics and the socalled naturalistic fallacy is not that an attempt is made to define goodness but that goodness is thought of in a relative way, and, of course, along with such relative conceptions we always find vague conceptions of a positive quality of goodness so that there is ambiguity and confusion; and that same ambiguity and confusion occur in Moore's own theory. The question is of what may be called the defence or justification of certain actions, the endeavour to show a reason for doing them and that involves relative conceptions. The good is thought of as the desirable or the advisable or the justifiable and this view is not clearly stated and its difficulties brought out.

Now as Moore points out, one of the commonest defences of certain lines of action or reasons advanced in their favour is that they are natural; and taking this to mean that there are necessary and sufficient conditions of these actions being done, we do not find in this description any possibility of distinguishing among actions; all actions being equally natural, if to be natural is to be good, then there are no bad actions. Of course, this is similar to the difficulty involved in the Socratic ethics where, from the identification of a thing's good with its true reality, it would follow that anything other than good is not truly real and so logically there is no such thing; that is, such solutions really deny the problem, but they also suffer from general confusion in that this nature which is identified with goodness is not clearly analysed.

It is obviously intended to distinguish some types of action from others as when it is said that a certain action is unnatural and it is supposed to convey some kind of merit in the thing which is described as natural, and yet the nature of that merit or of that distinction is not brought out and cannot be brought out. The difficulty lies in the general notion of the justification of an action or the determination of a reason for doing it since this only means that the action has conditions and consequences and since, as Moore points out, these conditions and consequences have still to be examined. We can regard this method of justification, then, as really being an evasion of the fundamental problem or a confusion of the notion of goodness with the notion of historical possibility or necessity. The point is that when we recognise certain features of actions or certain things connected with them we may be led in the direction of doing these actions; but only according to some relative conception of good would it be supposed that what leads us or anyone else to do certain actions is relevant to the ethical discussion of these actions. There is, of course, the further point that the objects we are concerned with in our actions are generally things outside ourselves altogether, and it is only when we are challenged or opposed that we endeavour to find a defence of a particular line of action. But even so, that defence need not be ethical at all but is in general concerned with the determination of relations of assistance and opposition between different tendencies or lines of action which, of course, may be good or may be bad but the goodness or badness of which is a quite different question from that of relations of support or that of opposition.

The notion of justification really leads to what Kant calls

  ― 28 ―
heteronomy, that is, allowing for the peculiarities of Kant's ethical theory, the determination of what is ethical on the basis of what is not ethical. It is assumed, in the ordinary arguments which constitute defence or justification of an action, that to call a thing good gives a reason for pursuing it; that is, we are supposed to possess motives or mental tendencies which aim at goodness, which recognise goodness as their object, and thus if we wish good to come about an appeal must be made to those motives. But those motives themselves, being what pursue as contrasted with what is pursued, would not be recognised as what is good, and so our ethical problem is that of bringing about goodness through the operation of what is not good.

Now this in itself is not logically impossible, nor does it exhibit heteronomy; but heteronomy enters when we attribute different kinds of goodness to that which pursues and that which is pursued, when we consider that the goodness of virtuous behaviour consists in pursuing good ends and similarly that the goodness of good ends consists in their being what virtuous behaviour promotes. It is quite impossible to get a coherent theory on a basis of that kind and Kant himself, though he attacks heteronomy, nevertheless defines the only thing which he calls the unequivocably good, namely, the good will, in a relative way, because, of course, the notion of the will is a relative notion, willing being a relation; and thus when Kant says that the only thing which is good without qualification is the good will, he is not giving anything which is good without qualification but is taking its goodness to consist in its attitude to something else, namely, willing the good.

Lecture 12

Moore takes hedonism as not logically different from naturalistic theories in general and as suffering equally from what he calls the naturalistic fallacy but as deserving separate treatment on account of its importance in the history of ethics and of the very general acceptance which theories of that type at least have always enjoyed. And, of course, we have to point out as before, that there is no logical difficulty, no fallacy, involved in saying that goodness and pleasure are the same thing but only error, if as a matter of fact they are not the same; that is, we should all agree that it is incorrect to identify good with something which is not identical with good, but that certainly does not settle the question whether pleasure is or is not identical with good. If pleasure and good are two different things, then the identification of them is a mistake, but we do not show that it is a mistake merely by pointing out that good must be something definite and pleasure must be something definite. Of course, the use of the two different terms suggests that we are concerned with two different sorts of thing, but it is quite possible that the two characters in question belong to exactly the same things; in other words, there is nothing inherently absurd in the propositions All goods are pleasant and All pleasant things are good.

Of course, in order that those two propositions should be significant at all we should have to be able to distinguish the two terms even while we are saying that they are always found together.

This argument is connected with the previous criticism of Moore's theory of definition according to which definition would consist in reducing a thing to its lowest terms or to its ultimate elements and would involve never using the term again once we had grasped the definition, or at best, only using it for the sake of brevity.

  ― 29 ―

And this is opposed to the theory that definition consists in the establishing of certain real relations among distinct things, which is the only theory according to which any settled significance can be attached to definition. On the other hand, as we have already seen, in a number of these theories, in fact in almost all if not all theories in the history of ethics, including Moore's own theory, good is identified with something and also distinguished from that thing, this being due to the relative way of treating good combined with the logical necessity, if there is to be any distinct theory of ethics, of recognising good as a positive quality of certain things.

Now this difficulty certainly appears in the hedonistic theories; we have both the assumption that “All pleasant things are good” is a significant and in fact true, proposition, that the predicate of that proposition adds something to the notion of the subject, and the assumption that it adds nothing, that good means pleasure and no more. But to point out this confusion in Mill's and other theories is not to give any reason for regarding good as indefinable or simple.

Considerable confusion is introduced into Moore's argument precisely by the assumption of simple characters which may be taken as the constituents of complex things, for example, in the distinction between propositions about the things and propositions about the characters, so that Moore finds it possible to say that pain is an evil and yet that many painful things are good; so that apparently “Pain is an evil” does not mean that “All painful things are evil”, but only that if anything consisted of pain and nothing else, then it would be an evil. But, of course, it is quite impossible to think of anything as consisting of pain and nothing else; when we think of a thing as existing in certain surroundings, having various relations to those surroundings and various characteristics of its own or, in general, as being a historical thing, complex and active. If we could analyse the thing into so many general qualities, then that would mean that those general qualities would have to be themselves things, because we cannot think of a thing as being made up of what are not things and then we should have the difficulty about the recurrence of such things in different places, so that this form of explanation would be quite incoherent; or, on the other hand, we should have to think of the thing as quite unhistorical since, being composed of just those qualities, it cannot undergo change, nothing can happen to it.

It is for such reasons that we have to regard actual historical things as infinitely complex and have to consider them, while they are of certain sorts, as continually going through changes and variations, losing some characters and acquiring others while preserving certain general characteristics throughout their history. And it may further be said, leaving aside any detailed treatment of the problem of universals, that in the same way we cannot think of characters except as characters of things; in other words, that we do not really have any logical division of objects into things and qualities,

  ― 30 ―
but that the least that we can have as an object is a proposition indicating that a certain thing, the subject, has a certain quality, namely, the predicate, but not being in any way reducible to these elements separately, or based on any aggregation of the non-proposition.

The important points to be noticed, then, in connection with the definition of good are that any term may be either the subject or the predicate, so that what, in the one case, is used as an indication or as determining a thing may, in the other, be used as a description or as determining a quality; and secondly, a term appears to be intelligible apart from a proposition in which it occurs only because it occurs in other propositions and also because its meaning can be exhibited in a proposition. For example, if we again for the sake of argument accepted “rational animal” as the definition of “men”, then what we mean by the term “men” will be the same as what we mean by the proposition “Some animals are rational”.

Of course, this is not to be taken to imply that we should stop using the term “men” and speak only of “rational animals”; it merely indicates how one constituent of a situation can be understood apart from that situation, namely, because the constituents of situations are themselves situations.

Now this being so we cannot think of complex actual things as being made up of so many simple entities, and so we cannot think of anything whose sole characteristic is pain or whose characteristics are innumerable because every characteristic has itself characteristics and so on indefinitely.

Summing up: if the distinction between the simple and the complex is rejected, if we say that all things are complex, then there will be no difficulty on that account in saying that a character of a part of a thing need not be the character of the whole of that thing, and then it would be quite possible that a part of a good thing should be bad, or that a part of a bad thing should be good; but it will not be possible to make a distinction between pain and pains and pleasures and pleasure, except in so far as we distinguish between a term used as subject and the same term used as predicate, and that is only a distinction of functions. To avoid the difficulties of the rationalistic theory of ultimates and simples, to avoid the difficulties of the Socratic theory of forms, we should think of goods as being actually in certain things, and similarly with pleasure and pain: and then the question whether the class of goods and whether the class of pleasures are identical will be seen to be a question of fact although one that can be settled only in so far as we do have some knowledge of goods and pleasures respectively.

Lecture 13. Criticism of Mill.

The main criticism of Mill is that he defines pleasure extrinsically, that is to say, in terms of the relation which something has to it and not of the character which it has itself, and the fact that we do mean by pleasure a definite sort of thing leads to confusion on this account. But it is impossible for Moore to make this objection entirely clear because he himself, while he desires to consider good intrinsically, also takes it as essentially an end or something to be pursued and thus gets into difficulties with regard to means and ends, for example, in his theory of good as means in regard to the determination of right conduct, namely, by the calculation

  ― 31 ―
of consequences and in regard to the notion of the Good or ultimate end. If we adhere consistently to a treatment of goodness as a specific character of certain things, then the notions of right and of the good or final end would never arise; we should simply recognise that there are certain good activities and that they have various marks and conditions. But the use of the conceptions of right and end and the good prevents such a positive theory from being clearly worked out.

Now Moore points out clearly enough that the theory that only pleasures are good is a perfectly possible ethical theory and one which would have to be considered in relation to the facts of the case if we are to determine whether it is true or false; that is to say, if we are to consider whether pleasures and only pleasures are good, we must examine various pleasures and see if they are good and examine various goods and see if they are pleasant. The matter, of course, is partly obscured by Moore's doctrine of intuition which can be defended only as meaning observation, meaning, that is, that we find certain things to be good, that we are confronted with situations in which goodness is present just as we might be confronted with any other situations. But it is not defensible as meaning that those propositions which we formulate in this way are incapable of proof or disproof. We certainly cannot have proof without premises, that is, without having admitted that certain things are the case; but any such premise, while it might be accepted for the sake of a given argument, may itself be made a subject of dispute, and it may then be proved. On the other hand it may be that what we previously had thought to be the case will be shown, on further consideration, not to be the case.

Now these are quite general considerations applying to proof and consequently if we required to have an intuition of goodness, we should require to have an intuition of any other character, and if these considerations were adequate to showing that good is indefinable they would similarly show that all terms are indefinable or all predicates at least; and thus Moore is not entitled to hold a theory of a special intuition in ethics, even if there were not further objections to the whole theory.

If intuition is taken in a way in which it can be contrasted with observation, we should have to say that we observe situations, but not their goodness, that goodness or badness is something added to, or extrinsic to, the situations, a mere label which we attach to one thing and not to another, just as in the theory that the good is that which is commanded, so that we cannot distinguish goods from bads by means of their own character. Now this position would mean that we were not entitled to apply these ethical predicates to the situation at all, that is, it would not merely be that ethics was arbitrary and a matter of guesswork, but that there could be no such science.

This same illogicality appears in the common distinction between judgments of fact and judgments of value, values being thought of as something over and above the facts, something which may not be known even if the facts are fully known and something which really does not belong to the facts; in short the theory of the moral judgment or moral intuition really brings us back to a subjective ethics, an ethics of approval or preference such as Moore set out to criticise. Unless goodness is really involved in some situations, unless, that is, it is a matter of observable fact, just as they are, we cannot work out an objective ethics; it would be impossible for us not merely to know whether a thing was good or bad in itself, but even

  ― 32 ―
to know what was meant by saying so. Thus while Moore rightly argues that the ethics of Mill is a subjective or relativist one, precisely on account of these subjective prepossessions of his own he fails to make his criticisms clear enough.

The point is that, according to Mill, desiring a thing and finding it pleasant are identical, and so are our desiring a thing and finding it good, so that goodness is defined in terms of our attitudes and yet it is not the attitude itself which is said to be good but the thing to which the attitude is taken up; and this, as Moore points out, implies that all sorts of opposed things are good, that certain things are good to one person and not to another, at one time and not at another, and so on through all the difficulties in which sophistry is involved. And the ethics thus formulated only appears to be a definite one because, in spite of Mill's relative definition, pleasure really is a definite thing, that is to say, there are certain definite occurrences which are called pleasures on account of their own character and not on account of any attitude that we take up towards them; and criticism along these lines of the view that “Good is what is desired” is equally applicable to the view that “Good is what is desirable”, because in the latter case also there is still an extrinsic reference to beings who have desires. And thus, even if Moore is correct in pointing out that Mill confuses desire with desirable, this does not really affect the logical criticism of Mill's position which remains the same in either case. And the same type of criticism is applicable to the view implicitly held by Moore that “Good is what can only be desired for its own sake and never for the sake of something else”.

In order, therefore, to have a clear criticism of hedonism we must point out that the confusion rests in giving a relative definition alike to pleasure and to goodness; that is, goodness is thought of as something actually pursued or requiring to be pursued, and similarly pleasure is thought of as that which we want, the object of our desire; that is, there is a confusion between desiring something of a special kind, something which has the quality of pleasantness, and being pleased with something, that is, having our pleasure in pursuing it; that is, we talk about what we are pleased to do in the sense simply of what we decide to do, and this does not mean either that we enjoy any pleasure in so deciding or that we decide to get pleasure; but it is only through confusions of this kind that it could be supposed that pleasure and nothing but pleasure is what we want.

Moore, of course, points out that we most commonly endeavour to bring about situations which are neither states of ourselves nor of anyone else, and which therefore cannot be pleasures. Now if Mill were correct in assuming that we desire nothing but pleasure and if he were further correct in assuming that what is good can only be found among what is desired, then he might quite justly say that if pleasure is desired, it is desirable in the sense in which that expression is used by moralists, because he could quite correctly argue that it is absurd to say that something ought to be desired if as a

  ― 33 ―
matter of fact it cannot be desired. Thus “If to be good is to be desirable”, and “If to be desired is to be pleasant”, it will follow that “All goods are pleasures”, whether or not “All pleasures are good”.

But, of course, in this theory pleasure has been taken quite abstractly; what we are supposed to desire is not a pleasant thing but pleasure itself, because while there is a reference to the specific thing, pleasure, the term is used principally in the theory to mean just whatever is desired. Thus since it is a question of pure pleasure or what is just pleasure and nothing else, there can be no distinction between one pleasure and another, and so besides this being the case that “All goods are pleasures”, it will equally be the case that “All pleasures are good”.

And apart from the other difficulties of this theory, we find that Mill falls into inconsistency in distinguishing kinds of pleasure. He is also confused, of course, as to the nature of goodness; that is, he confuses a relative with a positive use of the term, just as Spencer did, and so, although we cannot describe the theory as committing the naturalistic fallacy, we can see that Moore has indicated to a certain degree where its weakness lies.

Lecture 14


The discussion of Mill's utilitarian argument.

We find that Moore makes a particular point of Mill's statement that questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof, and, as Mill goes on: “whatever can be proved to be good must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof”, and Moore says: “With this I perfectly agree; indeed the chief object of my first chapter was to show that this is so”; anything which is good as an end must be admitted to be good without proof. Well, this is another illustration of Moore's relative conception of goodness as that which is an ultimate end or that which is an end without being a means; and, of course, not only is it not shown that there is such an ultimate end, but we are not entitled to take goodness in that sense; we do not have on that basis a really objective ethics. Moreover, to show that something is a means to what is good is not in the least a proof that that thing itself is

  ― 34 ―
good; and again the fact that a thing is admitted to be good is nothing against that fact being also capable of proof, so that we find that Moore's ethics is dominated by the conception of an ultimate end which is not arrived at by any examination of the material of ethics and which, from its inherent confusion, cannot possibly be the foundation of a science.

Moore reports Mill of also saying that questions about ends are questions about what is desirable, but while he accepts this statement he objects to Mill's later confusion between the desired and the desirable. But here Moore's own position is confused because questions about ends are questions about what is desired or willed or in some way aimed at, and it is a mere assumption that in what is desired or aimed at there is to be found some final or ultimate object of striving and that this, as meaning that for the sake of which other things are desired but which is not desired for the sake of other things, is entitled to be called desirable in some sense which transcends the mere fact of desiring. It is on the basis of this supposed distinction that Moore criticises Mill's proof of utilitarianism.

As Mill puts it: “The only proof capable of being given that a thing is visible is that people actually see it; the only proof that a sound is audible is that people hear it, and so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner I apprehend the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable is that people do actually desire it.” Now Moore criticises this by saying that “desirable” does not mean “able to be desired” as “visible” means “able to be seen”. “The desirable”, he says, means simply “what ought to be desired” or “deserves to be desired”; and when we understand, he says, that “desirable” means “what it is good to desire” it is no longer plausible to say that our only test of that is what is actually desired.

Now although there may be confusion in Mill's argument, this particular part of it may quite well be accepted even if we understand the “desirable” to be “what it is good to desire”, because Mill says “if the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not in theory and in practice acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so”; that is, Mill's argument may be in line with the Kantian theory that “ought” implies “can”, that is, that, although desirability may involve more than capacity for being desired, it at least involves that; and we are not entitled to say that anything is an ultimate end unless it is actually wanted. It is necessary for Moore to show, if he wishes to maintain that there is something which is an ultimate end, that he is talking about a definite thing which is or can be actually chosen by someone. No doubt both theories are relative ones; we cannot properly define good either as “what is desired” or as “what ought to be desired”, and the whole conception of the ultimate end is forced upon the facts and not based upon them; but at least Mill is right in saying that, if there is such a thing, we must be able in some way to exhibit it, to show it, that is, as actual and as having definite characters.

Moore's theory of the indefinability of good, on the other hand, leaves it possible for him to assume the existence of such an end while saying nothing about it, although he also developed a theory of the ideal or the good which is distinct from good itself. But this is only a confusion arising from the necessity of introducing some concreteness into the theory. It is not, then, sufficient, in order to show that something is an ultimate end, to show that

  ― 35 ―
people do desire it, but that is certainly necessary, as Mill says, in order to show that it is an end. What is also required for Mill's theory is to show not only that the object in question is desired but that people, if they had it, would not desire anything else or, alternatively, when they want it, want it alone; and, of course, the only kind of proof we can have that this is so is that the people say it is so. But, of course, even this would not be sufficient proof of the view that there is an ultimate end of this sort, that is, that there is something which would completely satisfy us. Actually, as Aristotle points out, anything that could be described even roughly as happiness must be an activity, that is, it must be something on which we continue to make demands and do not simply rest in a state of satisfaction. But this fact, the fact that there is no completion or finality is an argument against the use of the notions of the ultimate end or of happiness which presuppose that finality is possible.

The additional proof, then, which would be required on Mill's theory, the proof of finality or ultimateness, is not forthcoming. All that we can prove is that certain objects are desired, but this implies the rejection of Moore's position as well as Mill's. Mill's further argument, of course, shows additional confusions and he does not show that there is any such object of desire or any such conceivable state of affairs as the general happiness. His argument is: no reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being the fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of but all which it is possible to require that happiness is a good; that each person's happiness is a good to that person and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons; happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of conduct and consequently one of the criteria of morality.

Now, in the first place, according to Mill's own showing he had not proved that the general happiness is desirable because he has not proved that anyone actually desires it. Each person, he says, desires his own happiness, but the possibility of taking all such happinesses together to form one general happiness is not even demonstrated, let alone the fact that if this could be done, anyone would take this general happiness as an end. But Mill, of course, does not even say that anyone does so; he says that the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons which implies on his view that it is desired by the aggregate of all persons; but since the aggregate of all persons is not a person and has not desires this cannot be the case.

As regards each person desiring his own happiness, all that this could really be taken to mean is that each person desires what he desires, that is, what he is pleased to pursue and what in this sense is called his pleasure. But Mill certainly quite fails to show that any person desires complete satisfaction or that even if a person had a vague notion of such a state he could work it out as a concrete historical occurrence. As Moore points out we desire various specific things and not any abstract pleasure, and equally it may be said not any ultimate satisfaction.

Lecture 16

note note

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Moore goes on to discuss the theory of Sidgwick. Sidgwick maintains that the only good things are pleasurable states of consciousness and that this position is discovered by direct intuition, and there is no question of proving it. Of course, as far as that goes, he is not differing fundamentally from Mill who said that questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to proof, although he differs to this extent that he discusses directly whether certain things are good or not without raising the question whether they are ends. Good, then, is treated as a quality, and so far we have an advance on Mill's treatment of it in a relative way.

Now Moore questions whether goodness is confined to pleasurable states of consciousness; he criticises the view of Sidgwick that “no one would consider it rational to aim at the production of beauty in external nature apart from any possible contemplation of it by human beings”; and in this use of the term “rational”, it should be noted, we have another expression of relativism in ethics; the good is treated as what it is reasonable to aim at, but what exactly can be meant by reasonable in this connection is not clear. It would appear that, as in the theory of Socrates, rational action, as far as it can be made specific at all, turns out to be just those types of action which the author of the theory would support.

Moore, however, questions the theory from a different point of view. He says that he would consider it rational to aim at the production of beauty apart from any possible contemplation of it by human beings. It might be objected, of course, that in aiming at it we are already in a manner contemplating it, but this is not the main objection to Moore's view which, of course, is based upon his determination not to admit any definition of good and therefore not to admit that goods have anything in common except, of course, their goodness conceived in an abstract way.

Now if he admitted that all goods were human activities, then he would have to admit that there was some way of distinguishing them from other human activities; but in that case he would have to give up treating good as a simple quality and he would have to come out openly in support of the treatment of good relatively or as an end, and then it would appear that he was not, as he proposed to do, upholding an objective ethics. The treatment of good, then, as indefinable or simple is the result of a compromise of this kind, and it has to be supported by rejecting the ordinary view that goods, whatever else they are, fall within the field of human activities.

Moore considers the case of the most beautiful world that it is possible to conceive and then, as contrasted with that, the ugliest world that can be imagined, and he says that we are to think that no human being can ever possibly be found in these worlds and then we are to ask, even so, is it not better that the beautiful world should exist than the ugly world should exist, and Moore says that it is.

But here the term “better” appears to be used in regard to the matter of choice, that is, the question is whether we would prefer to produce a beautiful thing or to produce an ugly thing, apart from the question of who was going to contemplate either; but to answer that we should prefer to produce a beautiful thing, that is, that we have a desire to produce beauty, is not to say that we regard beauty as better than ugliness, unless good and better are defined in terms of our desires or ends, just in the same way the fact that we would rather believe a true than a false proposition does not show that we regard truth as better than falsity in any ethical sense; and again the fact that we might rather produce some

  ― 37 ―
structure that would hold together than one that would break to pieces in a very short time may show the kind of ends we pursue, but it does not in the least show what we regard as good.

While that distinction is made, then, we may find that we can say that one thing has beauty while another has not and that we would rather produce beauty than what was not beautiful, but that only by confusion would this be brought into connection with the subject of ethics. It may incidentally be said that Moore's comparison of the worlds is adsurd; that we cannot talk about a world full of beauty on the one hand and a world full of ugliness on the other since, even assuming that we could think of a world as a whole at all, any state of affairs that we can possibly conceive will have innumerable aspects and characters, and that in the socalled beautiful world there would be much that is ugly and in the other world much that is beautiful. The position, then, would be adequately expressed by making it a contrast between the production of a beautiful object and an ugly; and, of course, when we do think of producing beauty or producing something which is not beautiful, we are commonly concerned with things which other persons will contemplate, and hence it is an easy confusion to fall into the consider that the beautiful thing we produce is itself good, if it is admitted in the first place that the production of beauty is itself good, and in the second place that appreciation of beauty is itself good as, of course, Moore says it is in the last chapter; that is to say, we are discussing an action which is itself good which has a certain end or brings something about and the end of which, when brought about, will or may promote further goods; and so unless we have analysed the situation very closely and distinguished clearly the action from its results and one set of results from another, we might easily find ourselves saying that the beautiful object was itself good. And in view of the vagueness with which ethical distinctions are ordinarily made it is not surprising to find even Moore falling into this confusion, which merely illustrates his fundamental confusion of treating good as an end.

Now if we admit that goods communicate themselves and assist one another, then I think that it must be said that we cannot find the same self-sustaining power in beauty as we find in aesthetic appreciation and artistic production. Beauty itself is a comparatively transient thing; it is through appreciation and, of course, through art as well that any continuance, any tradition, of beauty is obtained, so that if the view of the nature of goods which is involved in the treatment of them as communicating can be sustained, then it would seem necessary to reject the treatment of beauty as a good, although we recognise that it has a close connection with certain goods, a fact which helps to make the confusion possible.

But although we may agree with Sidgwick on this point, it is another matter when he speaks of the value of human activities as being determined by pleasure, when he says, for example, that “although several cultivated persons do habitually judge that knowledge, art and the like, not to speak of virtue, are ends (goods) independently of the pleasure derived from them, we may urge not only that all these elements of ideal good are productive of pleasure in various ways, but also that they seem to obtain the commendation of commonsense properly speaking in proportion to the degree of this productiveness”. Now here Sidgwick seems to be using the term “pleasurable” in the same confused way as Mill does; but the productiveness of pleasure, when attributed to these activities, merely

  ― 38 ―
means our willingness to go on with them, a fact which may have some relation to their goodness but does not justify the selection of pleasure as a specific thing to be called good and the only good.

Then, as to the question of virtue, we noticed that Mill regarded virtue, which in the first instance means the habit or habits of promoting good, as good in itself in so far as it entered into the end of our pursuit, a position which is possible so long as pleasure is regarded in the vague manner in which Mill does regard it, since in that way anything at all which is specifically pursued becomes included under the general title of the pursuable or the pleasant. But in that case also we cannot speak of virtue as distinct from vice since any action at all that has an end is virtuous, so that in introducing virtue in the way he does, Mill is really confusing different types of ethical theory and trying to combine a moralistic with a hedonistic outlook; and we can regard Sidgwick as more consistent in so far as he says that virtue, as that type of activity which in general leads to pleasurable results, can be carried too far in certain special cases—when it does not lead to pleasure—and that the value of pleasure would override the value of virtue. But in fact the notion of virtue only has meaning within a moralistic scheme of ethics, that is, as meaning the type of activity which requires to be supported or encouraged, which one is advised or commanded to follow; and when we adopt the theory of certain activities as being good in themselves, then the notion of virtue or rectitude will no longer have any application.

In further discussing the meaning of pleasure, Moore refers to the Philebus, the main point of the reference being that we cannot think of anything as being pleasant and nothing else and must accordingly recognise that something else besides pleasure is required for goodness. Now the argument is good enough against the view that a thing could be just pleasant and thus against the general relativist confusion that Mill falls into. But if we treat pleasures as concrete occurrences and if we have any reason for calling them good, then it does not in the least affect the question to say that pleasures have a number of other qualities as well, that there are variations among pleasures and concomitants of pleasure; it might still be the case that pleasure and pleasure alone is good because to say that something is necessary or required for goodness is not to say that it itself is good.

Lecture 17


There is one other point: we have the general notion in hedonistic and utilitarian theories of selfinterest; and here, in spite of certain confusions in his theory the work of Butler is important, when he refers to the disinterestedness of what he calls particular passions; and it is really on the basis of that theory of Butler's that Moore is working when he says that we pursue other objects of pleasure and pursue certain things irrespective of any pleasantness they might have or pleasure they might bring us. The point that hedonists make is that there is a certain satisfaction in their accomplishment of desire, that is, when we have brought about all that we wanted to bring about; and so it is suggested that we want to bring something about for the sake of the satisfaction that it will bring us. But, properly speaking, the satisfaction of desire is simply the cessation of desire; that is to say, we want an

  ― 39 ―
object and we continue wanting it until we have brought it about or, in some cases, until we think we have brought it about; but in either case the desire ceases at a certain point, and that means that a certain mental tension that existed is relaxed. But, of course, this does not imply that it is not immediately followed by or even accompanied by certain other tensions which continue until something happens, for example, when they achieve their object, as we call it, whereby the tension is relaxed, and there is nothing in this theory to show that there is such a thing as complete satisfaction, that is, a total relaxation consequent upon the attaining of a total object. On the contrary, the existence of some sort of tension, and thus of some sort of seeking, is a condition of existence; and the existence of such tensions as are in question when we speak about a person pursuing an object is a condition of being awake.

Now when we achieve an object, we may be aware not only of that object having come about but of our success in bringing it about; we may be aware of the relaxation of a particular tension or effort. But, in the first place, we need not be aware of it and, in the second place, it is not aware of itself so that we cannot say that that particular motive pursued an object for the sake of relaxation or satisfaction, but only until it was satisfied or ceased to be in a state of tension; and finally we are not entitled to call this condition of relaxation by the specific name of “pleasure”.

Now it is just on such confusions that the theory of self-interest is based, the notion of pursuing one's own good of which Moore has shown the unsoundness; and it is just against that type of theory that Butler is arguing when he speaks about particular passions being disinterested. The point is that we have tendencies to bring about certain types of situations and Butler maintains that unless we had such tendencies, that is, unless we aimed at certain external situations independently of their effects upon us or upon anything else, we could never find out what brought us pleasure and what brought us displeasure; we could never learn how to act “in our own interest” as it is called. And just as trying to bring about certain results is entitled to be called disinterested, even although we want these results, so what is ordinarily called disinterested action, for example, what is called benevolence or altruistic action, is just as much interested as any other type of action; that is, it is disinterested in the sense that we are bringing about some situation outside ourselves, but it is interested in the sense that we want to bring about that situation and that we are said to be satisfied when we have brought it about. And, of course, just as external events in general that we have brought about may have effects on us which can be called pleasurable and which we can, though we need not, take into account, so actions in relation to other people may bring about states of affairs that give us pleasure, and in that sense they may be as interested as any other actions.

We find, then, that there is the same sort of confusion in the ordinary type of altruistic theory as in the ordinary type of egoistic theory and, of course, certain additional confusions, the assumption, that is, that there is a definite object which may be called the pleasure or interest of a particular person, an assumption which is due to the kind of confusion that we see in Mill's theory, and that we can act so as to serve our own interest or so as to serve the interest of others. The notion of interest has itself an egoistic foundation, but for that very reason there is an additional

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confusion when we come to altruism which implies that this interest, having an egoistic meaning can be extended so as to acquire an altruistic meaning; that is to say, it is implied that we can somehow minister to the ego of someone else, and also it is assumed, without reason, that there is something better about doing that than about ministering to our own ego. So strong is this assumption in the work of Butler's predecessors, particularly Hutchinson, that Butler has actually to make the declaration that benevolence is not the whole of virtue.

Egoists again, wishing to maintain some kind of altruistic theory, to recognise benevolence but keep it consistent with their own view, speak about enlightened self-interest whereby we find it to be to our own advantage to serve other people's interests to a certain extent, a view which corresponds exactly to the view put forward by Glaucon at the beginning of the second book of the Republic.

These theories, then, fail because of the fundamental confusions in the notion of the nature of interest, the confusion between ourselves wanting something and the thing wanted considered as a state of ourselves. Of course, the bringing of our objects or objectives within ourselves on the moral side goes along with the general treatment of objects of knowledge as within ourselves in the form of socalled ideas.

Butler himself falls into similar confusions in his theory of benevolence and self-love. He recognises, of course, that we act in such a way as to affect other people and in such a way as to affect ourselves or, as his predecessor, Shaftesbury put it, that we have affections towards affections, whether our own or other people's. But Butler assumes without warrant that these affections are directed to something which he calls the “good” of other persons or our own “good” as the case may be; that is, instead of recognising simply that there are tendencies in the human mind to bring about certain mental situations in the same mind or in other minds and describing these as disinterested in the same way as we call the particular passions in general disinterested, Butler formulates a special theory of self-love, which has as its object our own good, and of benevolence, which has as its object other people's good, and so he recreates the notion of interest which he had previously criticised; and he goes so far as to say that if there could be a conflict between self-love and conscience, which is the faculty of determining good in general or rather the rightness of particular acts, conscience would have to yield, and he thinks it important to contend that there never can be any real conflict, that virtue will always be in our ultimate interest.

And this really implies a kind of moral dualism which appears again in Kant when he combines a theory of happiness with the theory of the goodwill. Butler, of course, maintains that there cannot be a conflict because self-love is a calculating faculty; that is, it has to consider the consequences of things and therefore it can never give us more than probability whereas conscience gives an immediate judgment which has absolute certainty.

Now apart from any difficulties as to the notion of probability and apart from the fact that, if we cannot reasonably be certain about what is called our own interest, we often are actually certain about it just as much as about what is supposed to be virtuous, there is the fundamental objection that we cannot even conceive an opposition between conscience and self-love unless they deal with the same kinds of objects; that is to say, if self-love pursues something because it is supposed to give us pleasure and if conscience

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commands something because it is virtuous, they cannot really conflict; there cannot be a difference of opinion as to what is the better course unless either self-love is capable of taking considerations of virtue into account or conscience is capable of taking account of the calculation of pleasure, and in either case that means that there is no such distinction of the faculties as Butler has attempted to draw; other wise self-love would say ‘this is pleasant’ and conscience might say ‘this is not right’, but that would not affect self-love to the slightest degree because self-love is not concerned with right and wrong but only with pleasure.

Lecture 18

General considerations regarding the last three chapters of Moore's book.

Now on the question of metaphysical ethics, the subject of the fourth chapter, one of the main points in Moore's argument is that, although in such ethical systems good is not to be identified with any natural object, still the identification of it with some sort of object involves a fallacy of the very same type as that which appears in naturalistic ethics and which is therefore entitled to be called “naturalistic fallacy”.

Moore is concerned here to refute the view that to be good is to be real or is to have some special relation to reality and particularly to some supersensible reality.

Now if we consider metaphysics to be, as Moore says it is, the theory of objects of knowledge which are not sensible objects or, as he puts it, “which do not exist in time as objects of perception”, then it would appear that good itself, according to Moore's view, is a metaphysical object. And Moore admits this, but he considers that metaphysicians generally have made the mistake of supposing that objects of metaphysical knowledge constitute a supersensible reality, while metaphysical moralists have made the further mistake of considering that the answer to the question “What is good?” depends upon the answer to the question “What is the nature of supersensible reality?”

Now we find a confusion in Moore's own view in so far as he professes to hold that there are certain objects of supersensible knowledge and yet that there is no such thing as supersensible reality. He considers it a mistake to say that the supersensible, while it does not exist in time, has an existence out of time, and apparently he holds that it does not exist at all. And if, as he appears to do, he identifies supersensible reality with existing in a supersensible way or existing out of time, then he would seem to be committed to the view that all metaphysical objects, including good, are unreal. To say that something can be an object without being real is to attribute to it a purely relative existence, and in any case, if we do have it as an object, that means that we think of it as existing, whether it actually does so or not. Thus Moore cannot give any consistent account of the status of metaphysical objects and he has said nothing to show that anything can be thought of except as existing.

He repeats the statement that, while the things that can be good or the qualities which are good do exist in time, their goodness does not. But, as we have seen, there is no logical way of distinguishing between goodness and other qualities so as to show

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that they are temporal and it is not, and if goodness is not temporal, then, as we have seen, the only possible conclusion is that it does not belong to temporal things. But at the same time it is possible to uphold the view that metaphysics consists in the recognition of supersensible entities and that such metaphysical views have constantly affected moral theories.

These supersensible objects are thought of as being of a higher nature than ordinary things or as of having a truer reality than they have, as appears most clearly in the theory of Socrates, for example. And the position is that the whole outlook of such thinkers is ethical or, more exactly, that they confuse all other inquiry with ethical inquiry; that is, the position is not that, having arrived at correct ethical theories, these thinkers apply them wrongly to non-ethical subjects, but rather that their confusion between ethical and non-ethical questions leads them into error both in ethics and in other subjects, so that, while Socrates identifies all science with ethical science, he at the same time takes a false view of ethics as concerned with the functions or ends of things. And, of course, in the theory of Socrates supersensible reality culminates in the form of the Good, so that what is real and what is good are, in the end, the same thing.

But though Moore professes not to take this view we have seen that he really treats his supersensible good as an ultimate end, as a superior reality, presiding over existing things, and that he cannot logically distinguish his position from that of Socrates. His treatment of good depends on an implicit assumption that we can dispose of a question of fact and then go on to find the value of that fact as something over and above the fact itself, and this means that values constitute a superior reality and that in the end they have to be thought of as parts of value in general, just as in the Socratic theory of the subordination of other forms to the good.

Now while we can recognise this defect of Moore's theory, it is important that he should have pointed to the confusion between the questions “What is real?” and “What is good?”, this being very similar to the confusion between “What is natural, or normal?” and “What is good?”; and in general with the search for standards. And it is on the basis of a theory of this kind that we have discussion of what is called ‘the problem of evil’, that is, the problem of how evil can be real. Of course, if to be real is the same as to be good, then evil cannot be real, and to say that evil is not ultimately real is merely to attempt to uphold the identification of goodness and reality while admitting the facts which contradict it; that is, it is a device for putting forward incompatible views or for passing over facts while appearing to recognise them.

Now if we regard it as illogical to recognise kinds of reality, then we shall regard the statement that “Evil is not ultimately real”

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as meaning the false statement that “There is no evil”. This theory is again connected with the confusion between ethical theory and the theory of what can be done under particular circumstances; for example, people talk about ‘necessary evils’ as if their necessity somehow reduced their evil character; but that is to suppose that the questions is “What can, or cannot, be prevented in a particular case” or, what comes to the same thing “What must, or need not, be accepted”, so that, as before, we have the identification of good with what is accepted or recognised under special circumstances and, more particularly, in a given society, as contrasted with what is opposed or repudiated; and that, as we have seen, is not a tenable ethical position.

Now the theory of Socrates is a good example of metaphysical ethics, or better, simply of metaphysics which consists of confusing logical and ethical considerations to the detriment of both; but such confusions appear in the work of almost all moralists, as we have seen in considering the history of ethics.

Now Moore is no doubt right in maintaining that Kant's ethical theory is of a metaphysical character, that is, that he tries to determine what is good by reference to what is ultimately real, since Kant refers to things themselves and to autonomy or obedience to the conception of law in working out his ethical position. But it would not be correct to say that on Kant's view ‘being good’ is identical with ‘being willed’, although such a view might be supported by reference to some of Kant's contentions. Moore, however, does not take this identifications as being made by Kant himself but only as being made by thinkers who have been influenced by Kant. In Kant's theory we should rather take it that goodness is identified with willing, as when Kant says that: “there is nothing which is good without qualification except the goodwill.

Now this means not willing in general but willing in a particular way, although as Kant's theory develops it becomes almost impossible for him to recognise the existence of any will but a good will. At the same time the distinction of Kant's theory from one which identifies ‘being good’ with ‘being willed’ is not so clear as might at first appear, because we find that Kant means by the “goodwill” something which brings about what is good or at least, what is moral. The position is that Kant contrasts will with other socalled good, and points out the latter, for example, wealth, are capable of being misused, that is, they are capable of leading to evil results; and so he has the problem of finding something which cannot possibly be misused, and to satisfy this requirement he invents the goodwill which, so to speak, is its own use and therefore cannot be abused, which, in fact, wills the good for the sake of the good, so that we find that the good is treated as much the object of will as it is treated the act of will, and this is bound to be the case because willing is a relation; and if we are going to determine what is good and avoid giving a relativistic account

  ― 44 ―
of it, we shall have to take it either as the thing which is willed or as the thing which wills, but whichever way we take it, the fact that the thing has the relation will be distinct from its being good; alternatively, if we try to combine the character and the relation, we shall naturally fall into confusions and identify the character with, or attribute it now to, one of the terms and now to the other.

Now Kant tries to avoid this difficulty by identifying the two terms, that is, by making the goodwill will itself, have itself as object, but he has to make a distinction in order to show the application of his theory to action and thus he has to introduce other conceptions, like that of the maxim, and to give his illogical account of the process of universalising in order to show that one particular action may be moral and another one not. Apart from this his theory would have no actuality, and the way in which he makes some actions come under the goodwill while others do not is comparable to the way in which Socrates makes some things come under the form of the Good, namely, by being organised or made coherent. But, as we saw in the case of Socrates, a thing cannot be incoherent with itself and similar criticisms apply to any attempt to settle ethical questions on logical grounds or on the basis of the nature of reality.

Lecture 19

Chapter V illustrates Moore's use of the conception of means and end and his association of good with end; and if we reject that association, then we are bound to find very much less point in Moore's theory of right; that is, we should not take the question “Which of all the possible actions in a certain situation is the one which will produce the best results?” as important either to ethics or to conduct, because it is certainly impossible to consider all the lines of action that might be entered upon, even given a definite situation; and thus, although we might have some use for the conception of ‘better’ in comparing different possibilities, the question of a ‘best possible’ would not really arise. And similarly, as Moore himself admits, it is impossible to calculate all the consequences of an action, and so not only is this question not important but the meaning he gives to the term “right” cannot possibly be the one that people in general have in mind when they use the term.

Now as to the last chapter: this raises the question whether there is a “summum bonum”, and this question of the ideal or of a supreme good or The Good is closely connected with the questions of ethics and metaphysics. The chapter assumes likewise that we can formulate a conception of the ‘best’ in ethics and that this is something that we should naturally do. But actually this conception is connected with the doctrine of ends, a doctrine, the ethical importance of which, has been tested. It is comparable to the Aristotelian theory that there must be some end of action and, in particular, one which is complete, that is, that there must be no good which it lacks; and from this it would follow that the final or ultimate end was an aggregate of goods, that it was the sum of all actual and possible goods.

Now there is the questions of directing our actions to such and end; and here in the first place, we should not naturally think of any such totality in formulating propositions of the class “This is good”.

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In the same way Mill unwarrantedly thinks that if it be granted that “Happiness is good”, then the greatest possible happiness must be something of practical moment; but there would be nothing in that admission—that: “Happiness is good”—to suggest our formulating any such conception.

And in the second place, the notion of happiness or the completely satisfactory end is actually not a significant one: we can use the words but we are not really thinking of anything specific, when we talk of the final end or complete satisfaction or again, of the aggregate of all goods. When a desire is satisfied, we cease to have that desire, but we go immediately to desire something else, and we have no reason to think that there is any such state as complete satisfaction, even if goodness were to be thought of as an end at all or even if it had connection with desire.

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