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George Edward Moore

Life and Works
. . Against Idealism
. . Common Sense
. . Indefinable Good
Internet Sources

During his long career at Cambridge University and as Editor of the premier British philosophical journal, Mind, G. E. Moore made an enormous contribution to the development of twentieth-century Anglo-American thought. Although he had studied with Bradley and McTaggart at Cambridge, Moore was an early leader in the revolt against absolute idealism. Amazed by the peculiar character of philosophical controversy, Moore supposed that common-sense beliefs about the world are correct as they are. The purpose of philosophy is not to debate their truth, but rather to seek an appropriate analysis of their significance. Moore was a significant influence on Russell, Wittgenstein, Ryle.

Moore's departure from idealistic philosophy began with a criticism of internal relations in the careful analysis of truth and falsity in "The Nature of Judgment" (1899). In "The Refutation of Idealism" (1903) he also drew a sharp distinction between consciousness and its objects and argued explicitly against the idealistic belief that esse est percipi. Moore Continuing to develop his realistic convictions, Moore argued in "A Defence of Common Sense" (1925) that we all certainly know the truth of many propositions about ourselves, bodies, and other people, even though we may be uncertain about the correct analysis of these propositions. Both idealists and skeptics, Moore argued, implausibly deny this simple, everyday knowledge. Moore's preoccupation with these issues is evident even in Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953).

Moore applied similar methods of analysis to moral philosophy in Principia Ethica (1903) and Ethics (1912). There he used the open question argument to reject the "naturalistic fallacy" of identifying good with anything else. On Moore's view, good is a simple, non-natural, indefinable quality of certain things, including especially personal friendship and aesthetics appreciation. This conception of the possibilities for human life was a significant influence on John Maynard Keynes and other members of the Bloomsbury group.

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:

  • G. E. Moore, Philosophical Studies (Routledge, 1965)
  • G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Prometheus, 1988)
  • G. E. Moore, Some Main Problems of Philosophy (Collier, 1962)

Secondary sources:

  • E. D. Klemke, A Defense of Realism: Reflections on the Metaphysics of G. E. Moore (Humanity, 1999)
  • Philosophy of G. E. Moore, ed. by Paul A. Schlipp (Open Court, 1993)
  • Brian Hutchinson, G. E. Moore's Ethical Theory: Resistance and Reconciliation (Cambridge, 2001)

Additional on-line information about Moore includes:

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Last modified 24 November 2011.
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