Moore’s Understanding of Moral PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
Moore, in his Principa Ethica, opposes naturalist approaches in moral philosophy and becomes a determinant in the meta-ethics discussions that followed.
Moore states that philosophical arguments suffer from a problem he calls the naturalistic illusion. At the root of this problem is the confusion of the use of a term in a particular argument with the definition of the term in question. In moral philosophy discussions, this problem is encountered especially in the definition of the term good. Moral arguments are often expressed as: If something has certain characteristics, it should be considered good. These features may differ according to thinkers who advocate different moral understandings. For example, according to the advocates of the hedonistic approach, pleasant, pleasurable things are good. Moore argues that even if these arguments have any validity, they do not give us the definition of “good.” “Good” as a trait cannot be defined according to Moore. Only what it is can be shown and grasped through this showing. Statements such as “A is good if it has property B” only delay the definition of “good” because they cannot explain why property B is considered good.
Moore’s proof that “good” is indefinable is often referred to as the open question proof. Moore presents this argument in the thirteenth chapter of the Principia Ethica. Moore “What is pleasurable is also good.” takes an expression of the form. If this expression includes the definition of “good”, “Is it good for something to be pleasurable?” with the question “Is it pleasing for something to be pleasurable?” question must have the same meaning and be equivalent in meaning. However, according to Moore, the first question is quite meaningful, it has a content; On the other hand, the second question can easily be answered with “yes”. Questions in the first form are open questions. No matter what feature is put in place of “pleasure”, this situation does not change. As a result of this proof, Moore states that all attempts to analyze the concept of value are doomed to failure. If the analysis of the concept of value is to be possible, the above-mentioned questions and statements are expected to be obvious, which is not the case. To put it another way, if the concept of the good can be resolved to some other concepts, analytical expressions involving the concept of the good must be found, which Moore claims does not exist exactly:
It may be true that things that are good are also something else, just as all things that are yellow are that light produces a certain kind of vibration. It is also a fact that Moral Philosophy aims to discover other properties that belong to all good things. But many philosophers thought that in naming these other traits they were actually describing the good. These attributes were not, in fact simply, “other” attributes, but were absolutely and completely the same as goodness (Principia Ethica, §10).
As a result, we cannot define “good” using other words. By simply pointing to an action or something, “That’s good.” we can say. This situation is similar to the fact that we cannot describe the color yellow to a visually impaired person. We show a yellow object to a person who can only see and say, “This is yellow.” we can say.
Moore’s proof may not be limited to the concept of value alone. Some thinkers say that the problem that Moore underlines here applies to other analyzes as well. Therefore, the discussion is not limited to the field of moral philosophy, but turns into a discussion about the possibility of analysis.
If Moore is right, and the concept of the good cannot be explained in terms of some other property, what can we say about the good? Good, according to Moore, is an unnatural trait. This means that the good cannot be empirically or scientifically tested or verified. The concept of the good falls outside the boundaries of the natural sciences. If this is the case, the source of our knowledge of the good becomes a problem. If good is not a property that we can perceive and comprehend within the confines of sensory experience, on what do we base our claim on whether something is good? At this point, Moore speaks of a moral vision as a form of direct knowledge. Moral knowledges are self-evident propositions that have no proof or proof of their negation.
On the other hand, Moore also objects to seeing his approach as moral visualism. Moral intuitionists argue that it is possible to know intuitively whether an action is good, regardless of its consequences. Moore, on the other hand, argues that we can only know through moral intuition whether some ends are good on their own, on the other hand, when it comes to actions, we should consider the consequences of actions to determine whether they are good or not. As such, Moore’s moral philosophy is not deontological but consequentialist, judging actions by their consequences (Principia Ethica, §8).