It follows that to decide whether a disposition is or is not virtuous involves the difficult causal investigation discussed in section 3 ; and that what is a virtue in one state of society may not be so in another. Thus a the mere unconscious habit of performing duties, which is the commonest type, has no intrinsic value whatsoever; Christian moralists are right in implying that mere external rightness has no intrinsic value, though they are wrong in saying that it is therefore not virtuous , since this implies that it has no value as a means. Summary of chapter. By an ideal state of things may be meant either 1 the Summum Bonum or absolutely best, or 2 the best which the laws of nature allow to exist in this world, or 3 anything greatly good in itself: this chapter will be principally occupied with what is ideal in sense 3 —with answering the fundamental question of Ethics.
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It is very easy to point out some among our every-day judgments, with the truth of which Ethics is undoubtedly concerned. So much as this is not disputed; but it falls very far short of defining the province of Ethics. That province may indeed be defined as the whole truth about that which is at the same time common to all such judgments and peculiar to them. But we have still to ask the question: What is it that is thus common and peculiar?
And this is a question to which very different answers have been given by ethical philosophers of acknowledged reputation, and none of them, perhaps, completely satisfactory. If we take such examples as those given above, we shall not be far wrong in saying that they are all of them concerned[p. For when we say that a man is good, we commonly mean that he acts rightly; when we say that drunkenness is a vice, we commonly mean that to get drunk is a wrong or wicked action.
It is so associated by derivation; and conduct is undoubtedly by far the commonest and most generally interesting object of ethical judgments.
I am using it to cover an enquiry for which, at all events, there is no other word: the general enquiry into what is good. Ethics is undoubtedly concerned with the question what good conduct is; but, being concerned with this, it obviously does not start at the beginning, unless it is prepared to tell us what is good as well as what is conduct.
This is a mistake which many writers have actually made,[p. This, then, is our first question: What is good? But this is a question which may have many meanings. Not one, of all the many million answers of this kind, which must be true, can form a part of an ethical system; although that science must contain reasons and principles sufficient for deciding on the truth of all of them.
There are far too many persons, things and events in the world, past, present, or to come, for a discussion of their individual merits to be embraced in any science. Ethics, therefore, does not deal at all with facts of this nature, facts that are unique, individual, absolutely particular; facts with which such studies as history, geography, astronomy, are compelled, in part at least, to deal. And, for this reason, it is not the business of the ethical philosopher to give personal advice or exhortation.
And ethical judgments of this kind do indeed belong to Ethics; though I shall not deal with many of them. But it is judgments of precisely the same kind, which form the substance of what is commonly supposed to be a study different from Ethics, and one much less respectable—the study of Casuistry. We may be told that Casuistry differs from Ethics, in that it is much more detailed and particular, Ethics much more general. But it is most important to notice that Casuistry does not deal with anything that is absolutely particular—particular in the only sense in which a perfectly precise line can be drawn between it and what is general.
Casuistry may indeed be more particular and Ethics more general; but that means that they differ only in degree and not in kind. So far as Ethics allows itself to give lists of virtues or even to name constituents of the Ideal, it is indistinguishable from Casuistry.
Both alike deal with what is general, in the sense in which physics and chemistry deal with what is general. Just as chemistry aims at discovering what are the properties of oxygen, wherever it occurs, and not only of this or that particular specimen of oxygen; so Casuistry aims at discovering what actions are good, whenever they occur. In this respect Ethics and Casuistry alike are to be classed with such sciences as physics, chemistry and physiology, in their absolute distinction from those of which history and geography are instances.
And it is to be noted that, owing to their detailed nature, casuistical investigations are actually nearer to physics and to chemistry than are the investigations usually assigned to Ethics. For just as physics cannot rest content with the discovery that light is propagated by waves of ether, but must go on to discover the particular nature of the ether-waves corresponding to each several colour; so Casuistry, not content with the general law[p.
Casuistry forms, therefore, part of the ideal of ethical science: Ethics cannot be complete without it. The defects of Casuistry are not defects of principle; no objection can be taken to its aim and object. It has failed only because it is far too difficult a subject to be treated adequately in our present state of knowledge. The casuist has been unable to distinguish, in the cases which he treats, those elements upon which their value depends.
Hence he often thinks two cases to be alike in respect of value, when in reality they are alike only in some other respect. It is to mistakes of this kind that the pernicious influence of such investigations has been due. For Casuistry is the goal of ethical investigation. It cannot be safely attempted at the beginning of our studies, but only at the end. This is an enquiry which belongs only to Ethics, not to Casuistry; and this is the enquiry which will occupy us first.
Its definition is, therefore, the most essential point in the definition of Ethics; and moreover a mistake with regard to it entails a far larger number of erroneous ethical judgments than any other.
Unless this first question be fully understood, and its true answer clearly recognised, the rest of Ethics is as good as useless from the point of view of systematic knowledge. True ethical judgments, of the two kinds last dealt with, may indeed be made by those who do not know the answer to this question as well as by those who do; and it goes without saying that the two classes of people may lead equally good lives.
But it is extremely unlikely that the most general ethical judgments will be equally valid, in the absence of a true answer to this question: I shall presently try to shew that the gravest errors have been largely due to[p.
And, in any case, it is impossible that, till the answer to this question be known, any one should know what is the evidence for any ethical judgment whatsoever. But the main object of Ethics, as a systematic science, is to give correct reasons for thinking that this or that is good; and, unless this question be answered, such reasons cannot be given.
Even, therefore, apart from the fact that a false answer leads to false conclusions, the present enquiry is a most necessary and important part of the science of Ethics.
What, then, is good? How is good to be defined? Now, it may be thought that this is a verbal question. But this is not the sort of definition I am asking for. Such a definition can never be of ultimate importance in any study except lexicography. My business is solely with that object or idea, which I hold, rightly or wrongly, that the word is generally used to stand for.
What I want to discover is the nature of that object or idea, and about this I am extremely anxious to arrive at an agreement.
But, if we understand the question in this sense, my answer to it may seem a very disappointing one. But disappointing as these answers may appear, they are of the very last importance.
To readers who are familiar with philosophic terminology, I can express their im[p. Let us, then, consider this position. Definitions of the kind that I was asking for, definitions which describe the real nature of the object or notion denoted by a word, and which do not merely tell us what the word is used to mean, are only possible when the object or notion in question is something complex.
You can give a definition of a horse, because a horse has many different properties and qualities, all of which you can enumerate. But when you have enumerated them all, when you have reduced a horse to his simplest terms, then you can no longer define those terms. They are simply something which you think of or perceive, and to any one who cannot think of or perceive them, you can never, by any definition, make their nature known.
It may perhaps be objected to this that we are able to describe to others, objects which they have never seen or thought of. We can, for instance, make a man understand what a chimaera is, although he has never heard of one or seen one.
And so it is with all objects, not previously known, which we are able to define: they are all complex; all composed of parts, which may themselves, in the[p. But yellow and good, we say, are not complex: they are notions of that simple kind, out of which definitions are composed and with which the power of further defining ceases. But 3 we may, when we define horse, mean something much more important.
We may mean that a certain object, which we all of us know, is composed in a certain manner: that it has four legs, a head, a heart, a liver, etc. It is in this sense that I deny good to be definable. I say that it is not composed of any parts, which we can substitute for it in our minds when we are thinking of it. We might think just as clearly and correctly about a horse, if we thought of all its parts and their arrangement instead of thinking of the whole: we could, I say, think how a horse differed from a donkey just as well, just as truly, in this way, as now we do, only not so easily; but there is nothing whatsoever which we could so substitute for good; and that is what I mean, when I say that good is indefinable.
But I am afraid I have still not removed the chief difficulty which may prevent acceptance of the proposition that good is indefinable. I do not mean to say that the good, that which is good, is thus indefinable; if I did think so, I should not[p. I must try to explain the difference between these two. But if it is that to which the adjective will apply, it must be something different from that adjective itself; and the whole of that something different, whatever it is, will be our definition of the good.
It may be full of pleasure, for example; it may be intelligent: and if these two adjectives are really part of its definition, then it will certainly be true, that pleasure and intelligence are good. I only wish it to be understood that that is not what I mean when I say there is no possible definition of good, and that I shall not mean this if I use the word again. As it is, I believe the good to be definable; and yet I still say that good itself is indefinable.
It is one of[p. That there must be an indefinite number of such terms is obvious, on reflection; since we cannot define anything except by an analysis, which, when carried as far as it will go, refers us to something, which is simply different from anything else, and which by that ultimate difference explains the peculiarity of the whole which we are defining: for every whole contains some parts which are common to other wholes also.
There are many other instances of such qualities. Consider yellow, for example. We may try to define it, by describing its physical equivalent; we may state what kind of light-vibrations must stimulate the normal eye, in order that we may perceive it. They are not what we perceive. Indeed we should never have been able to discover their existence, unless we had first been struck by the patent difference of quality between the different colours.
The most we can be entitled to say of those vibrations is that they are what corresponds in space to the yellow which we actually perceive. And it is a fact, that Ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good.
Let us consider what it is such philosophers say. And first it is to be noticed that they do not agree among themselves. One, for instance, will affirm that good is pleasure, another, perhaps, that good is that which is desired; and each of these will argue eagerly to prove that the other is wrong.
But how is that possible? One of them says that good is nothing but the object of desire, and at the same time tries to prove that it is not pleasure. But from his first assertion, that good just means the object of desire, one of two things must follow as regards his proof: 1 He may be trying to prove that the object of desire is not pleasure.
But, if this be all, where is his Ethics? The position he is maintaining is merely a psychological one. Desire is something which occurs in our minds, and pleasure is something else which so occurs; and our would-be ethical philosopher is merely holding that the latter is not the object of the former. But what has that to do with the question in dispute? His opponent held the ethical proposition that pleasure was the good, and although he should prove a million times over the psychological proposition that pleasure is not the object of desire, he is no nearer proving his opponent to be wrong.
The position is like this. What is proved is that one of us is wrong, for we agree that a triangle cannot be both a straight line and a circle: but which is wrong, there can be no earthly means of proving, since you define triangle as straight line and I define it as circle. It is that the discussion is after all a verbal one. And this is quite an interesting subject for discussion: only it is not a whit more an ethical discussion than the last was.
His grandfather was the author Dr George Moore. His eldest brother was Thomas Sturge Moore , a poet, writer and engraver. Moore is best known today for his defence of ethical non-naturalism , his emphasis on common sense in philosophical method, and the paradox that bears his name. He was admired by and influential among other philosophers, and also by the Bloomsbury Group , but is unlike his colleague and admirer Russell, who, for some years thought he fulfilled his "ideal of genius"  mostly unknown today outside of academic philosophy. He was critical of modern philosophy for its lack of progress , which he believed was in stark contrast to the dramatic advances in the natural sciences since the Renaissance. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from Moore and the Cambridge Apostles that Moore was an important member of the secretive Cambridge Apostles.
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George Edward Moore