Principia Ethica is a 1903 book by the British philosopher G. E.
Moore, in which Moore insists on the indefinability of "good" and
provides an exposition of the naturalistic fallacy. Principia Ethica
was influential, and Moore's arguments were long regarded as
path-breaking advances in moral philosophy, though they have been seen
as less impressive and durable than his contributions in other
3 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
Moore insists that "good" is indefinable, and provides an exposition
of what he calls the "naturalistic fallacy." He defends the
objectivity and multiplicity of values, arguing that knowledge of
values cannot be derived from knowledge of facts, but only from
intuition of the goodness of such states of affairs as beauty,
pleasure, friendship and knowledge. In Moore's view, right acts are
those producing the most good. However, he also believed that there
are only various different sorts of things that are good, including
knowledge and aesthetic experience. Moore argues against
consequentialism. Moore's argument begins from the claim that
"ordinary people" think they ought to do what they promised to do, not
because of the probable consequences of breaking their promise, but
simply because they promised. In thinking this way, they are not
considering their moral duties in terms of consequences. The
consequences of the actions lie in the future, but they are thinking
more about the past (that is, about the promises they made).
Principia Ethica was influential, and helped to convince many
people that claims about morality cannot be derived from statements of
Clive Bell considered that through his opposition to Spencer
and Mill, Moore had freed his generation from utilitarianism.
Principia Ethica was the bible of the Bloomsbury Group, and the
philosophical foundation of their aesthetic values. Leonard Woolf
considered that it offered a way of continuing living in a meaningless
world. Moore's aesthetic idea of the organic whole provided
artistic guidance for modernists like Virginia Woolf, and fed into
Bell's concept of Significant form.
Principia Ethica also had a powerful influence on modernism through
the anti-empiricism of T. E. Hulme.
Socioculturally, a line can be traced from
Principia Ethica to the
liberal thought of Roy Jenkins, as evidenced in his 1959 pamphlet
Is Britain Civilised? and actuated in his subsequent Home Office
reforms which established much of the institutional framework for the
permissive society in England.
Moore's ethical intuitionism has been seen as opening the road for
noncognitive views of morality, such as emotivism.
C. P. Snow sketched the enduring influence of Moore on his followers'
group-belief in pleasure: "They tried to get the maximum of pleasure
out of their personal relations. If this meant triangles or more
complicated geometrical figures, well then, one accepted that
too....If you didn't believe in pleasure, you couldn't be
A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice (1971),
John Rawls compares Moore's views to
Hastings Rashdall in his The Theory of Good and Evil
(1907). Moore's views have also been compared to those of Franz
Brentano, Max Scheler, and Nicolai Hartmann.
Principia Ethica has been seen by
Geoffrey Warnock as less impressive
and durable than Moore's contributions in fields outside ethics.
John Maynard Keynes, an early devotee of Principia Ethica, would in
his 1938 paper 'My Early Beliefs' repudiate as Utopian Moore's
underlying belief in human reasonableness and decency.
A. J. Ayer
C. L. Stevenson
Bertrand Russell's views on philosophy
^ a b c d Warnock, Geoffrey (1995). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford
Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 585.
^ a b Schneewind, J. B. (1997). Singer, Peter, ed. A Companion to
Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 153.
^ Dancy, Jonathan (1997). Singer, Peter, ed. A Companion to Ethics.
Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 220.
^ Schneewind, J. B. (1997). Singer, Peter, ed. A Companion to Ethics.
Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 155.
^ Hermione Lee,
Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 253
^ Lee, p. 253
^ Lee, p. 302
^ J. Briggs, Reading
Virginia Woolf (2006) p. 72
^ G. Flistad,
Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art (2007) p. 221
^ Levenson, p. 92
^ R. Jenkins, Nine Men of Power (1970) p. 3 and p. 12
^ J. Diski, The Sixties (2009) p. 64-5
^ R. Eldridge ed., Stanley Cavell (2003) p. 18-21
^ C. P. Snow, Last Things (1974) p. 84
^ Rawls, John (1999). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press. p. 287. ISBN 0-674-00078-1.
^ Lee, p. 712
Clive Bell, Old Friends (!956)
S. P. Rosenbaum ed., The
Bloomsbury Group (1975)
etext of Principia Ethica.
Principia Ethica at Project Gutenberg
Principia Ethica public domain audiobook at LibriVox
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