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Principia Ethica 2nd Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521448482
ISBN-10: 0521448484
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Editorial Reviews Review

It took us thousands of years of struggling with science and ethics before we thought to combine the two. While scientific ethics has advanced only gradually, the science of ethics burst into existence in 1903 with the publication of G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica, which did for the study of morality what Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica did for mathematics--clarify old confusions and define terms that are still with us today. Practically overnight, ethicists turned into meta-ethicists, studying their own terms to establish theoretical ground on which to stand before trying to build any prescriptive edifices.

Moore begins by clearing up some of the most widely spread confusions plaguing moral philosophy, such as the naturalistic fallacy of Bentham, Spencer, and others who insisted on a precise, concrete definition of good. According to Moore, we have to settle for an intuitive assessment of goodness, and his arguments are powerfully compelling. Proceeding to define terms and territory that have lasted a century, he revolutionized philosophy and single-handedly altered the course of ethical studies for generations. While Principia Ethica isn't the easiest book to read (a dictionary of philosophy comes in handy for most of us), it is well worth careful study by anyone interested in the difference between right and wrong. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"All future work on the nuanced development of Moore's ethical theory of necessity will have to make reference to this volume. The editor is to be commended for his useful introduction, appendix, and editorial skills." Ethics

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (November 26, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521448484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521448482
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on April 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
George Edward Moore has the unfortunate privilege of having spawned one of the most uninformedly invoked ideas of all time - the naturalistic fallacy. Like Thomas Kuhn's "paradigm shift," the naturalistic fallacy is tirelessly invoked by writers to mean any number of things, not many of which agree with the author's original usage. That is perhaps one reason to read G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica. Another, of course, is that it is a classic of twentieth century ethics!

Most of the chapters, of course, deal with Moore's idea about the naturalistic fallacy. Contra those numerous authors that use it to mean simply the fallacy of supposing what is natural to be de facto good (that is one manifestation of it, but not it), the naturalistic fallacy has a much broader meaning. The fallacy, in Moore's view, is to explain what is "The Good" in any way other than to say "it is The Good," - to suppose, that is, that "The Good" is definable in any way. To Moore, "The Good" is simply "The Good" because it is good and that is all we can say. Any attempt to equate "The Good" with something else - pleasure, a metaphysical entity, what is natural, etc. - is a manifestation of the naturalistic fallacy.

Moore uses the first chapter to explain why the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy. The answer is similar to Hume's is/ought gap. That is that any attempt to say what "The Good" is - i.e., the Good is what causes pleasure; The Good is what exists in the natural order - is nothing other than a criterion for recognizing things that are good; what explanations of this sort are not are actual definitions of the good. (In other words, saying that things which give pleasure tend to be good is much different than saying that "The Good" is constituted by what gives pleasure and that alone.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ctdreyer on February 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
Moore's Principia Ethica is a central text in twentieth-century meta-ethics. According to the familiar history of the subject, the story of much of twentieth-century meta-ethics can be understood as a series of reactions to this book. In this book Moore argues for non-naturalistic intuitionism. He argues that moral properties are an irreducible part of reality, and that they are sui generis. And he argues that we can acquire knowledge of these sui generis moral properties only through intuition.
The first chapter includes Moore's famous Open Question Argument, his argument that intrinsic goodness is a simple, unanalyzable, non-natural property. There appear to be two strands of the OQA; both of them appeal to our linguistic intuitions. The first focuses on our intuitions about whether certain claims about intrinsic goodness are tautological. Borrowing Moore's own example, suppose someone tries to define 'good' as 'what is pleasant'. All competent users of the language can see that this definition must fail. How? They simply need to ask themselves if "the good is what is pleasant" has the same meaning as "the pleasant is what is pleasant," for these two sentences would be synonymous if 'good' could be correctly defined 'what is pleasant.' And, Moore claims, these sentences clearly aren't synonymous: the claim that "the good is what is pleasant" is not a tautology like "the pleasant is pleasant." This shows that 'good' and 'what is pleasant' have different meanings. Furthermore, Moore argues that thinking about other examples will show that, in principle, we could develop that a structurally similar argument against any other attempted definition of 'good'.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa on September 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
G. E. Moore offers a great evaluation of all the ethical philosophies, from the psychologist propositions (John Stuart Mill), to the naturalist, evolutionary ethics, utilitarianism, hedonism, etc. You see how they all fall into the "naturalistic fallacy", that the "good" is somehow related to some physical, psychological, emotional or evolutionary aspect. Bright refutation of all of these positions. Very good for those who want to start knowing about ethics, specially analytical ethics.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the most famous treatises on ethics in the twentieth century, "Principia Ethica" attempts to give a non-naturalistic foundation for ethics, for what constitutes "the good". The author clearly believes that "goodness" is not the result of sensory experience or even that it exists temporally. "Goodness" is a fundamental entity and cannot be defined: any attempt to do so results in the "naturalistic fallacy". This fallacy is a failure, the author says, in the acknowledgement that "the good" is a unique and indefinable quality.
When reading the book, one can detect somewhat the author's departure from his latter doctrine of "ordinary language philosophy" and its emphasis on how concepts "do their jobs". He does not want to analyze the word "good" in terms of its usage, in terms of how it can, as a word denoting a concept, exemplify certain objects or phenomena existing in the world. Evidence of the "good" is thus not obtainable by external evidence, or custom, but instead is obtained by "intuitions". An "intuition" is both a proposition incapable of proof and a psychological state, the latter being a collection of considerations that are capable of "determining the intellect." The psychological meaning of intuition is brought about by the author's attempted refutation of hedonism due to the philosopher Henry Sidgwick. Intuition though, is not to be thought of as an alternative to reason. It furnishes a reason for holding that a proposition is true, and this adherence must occur of course for "self-evident" propositions.
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