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Principia Ethica Paperback – June 27, 2017
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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I'm not a big fan of ethical theory, but G.E. Moore's text is so highly regarded that I felt compelled to read it. It was definitely worth my time. This is one of the most important texts in the field of ethical theory and metaethics that probably has been written in modern time. Moore is a clear thinker, a good writer, and at times even deeply profound.
I don't know if I'd recommend this text to someone with absolutely no background in ethics, but just about anyone else will profit from reading it.
G.E. Moore's criticism against naturalistic hedonism, metaphysical ethics, social darwinism, utilitarianism, etc are all applications of his contention that the "good" is a simple concept. These criticisms tend to be very analytical, not only in terms of the concepts but by presenting them in terms of premises and analyzing the way they used words. This approach may not be new, but it is emphasized by G.E. Moore in its application to Ethics. Bertrand Russell, Whitehead, and Wittgenstein have already innovated this approach on logic, but G.E. Moore applied it on Ethics (or Meta-Ethics) and I think this is what made his approach significant in the history of contemporary philosophy.
While I did enjoyed the book, I find it overly methodological. His own stance on ethics is interesting in the sense that he tried to fuse deontology with utilitarianism, but this form of morality is very much like a situational ethics. It appears that my duty is simply based on the possible consequences that occurs from this situation, and G.E. Moore admits that we cannot always know the consequences in every circumstances. What he proposed is that there are general situations in which we can know the likelihood of the consequences, but things are not as clear cut in that way. I don't recall this for sure, but the impression that I get is that he hasn't really defined what this general circumstances are. His approach to ethics is very analytically, which if fine, but I always felt that this approach lacked the substance of ethical concern.
Perhaps I need to re-read the book again to re-evaluate my opinions on G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica, and I admit that I have not always thoroughly read this. I will, however, say that any philosophy student of ethics should read this since this is the very book that shaped how we talk about ethics today. It maybe very dull and boring (I must admit, there are some very dull parts), but it is nonetheless the kind of book that will introduce you to descriptive meta-ethics.
In Principia Ethica Moore consider some of the broadest and most vexing ethical questions. What is the good? What things or actions are good? And how should we live? The book provides a detailed discussion of Moore's so called naturalistic fallacy (the challenge of defining good in any meaningful way).
A brief review of the historic context of a work is often helpful in understanding its focus and objective. In the present case Moore is reacting too the broad speculative philosophy popular at the outset of the last century (stemming in significant part from Hegel and his followers). In regard to background reading the first of Scott Soames' excellent 2-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century has a couple of excellent chapters on Moore that may be helpful.
Much early analytic philosophy has been challenged. Despite their shortcomings, however, we must admire greats like Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein and their attempts to develop comprehensive philosophical models. In our present era of specialization these types of holistic worldviews are extremely rare. Although there is much of worth is Moore's work, perhaps his most his most enduring observation is that philosophic constructs do not trump common sense pre-philosophic views, e.g. the existence of other minds. I agree with Moore that this is an essential consideration to keep in mind when considering some of the more counter-intuitive philosophical theories
Overall, this is a must read for any student. This version is solid, however, the older style print is a minor drawback.