Moore, G. E. (1873-1958) by Titterud, Eric

G. E. Moore (1873-1958) was an eminent philosopher of ethics at Trinity College, Cambridge University. He grew up in Upper Norwood in South London, younger brother to the poet, illustrator, and contributor and son to and . He and his brothers attended Dulwich College as day students. Henrietta descended from a large Quaker family, though the children were not raised in that religion. Moore went up to Trinity, following his eldest brother , in 1892, to study Classics. George Edward Moore New Age T. Sturge Moore Daniel Moore Henrietta Sturge Harry After meeting and , then a fellow at Trinity in metaphysics, Moore added philosophy to his course of study in his second year, taking classes from, among others, McTaggart and , both Apostles. At this time, the majority of Moore’s friends were Apostles, an exclusive society of intellectuals at Cambridge founded in 1820; the Apostles thought themselves to be the intellectual elite at Cambridge and held weekly meetings where members would present papers and then debate the topic, often ending in a vote on some related question. Membership was for life and links to the society continued after a member went down from Cambridge. Moore was elected an Apostle in his second year and, due to his later lectureship and professorship, was able to attend meetings and maintain contact with the group for most of his remaining life. Many of Moore’s friends and associates from the Apostles—including , , , , , and —went on to be important figures in their own right as members of the Bloomsbury Group. Other Apostles of note, besides McTaggart and Sidgwick, include Russell, , , and . Bertrand Russell J. M. E. McTaggart Henry Sidgwick Leonard Woolf Roger Fry Lytton Strachey John Maynard Keynes Desmond MacCarthy E. M. Forster Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson G. H. Hardy R. C. Trevelyan After graduating with a First Class degree in 1896, Moore applied for and was awarded a fellowship to study philosophy at Trinity which he held from 1898 until 1904. During this time Moore wrote and, more significantly, , which was published in 1903 and is credited as greatly influencing the philosophy of the Bloomsbury Group and many strains of English thought in general. Also at this time, Moore wrote which attacked the Idealism that was prominent in British philosophy of the day. Moore returned to Cambridge for a lectureship in 1911 and was awarded a professorship in 1925, which he held until 1939. In 1912, Moore wrote , a series of shorter books on modern thought; the book and its ideas often show up in discussions in . It should be noted that after a period of serious deliberation (interpreted by some as weak judgment), Moore came out against World War I, as many before him in the Bloomsbury Circle had done. During his lectureship and professorship, Moore edited the journal , and his presence at Cambridge, along with that of , made the university the preeminent center for philosophy in the world at the time. With Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, Moore cemented the Analytic strand of philosophy which focuses on logic and the philosophy of language and emphasizes argumentation, evidence, avoidance of ambiguity, and technicality. Both , the editor of , and , a major art critic writing in the paper, cited Moore as one of the most important figures in English thought (see vol. 18, no.9 and vol. 18, no. 10, respectively). Moore died in October of 1958. The Nature of Judgment Principia Ethica The Refutation of Idealism Ethics for the Home University Library of Modern Knowledge The New Age Mind Ludwig Wittgenstein A. R. Orage The New Age T. E. Hulme Moore’s primary contributions to the world of philosophy centered on ethics and meta-ethics. Moore began his philosophical career by refuting what he calls : that goodness, which is the basis of ethics, should be defined in naturalistic terms, as a matter of experience, humanity, progress, or pleasure. Moore used a common sense argument to arrive at this criticism by stating that the definition of good—whereby something is desired to be desired—is fundamentally an and thus open to doubt in a way that a true proposition ought not to be. This doubt comes from the use of ethical value statements to define ethical values. Moore’s criticism reflects the linguistic basis of the Analytic philosophy tradition which he helped form. the naturalistic fallacy open question, Moore concluded that things or situations have . Intrinsic value can contribute to instrumental value, but instrumental value is only definable by the intrinsic value of its consequences and thus not a fundamental unit of analysis. In , the art critic (T. E. H.) praises Moore for his construction of an objective, abstract approach to philosophy, mirroring in abstract geometrical art and neo-classicist ideals ( NA 18.10 and NA 18.13). Hulme credits Moorean ethics with dehumanizing (which is to say, de-anthropomorphizing) philosophical propositions, thus reflecting the ongoing cultural wars between scientific disciplines and the humanities in academia as well as the cultural battle, within the arts, between the geometrical/abstract moderns (championed by Hulme) and the neo-realistic/humanistic romantics (identified by Hulme as the enemy). Moore and Russell believed that the entities they addressed exist outside of experience and can be dealt with analytically as opposed to experientially. Hulme’s only criticism of Moore lies in his failure to establish some hierarchy among objective concepts, and thus to develop a fully anti-humanist critique. Moore’s biographer, , points out that Hulme’s attraction to Moore lay primarily in the concept of rationalist ethics, but it’s for quite different reasons that Moore found such ardent supporters in the Bloomsbury set. Whereas Hulme called upon Moore to endorse his anti-liberalism and anti-humanist, militarist ideals, Bloomsbury’s association with Moore took place along the lines of personal relations, utilitarianism, and an ultimately anti-war stance. intrinsic value The New Age T. E. Hulme Hulme’s own interest A Notebook, Paul Levy Moore also asserted that objects with intrinsic value may have their value increased by “value as a part” when placed in a more complicated situation. Moore called this his “principle of organic unities.” In the September 9, 1915 issue of (under the name R. H. C.) references Moore’s concept in support of socialism when he affirms argument (discussed more thoroughly in the next paragraph) that man can no longer be considered the measure of all things, thus obviating personal liberties in favor of social goods (NA 17.19: 453-54). The principle of organic unity attracted some criticism because it (and the principle of intrinsic value) left no state-able conclusions of value outside of individual judgment. According to Moore, ethical judgment requires an intuitive grasp of the intrinsic nature and value of a thing. No empirical or reasonable path of evidence and analysis remained for the purposes of debate. Moorean ethics could be internally consistent, but they could not prove or disprove other systems beyond the imperative of logical consistency and appeals to personal intuition. Thus, the same ideas could be used to justify the socialist arguments of Maeztu and the personal relations of Bloomsbury. The New Age, A. R. Orage Ramiro de Maeztu’s Moore also contributed a consequentialist utilitarian statement of morality: that the right action is that which produces the most good. He affirmed that rules of thumb were beneficial to the individual since the best net-gain option is not always clear within a situation. But, as in the criticism above, these rules could not be discerned from his framework since they rested on intuition and individual judgment. Moore’s concept of consequentialist utilitarianism appealed to the socialist arguments of contributor Ramiro de Maeztu, though Moore may have disliked the conclusions Maeztu drew from his thinking. In his article Maeztu characterizes Moore’s (published 3 years earlier) as (NA 17.18: 424). Maeztu extrapolates from Moore’s argument certain political implications: that things are judged in relation to man but men are judged good or evil not intrinsically (since that is knowable only by God) but rather by the good (or the social good, in Maeztu’s opinion) that each produces, through his actions. The object of morality is not the individual’s self-realization but rather social effect. Society is (425). Maeztu concludes from this that rights and the barriers erected by sovereignty to protect those rights are not an issue, but rather that social duty or function should be the focus of political ethics. This reasoning employs what Levy identifies as Moore’s Ideal Utilitarianism (as opposed to Bentham’s Hedonistic Utilitarianism or Mill’s Eudaimonistic Utilitarianism), whereby harm (or ‘bad’) may conceivably be done to people so long as a balance of good results for society. Drawing on Moore’s assertion of duty and moral obligation in ethical consideration, Maeztu’s outlook (which Orage affirmed in his September 9 column, mentioned above) emphasizes the duty and social function of the individual within the social utilitarian calculus. New Age Beyond the Barriers of Liberty and Authority, Ethics only a scientific formulation of current morality founded on a common end in which individual interests are both transcended and united Moore’s final chapter of had perhaps the greatest impact on the Bloomsbury group. Titled the chapter lists intrinsic goods and evils whose values are incommensurable or not comparable; relative comparisons between such values are ultimately left to the individual. The values Moore associated with intrinsic good included friendship and personal relations, art and aesthetic appreciation: all values embraced by the Bloomsbury group. Levy argues that the group likely read and supported only the last chapter of Moore’s book and that their allegiance with Moore stems from the morality set out in this chapter, which values friendship and its allegiance. Principia Ethica The Ideal, It should be noted that Moore’s major philosophical work, , had a limited reception. Far more widely read was his , which summarized many of Moore’s ideas and simplified them for the common reader. In the May 22, 1913 issue of , reviews Moore’s within a year of its publication (13.4: 92-93). Marwick claims that Moore fails to inspire readers and make ethics a practicable living interest for them, despite the book’s clear prose. He also faults for presenting no doctrine that can be applied to current moral issues of national or international interest. Citing and , Marwick asserts that Moorean philosophy (which is to say, analytical philosophy) does not appeal to real experience as ethics ought. Ethics did not include all the intellectual rigor of the longer Principia Ethica, which may help account for the uneven reception of Moore’s ideas by the likes of Marwick, Hulme, and Maeztu. Principia Ethica Ethics The New Age William Marwick Ethics Ethics Bergson Bosanquet Nonetheless, Moore’s idea of ethics resonated with a generation embroiled in a World War as well as a culture war. The different socialist and philosophical thinkers of all had to deal with the notions of intrinsic value, objective analysis, organic unity, and consequentialist utilitarianism put on the table by Moore and the Cambridge philosophers. As an Apostle and friend to many members of the Bloomsbury circle, Moore helped to shape, with his ideas, a great deal of their artistic and critical output while also affecting the public conception of the group’s ideals. Moorean ethics reached the writers and readers of primarily through an abbreviated and somewhat popularized account, which allowed them to be interpreted to support varying and not always consistent arguments. But that divergence may be inevitable for a philosophical system that relies on the individual to intuit the value of things. The New Age The New Age —Eric Titterud Works Cited and Further Reading Baldwin, Tom. Ed. . 24 September 2006. George Edward Moore. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta . . London: Wedfield and Nicolson, 1979. This is the best available biography of Moore. It focuses primarily on correspondence and the genesis of Moore’s ideas within the Apostles’ meetings. It is critical of the reception of those ideas within Bloomsbury. Levy, Paul Moore: G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles . Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1986. Focused on Moore’s Bloomsbury legacy, this biography is less critical of Bloomsbury’s reception of Moore’s ideas. Regan, Tom . Bloomsbury’s Prophet: G. E. Moore and the Development of His Moral Philosophy . . New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Scholes, Robert Paradoxy of Modernism Selected Works by G. E. Moore Moore, G. E. Volume 52 in the London: Williams and Norgate, 1912. This volume by Moore is the most discussed by contributors to Ethics. Home University Library of Modern Knowledge. The New Age. —. . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1903. This is Moore’s most influential volume, particularly with reference to Bloomsbury, but also in the field of philosophy. Principia Ethica

Back to top

Back to Top