Works On Ethics

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April 5, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

Works on ethics suffer, as a rule, from two opposite defects. From a desire for system and simplicity, reinforced by logical confusions, they flagrantly outrage common sense in their estimate as to what things are good in themselves; and then, from a dread of consequences which are felt to be immoral, they endeavour, by flimsy and inconclusive arguments, to prove that their estimate of goods leads to the usual code of duties and sins. Both these defects are absent from Mr. Moore’s work. There is throughout a frank appeal to what appear as ethical facts, combined with an extra ordinary subtlety and care in the analysis of their implications. But, in spite of the subtlety, all the discussions are admirably clear, and are intelligible, except in one chapter, without any previous knowledge of philosophy.

It is a merit rarer, perhaps, than is supposed, to aim solely, in philosophy, at the discovery of truth. Most philosophers are interested, almost exclusively, in establishing some apparently valuable conclusions, for which they seek to find premises. The premises, when found, do not interest them on their own account; and any questioning of the premises is regarded as trivial and carping. Thus attention is concentrated on results, and a hasty, practical tone of mind is generated. In the present author, no trace of this mistake is to be found.

“It may be thought,” he says on one occasion, “that my contention is unimportant, but that is no ground for thinking that I am not in the right. What I am concerned with is knowledge only – that we should think correctly and so far arrive at some truth, however unimportant.”
In accordance with this theoretical spirit, Mr. Moore begins by dismissing the notion that ethics is solely concerned with human conduct, or with the goods attainable by human beings: ethics is the general inquiry into what is good, and into what good is. The chief contention of the first chapter is that good itself is indefinable: an ultimate, simple notion, like yellow. Not that it is impossible to define the good, i.e., the things which are good; but that what we mean when we say that a thing is good, cannot be explained in any other terms. This is established by observing that, however we may propose to define good, it is always significant to say that that which is suggested as the definition is itself good. If we say: “pleasure is good,” we say something different from: “pleasure is pleasure”; thus good cannot mean the same as pleasure. And the same process may be applied to any other suggested definition. The notion that good can be defined, is called by Mr. Moore the Naturalistic Fallacy, because usually some natural object (i.e., something which exists) is taken to be the meaning of good. He shows that, in one form or other, it has been committed by almost all ethical writers; it is involved, for example, in every attempt to infer what ought to be, from what is or will be. The remainder of the chapter is concerned, first, with distinguishing good as end from good as means – what is called good as means is merely a cause of what is good, while good as end is the same as good simpliciter – and, next, with the principle of what are called organic unities, i.e., wholes whose value is not the sum of the values of the parts. These have a very important place in estimating goods, and are frequently discussed in later chapters. An instance is the enjoyment of a beautiful object. A beautiful object which no one sees has little or no value, and a mistaken admiration also is not much prized; but, when the object admired has beauty, we get a whole which is often very good indeed.

Adapted from Bertrand Russell.

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This was an article on Ethics.

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Jack Westin
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27 Comments


  1. Moore’s work lacks the ethical defects of others and he does a good job proving it.

    Reply

  2. Many ethics pieces suffer from “deficits.” In the example of defining good, many other authors fall short. However, Mr. Moore’s piece does not contain the ethical deficits of other works, and rather than try to define what good is, Mr. Moore says that a concept as simple as good cannot be defined.

    Reply

  3. MIP: Mr. Moore’s work on ethics does not suffer from the defects common to other works. Author describes Moore’s explanation of “good”.

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  4. Mr M works =/= mistake
    Good = hard to define

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  5. works on ethics suffer + =/= Moore, one chapter not clear

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  6. There are two errors in many works that Mr. Moore’s work lacks.
    1- a need for simplicity causes errors in deciding what is inherently good
    2- weak arguments are used to prove the definition of good
    The author believes that in philosophy, one must remain focused on the discovery of truth, and it is wrong to concentrate solely on results. The definition of good is fluid. Ethics requires looking at what is good and also examining the definition of “good”. The author believes that good can’t be defined, but it can be shown and understood.

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  7. Moore’s work =/=suffer from work on ethics + good = indefinable

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  8. Moore’s work = free of common ethic defects = not focusing on results but rather on knowledge itself
    Moore disagrees that ethics is about human conduct + good cannot be defined

    Reply

  9. moores work |=| defects + clear, ethics = good + indefinable RTA (Moore) Author = +

    Reply

  10. Moore’s ethical works=good
    Good/=definable

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  11. MI: Moore’s work =/= have defects

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  12. MI: Moore’s Work doesnt not have the two defects in ethics mentioned

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  13. MIP= Moore’s ethics work + = clear =/= suffer def

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  14. moore= clear, intelligible
    ethics= good+ indefinable

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  15. Moore’s works =/= have defects, ethics = what is good, good =/= definable

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  16. MIP: Moore work = clear + intelligent (CW)

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    1. MIP: Moore work = clear + intelligent (CW); good =/= definable

      Reply

  17. philosophers = practical =/= Moore

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  18. Moore excludes defects + goods indefinable.

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  19. Moore’s work = no defects of ethic’s work. What is good?

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  20. Works on ethics: 2 opposite defects = what is good & consequences. Mr. Moore’s work lacks ethics which focus on human conduct

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  21. MI: moore= good because his work lacks ethics defects=understandable=/=focus on results only
    tone: neut

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  22. Philo = define + conclude truth; Moore’s works =/= defects + ethics=only human content

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  23. Moore’s ethics differs from other ethics because it doesn’t fall into the same traps of many philosophical writers and offers a fresh holistic alternative

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  24. Ethics works tend to have defects when they are written; however, Mr. Moore seems to avoid the 2 main defects in ethical writing, and is clear and understandable, even with a lack of philosophical knowledge.
    Philosophy tends to concentrate on results, and seems to cause defects in ethical works, but Mr. Moore’s writing lacks this philosophy.
    The passage finishes with a piece of Mr. Moore’s work, when he states that “good” cannot be defined, and mentions the beauty that people perceive in certain things.

    Well, I think this is what it was talking about…

    Reply

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