G.E.

Moore’s Naturalistic Fallacy and Open Question Argument Reconsidered

by

William Piervincenzi

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy

Supervised by Professor Robert L. Holmes and Senior Lecturer John Gates Bennett Department of Philosophy The College Arts and Sciences University of Rochester Rochester, New York

2007

ii

© 2007, William Piervincenzi

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Curriculum Vitae

The author was born in Bethpage, New York on May 24, 1969. He attended the University at Stony Brook from 1988 to1992 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy. He came to the University of Rochester in the Fall of 1994 and began graduate studies in Philosophy. He received a Rush Rhees Fellowship in 1994 and held teaching assistantships for the subsequent four years. He pursued his research in Ethics under the direction of Professor Robert Holmes and received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in 1999.

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Acknowledgments

Completion of this dissertation would not have been possible for me without the kindness and generosity of people too numerous to mention. I wish to extend special thanks, however, to the following: Eileen Daly and Eva Cadavid for inspiring me to stick with it and to question others instead of myself; Greg Janssen for his friendship and encouragement over the years; Keith McPartland for his enthusiasm and comments, with Greg, on chapter drafts over coffee at Canal Town; my family, and especially my parents, Bill and Edna Piervincenzi who stopped asking “when will you be done?” just in time; Mary Schweizer for good times and pizza; the Diggin family, especially Cecilia for love and support and especially for Kerry; John G. Bennett who gave so much of himself through the final months of writing; Robert L. Holmes for his patience and calming influence; Joe and Jeanne Norwin for being our spiritual sherpas; all of the Delaware Park Olde Tymers for whom it is always summer; and Chewbacca, Goldie, and Quincy for quiet comfort when it was needed most.

I extend the most special thanks and love to my wife, Kerry Diggin, to whom this work is dedicated. (Heaven knows she’s earned it).

however. contrary to the traditional reading.E. distinguishes Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy from the open question argument.v Abstract G. rather than redundant. His claim that philosophers who attempt to define goodness commit the naturalistic fallacy . one of which is supported by at least five sub-arguments. Moore is justly famous for his arguments against ethical naturalism. Moore’s arguments of the opening chapters of Principia Ethica—his claim that most ethical theories commit the naturalistic fallacy and his argument that moral goodness is a simple. indefinable property—are poorly understood. after one hundred years of commentary. This work offers an interpretation of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy that is maximally consistent with Moore's text and examples. This still leaves the possibility that goodness is identical with a simple natural or metaphysical property. most of which turn on our intuitions about language and meaning. In pursuing these goals. Moore uses the open question argument to show that goodness is not identical with any complex natural or metaphysical property. arguments. Moore’s open question argument actually consists of two arguments. This work seeks to augment our understanding of these crucial arguments. and corrects mistaken interpretations of the open question argument. I find that the naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument are complementary. and none of which is wholly successful. I also find that.

vi undermines support for any such identification. . even if it does not conclusively refute such definitions.

Non-natural Property 136 Chapter 6 Conclusions 194 Bibliography 211 .vii Table of Contents Chapter 1 The Legacy of Principia Ethica 1 Chapter 2 Goodness. Simple and Indefinable 15 Chapter 3 What is the Naturalistic Fallacy? 35 Chapter 4 The Naturalistic Fallacy: A New Interpretation 88 Chapter 5 Moore’s Proof that ‘Good’ Refers to a Simple.

Principia Ethica. G. and in the ongoing decay of Western culture. and continues to inspire.2 theories that accounted for the majority of approaches to ethics. e.1 Chapter 1 The Legacy of Principia Ethica I. ed. Stevenson. 3. by those who rejected Moore’s positive views. were under attack. they did inspire the development of plenty of alternative views. like A. which have the same text and different pagination. all future citations will be to the newer version.g. pp 14-19. 4 Most notably. Moore published Principia Ethica.E. See Brian Hutchinson. these are theories that hold that hold that goodness is identical with some natural or metaphysical property. 3 Alisdair MacIntyre holds Moore’s arguments to play a key role in the decline of AngloAmerican ethical thought. one that better captured what we had in mind when we called an action or a state of affairs good.E. Principia Ethica (1903). high praise and scathing criticism. Moore’s Ethical Theory (Cambridge 2001) p.J. Since this new version contains a useful.L. Ayer and C. 2 Broadly defined. Moore offered an ambitious and vexing collection of arguments that inspired. (Cambridge 1993) [henceforth ‘Principia Ethica’].. After Virtue. Thomas Baldwin. . See.1 just over one hundred years ago. § 27.E. Moore. Introduction It is safe to say that after G.4 Moore’s intent in Principia Ethica was to create a new science of ethics. He tried to accomplish this through observations about how we 1 G. 2nd ed. revised edition. philosophical ethics underwent a dramatic change. The newer version is the “revised edition” of 1993. previously unpublished preface to a planned but never written second edition of Principia Ethica. Moore.E. (University of Notre Dame Press) 1984. All forms of ethical naturalism and metaphysical ethics. Principia Ethica. There are two versions of Principia Ethica in wide use. citing Alisdair MacIntyre. The appropriate citation is G.3 And while his arguments did not sound a death knell for naturalism.

most of which have nothing to do with ethics. But there are other disciplines besides ethics that study conduct. This prompts Moore to accept that ethics is the “general enquiry into what is good. Overview of Principia Ethica. Principia Ethica. for some is certainly bad. Moore examines what we mean by the word ‘good. p. what it is we seem to be attributing to an action when we call it good. p.”5 Moore looks to see what all ethical judgments have in common as their subject and determines that this common subject is goodness. and through arguments that appear to demonstrate that whatever we have in mind when we use moral language.”6 To determine what the nature of goodness is. I may say. II. For instance.2 use moral language. Moore takes his study a step further. it can not be anything like what is proposed by ethical naturalists. And since “all conduct is not good. Moore begins Principia Ethica by attempting to identify the scope of ethical inquiry. What is it that we purport to study when we engage in moral reasoning? Clearly. “Good soil and high moisture ensure acceptable rates of 5 6 Principia Ethica.’ We use the word ‘good’ in many ways. “This eggplant is really good” or write. the answer is conduct. What Ethics studies is good conduct. so in order to differentiate ethics from those. . 54. 54. in chapter I. what we intend. and some may be indifferent. He wants to answer the questions: What is the subject matter of ethics? and.

clearly not what we mean when using ethical language. the problem is not in defining the word ‘good. “A definition does indeed often mean the expressing of one word’s meaning in other words. p.’ But clearly. There is one sense of this word that Moore concludes is the uniquely moral sense of the word.’ For simplicity. One mistake people make is in claiming that a mere verbal definition is supposed to be an analysis of the uniquely moral sense of ‘good.” In these contexts. ‘good’ means tasty or fertile.’ namely.”7 A linguistic definition might tell us how people tend to use a word. 58. or it might define a word by stipulation. . without quotes. as in ‘goodness’ I am talking about the word that refers to the property goodness. the property goodness.’ Linguistic definition is not what Moore is after. But this is not the sort of definition I am asking for.’ throughout this work. Moore is concerned to illustrate and avoid a different mistake— 7 Principia Ethica. While it is a mistake to confuse a verbal definition with a property analysis. I will refer to this predicate as ‘goodness. Such a definition can never be of ultimate importance in any study except lexicography. I use it to refer to the property itself.3 propagation. This is the sense that Moore calls ‘intrinsic goodness’ or sometimes ‘intrinsic value. Moore asserts throughout Principia Ethica that people make a mistake when they attempt to define ‘good. He writes. When it appears in single quotes. When it appears in regular text.

Moore takes properties to be either simple or complex. An example of a complex property is being-a-brother. Perhaps each of these can be further broken down. It is simple. This makes goodness an intrinsic kind of value. Using the word ‘intrinsic’ to describe both the natural properties of an object (all those properties which make up any natural object) and the object’s value (a non-natural property an object has in virtue of its arrangement of natural properties) is an unfortunate use of language. but it is dependent on the intrinsic nature (the natural properties) of x. simple. He concludes that goodness is a non-natural. As we will see in Chapter 2. without component parts. Moore examines the characteristics of this property. that is. it is incapable of definition. the mistake of analyzing goodness at all. goodness is not part of the intrinsic nature of an object x. claims Moore. Moore clearly means two different things by this word. To give a definition of a property is to identify its component properties and their relation to each other. indefinable property and an intrinsic kind of value. To say that goodness is an intrinsic kind of value is to say that it is a property of objects that they possess in virtue of other properties those objects possess. Moore takes this property to be made up of the simpler properties being-male and being-a-sibling. As such. Goodness. and leaves it to context for us to .4 that of defining the property goodness in terms of other properties. In the rest of the first chapter of Principia Ethica. is a property that admits of no such analysis. In particular.

e. while being determined purely by the object’s intrinsic properties. Moore calls such objects ‘organic wholes’ or ‘organic unities.’ a term borrowed from Hegelian philosophy.” Principia Ethica.. i. 11 In Chapters II-IV. Moore clarified his position on the relationship between goodness and the intrinsic properties of good objects. and is. and intrinsic kind of value. but for now. it is worth noting that goodness depends on the natural properties of objects. p. using examples10 and in the context of arguing against naturalistic and metaphysical theories. is to explain why it is that ethical naturalism fails. in that sense.9 The value of each individual part of an object or state of affairs is not determinative of the value of the whole. it is yet not itself an intrinsic property. 9 Principia Ethica. to what degree goodness attaches to an object. Moore also claims in Chapter I that how valuable an object is. 10 Throughout Chapter I.5 determine which. but it is clear from context that naturalists are defining Writing in 1921 or 1922.11 Moore does not yet define naturalism. Using ‘G’ to denote Goodness (to prevent confusion with non-moral senses of the word ‘good’). The final task of the first chapter of Principia Ethica. He attempts to describe this naturalistic fallacy in a number of ways. p. he writes: “G is a property which depends only on the intrinsic nature of the things which possess it” and “Though G thus depends on the intrinsic properties of things which possess it.8 This distinction will be made clearer in Chapter 2. but is not itself a natural property. in the proposed preface to a never-published second edition of Principia Ethica. is not necessarily the sum of the value of each of the object’s parts. and the task about which this author is most interested. 22. Among Moore’s claims is the view that a fallacy is committed by every philosopher who offers a definition of goodness. 8 . 79.

6 goodness in terms of properties like those which are the subject matter of disciplines like biology or psychology. The gist of this argument is that for any complex property you consider as a possible definition of goodness. This is somewhat of a simplification of the argument. We can see that ‘happiness promoting’ has a different meaning than ‘good. if the suggestion was that goodness meant happiness-promoting. because even if we accept [2]. For instance.12 As part of his proof that goodness is a non-natural property. and so. a little reflection will show that it differs from goodness. Moore offers his famous open question argument. we might substitute ‘happiness-promoting’ for ‘good’ in a sentence and see that that substitution did not preserve the meaning of the original sentence. and (possibly) in support of his view that all forms of naturalism commit the naturalistic fallacy. and as we will see in Chapter 5. 12 He provides a working definition of naturalism in Chapter II. as in: [1] Practicing vegetarianism is good [2] Practicing vegetarianism is happiness promoting. there is not unanimity on what the open question argument really is.’ Moore argues. nor on what it is supposed to prove. One way to run the open question argument is as a test that uses our intuitions about the meaning of the words we use to express moral concepts to force the reflection required to see that any proposed definition fails. is inadequate as a definition. . we may intelligibly ask.

being-massive. The first. therefore these are natural properties. Moore would say that our suspicion that [1] and [2] do not mean the same thing is grounded in the inadequacy of happiness-promoting as a definition for goodness. physics. that [2] does not make [1] trivial—shows that [1] and [2] have different meanings. based on our idea of the proper scope of scientific inquiry. and psychology collectively study such properties as beingproductive-of-life. Moore offers two ways of identifying natural objects and properties. Chapters II. chemistry. while the truth of [1] is an open question— i. The second way Moore defines natural objects and properties is in terms of metaphysics. and being-productive-ofhappiness..e. He writes that these 13 This is a vastly simplified version of his argument. being-alkaline. III and IV of Principia Ethica are devoted to showing that the various forms of ethical naturalism and metaphysical ethics commit the naturalistic fallacy and should be rejected. .7 Is practicing vegetarianism good? The fact that we can know [2] is true. Moore’s more elaborate version is the subject of chapter 5 of this work. defines natural properties and objects as those things that are the subject matter of natural sciences and psychology. Biology.13 Some version of this test and the naturalistic fallacy are Moore’s most enduring impacts on moral philosophy and the primary subject of this dissertation. Moore tells us that what characterizes all forms of naturalism is that they purport to define goodness in terms of some natural object (or property) or other. In Chapter II.

8 properties are objects or properties that currently exist. the subject of Chapter III. Naturalistic theories of ethics define goodness in terms of one of these sorts of objects or properties. All of these theories. it is a natural object or property.S. Surely. Mill is said to do so in virtue of thinking that the fact that pleasure is universally desired proves that being-productive-of-pleasure is identical with goodness. they are not one and the same concept. including Hedonism. Ethical egoists—those who argue that we ought each to pursue our own best interests—make two mistakes. He offers a test to help us make the determination—Can we imagine that object or property existing alone in the universe? If so. This isolation test is purported to be especially useful in identifying natural properties because Moore takes it to be perfectly conceivable that natural properties are capable of existence in time (and space) independent of the objects to which they are usually attached. have existed. but it may not be. being more evolved may be better than being less so. As Moore points out. Those who are hedonistic egoists commit the . Spencer’s theory of evolutionary ethics commits the fallacy because it identifies the normative concept being-ethically-better with being-more-evolved. are said to rest on the commission of the naturalistic fallacy. Hedonists and all those who base their theories on hedonism—the theory that goodness is pleasure—are also said to commit the naturalistic fallacy. But this is not the case for non-natural properties. or will one day exist. J.

as they are not defining goodness with respect to any natural property. But when we attend closely to the text. but in the definition itself.9 naturalistic fallacy by identifying goodness with being-productive-of-pleasure. p. the commission of the fallacy lies not in the nature of the definition. goodness. e. none of which are identical with goodness. These are supposed to be real. A theory might hold that things are good insofar as they mirror this supersensible reality. Moore’s comments on Green’s theory. 189. but Moore notes that though the ultimate definitions are not natural ones. existent properties that are beyond our comprehension. Moore turns his attention to metaphysical ethics. See. we see that Moore does not say the fault lies in the mere definition.. or some other natural property. Utilitarianism. In Chapter IV.e. which fails for the reasons Moore has already discussed. a property that is necessarily different for everyone. Principia Ethica. goodness.g. i. with something not universal—the agent’s benefit. .14 14 This may be read as some proof that the naturalistic fallacy is just a definist fallacy—that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to give a definition of an indefinable property. Moore rejects these theories on the ground that they commit the naturalistic fallacy. but criticized on the grounds that utilitarians typically choose as their end either pleasure. And all ethical egoists confuse a universal concept. the view that what is right is the act that has the best results (that which maximizes the proper end(s) of moral conduct). is praised as a general theory. These are theories that purport to define goodness by identifying it with some metaphysical property or other—Moore calls these supersensible properties. but in inferring the definition on inappropriate evidence. This may seem odd..

10 In Chapter V. The proper question for practical ethics is ‘What ought I (we) do?’ Rather than asking about the value of objects and states of affairs. Convinced by Moore’s assault on naturalism. and what sorts of things possess goodness— to a discussion of practical ethics. namely love of beautiful things and love of good persons. it seeks to determine the rightness of actions that bring about such objects or states of affairs. Some effects of Principia Ethica Principia Ethica has had a profound impact on subsequent analytic ethics. The final chapter of Principia Ethica is where Moore tells us what things are intrinsically valuable. many came to embrace Moore’s . we ought to do those things that tend to produce better results in the foreseeable future. To determine the value of objects and states of affairs. Moore moves from discussions of meta-ethics—the discussion of the nature of goodness. Moore concludes that there are a great many intrinsically good things. What value would a thing have if it existed alone in the universe? Something that has only instrumental value—a thing that is good only as a means to some other thing—clearly has no value in such a universe. Moore again turns to a kind of isolation test. measured by the production of intrinsic goodness. The answer Moore embraces is that our goal is to try to maximize intrinsic goodness. but two stand out as very great goods. and to accomplish this.

varieties of noncognitivism. like W. denying the view that moral language has the kind of universal meaning Moore presupposes. opting instead to base their theories on the concepts of rightness or duty. words like ‘good. Ross. Plan of this work This dissertation consists of a close reading and explication of Chapters IIII of Principia Ethica. These views. some philosophers maintain that some form of ethical naturalism is correct. After one hundred years of commentary. in their "Toward Fin de 15 16 W. The Right and the Good (1930).D.16 Some of these naturalists are ‘non-reductive’ naturalists who do not propose to define goodness in terms of any particular natural property at all. rather I am merely expressing an attitude I have (disfavor of some sort.15 Others have taken a more radical approach. For instance. but reject the centrality of goodness. but straightforward identification of goodness with some natural property or other has become more rare.’ do not denote moral properties. Ross. “Torture is bad. Thus when I say. Gibbard and Railton. Some.D. hold that the words we use to make moral judgments.11 non-naturalism. depending on the variety of noncognitivism) toward torture. . accept non-naturalism. but are expressions of some one of our mental states or psychological attitudes. Darwall. Though there are still plenty of straightforward hedonists. Of course. Moore’s views on the central arguments of these chapters of Principia Ethica are poorly understood.” I am not attributing the property badness to torture.’ ‘bad’ or ‘right.

What a curious thing it must be if it is no fallacy at all. the failure is not to be laid squarely at the feet of the critics. 18 17 . 2) Distinguishing Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy from the open question argument. No. At the same time. 20 As we shall see. it was proved that there was no fallacy involved in Moore’s naturalistic fallacy18.12 Siecle Ethics"17 claim that fifty years ago. One would hope that after a century of scholarship we would be able to distinguish theses central tenets of Moorean thought. Vol. others criticize theories like those of evolutionary ethics on the grounds that they commit the naturalistic fallacy. claims not to know what he meant by his claims that all forms of ethical naturalism commit the fallacy. himself.20 My purpose in writing this dissertation is to offer an interpretation of Moore’s central claims that demonstrates the subtlety and power of those arguments. even for himself.” Mind 48: 464-77. 1 (January 1992) Probably referring to Frankena’s article “The Naturalistic Fallacy. 19 In his posthumously published preface to the unpublished second edition of Principia Ethica. Moore. as Moore is difficult to interpret. yet the reason to reject these theories.19 It also seems that critics of the naturalistic fallacy and open question argument generally criticize Moore’s arguments without being sufficiently careful to distinguish the open question argument from Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy. This involves three things: 1) Offering an explication of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy that is consistent with Moore’s text and examples. and The Philosophical Review. 101.

In Chapter 4. however. for instance. I find that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make one of three closely related errors. and William Frankena.13 3) Correcting mistaken interpretations of the open question argument. it is not the error that most critics think it is. emphasizes fidelity to the text and rejects the traditional interpretation. maintain fidelity to the text of Principia Ethica. There I describe the property goodness and explain Moore’s claims about it. I find that. I offer a close reading of Moore’s statements wherein he describes the naturalistic fallacy and of his examples of philosophers who commit the naturalistic fallacy. I provide a reading of Moore’s open question argument that. The heavy lifting begins in Chapter 2. I find that none of those interpretations. I examine interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy offered by Thomas Baldwin. are instructive. for it allows Prior to minimize both claims by attacking only one. conflates the naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument. as in the case of the naturalistic fallacy. In Chapter 5. A. Prior. I also include some comments made by Moore in the years after Principia Ethica was published.N. rather than proving that all natural . My interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy suggests that while it is indeed an error. The consequences of this are dire. The mistakes. I focus on what it means for goodness to be simple and indefinable. In Chapter 3. We will see that Prior. even Moore’s.

Chapter 6. But this leaves the possibility that goodness is a simple natural property. Chapter I. and emphasizes the proper role of Moore’s two major arguments of Principia Ethica.14 definitions of goodness are false. but that commission of the naturalistic fallacy undermines the rational support any naturalistic theory could hope to garner. I argue that the naturalistic fallacy does not disprove any proposed natural definition. summarizes my main points. I examine these arguments in detail and offer one of my own that is intended to overcome some of the problems normally associated with Moore’s arguments. I find that the open question argument is Moore’s proof that goodness cannot be defined in terms of any complex natural property. the conclusion. the section of Principia Ethica wherein Moore details the open question argument actually contains many arguments all in support of the conclusion that goodness is simple and indefinable. . The naturalistic fallacy is then deployed against any possible simple definition.

15 Chapter 2 Goodness. its goodness is not a property which we can take up in our hands. and transfer to something else. I explain Moore’s argument for the indefinability of goodness. Goodness Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy aside. It is not. like most of the predicates which we ascribe to things.1 The main theses Moore defends in Principia Ethica are that goodness is a simple and indefinable property. and in Chapter 5. I. 175. This is followed by an examination into what it means to be simple and indefinable. . But this does not tell us much about what goodness is. perhaps the most significant thesis he defends in Principia Ethica is the claim that goodness is 1 Principia Ethica. p. Simple and Indefinable It is immediately obvious that when we see a thing to be good. a part of the thing to which we ascribe it. in fact. What features does this property have? What does it mean for a property to be indefinable? This chapter begins with an examination into what property it is that Moore claims is simple and indefinable. Chapters 3 and 4 are about the naturalistic fallacy. or separate from it even by the most delicate scientific instruments. and that most naturalistic ethical theories commit the naturalistic fallacy.

’ ‘notion. As the vocabulary and conventions of analytic philosophy became standardized. In Principia Ethica. Moore holds that virtue is not “an unique ethical predicate.’ ‘quality. Moore believed that the other concepts of ethics—examples include right. goodness. Together they are the only simple objects of thought peculiar to Ethics. obligation. 231. we must first figure out what it means to be good. but its converse. at least early in his philosophical career.’ Moore means “the only simple object of thought which is peculiar to Ethics. p. First.”3 At various times in his career. p.16 simple and indefinable. This quote raises a few issues worth footnoting. Of what property is Moore predicating indefinability? Moore begins his examination of moral theory by asking the question What is good?2 He does not mean by this question ‘What things are good?’ but rather. By ‘good.” the word ‘good’ does not refer to the property relevant to ethics. “Soup is good food. what property does the word ‘good’ pick out? By ‘good. To what does the word ‘good’ when used in its moral sense refer? In other words. Moore. he is inquiring about the property. and not to the many other properties that go by the same name but which are not relevant to ethics. and upon which all judgments of right and wrong rest. itself. For example. or being-valued-forits-nutritional-content. by ‘object of thought’ he actually means what we mean by ‘property.” Principia Ethica. p. Second. Principia Ethica.’ he means to refer to that property that he believes is unique to ethics. Moore no longer uses ‘concept’ to denote objects and properties.’ ‘concept. if I say. 4 Note. 55. Moore notes that goodness is not the only such property. . is another. I am likely using the word to refer to some property like tastiness.’ ‘object of thought. but before we can do a good job of answering it. and virtue4—could be 2 3 Principia Ethica.’ He takes ‘property. his use of these words became standardized as well. 57. The question of what things are good is an interesting one. badness.’ and ‘predicate’ to mean the same thing.

6 Moore. Vol. 260298. by 1905.”8 Clearly. 7 Russell. “The Early Philosophy of G. for instance. no. p. We recognize that this is an incomplete analysis.. in Principia Ethica.6 It is unclear whether this warrants concluding that he abandoned hopes of such a definition. 298. at p. B. 2 (Winter 1972-73). 1905). written in 1905. changed his views about language.” Mind New Series. vol. help us to settle the question about whether the meaning of ‘right’ is indefinable. In a letter to Russell. . which might.17 defined. Moore. Moore writes in response to Russell’s article “On Denoting”7 “Your theory suggested to me a new theory about the meaning of the ‘meaning’ of words.” reprinted in part in Philip Pettit. or whether he merely intended to distance his later work from the controversy associated with Principia Ethica.’ Since we have no evidence that Moore had. In Ethics. 198. For example. because the right side does not seem to require anything of S. he offers the following analysis of obligation: ‘S is obligated to do x’ means ‘x will produce the greatest amount of good in the universe’5 But it is not clear whether Moore believed these other ethical properties could be defined in terms of goodness throughout his career. 14. Ethics (1911) p 61. Assuming that ‘ought’ implies ‘can.” The Philosophical Forum. Moore was unsettled about the definability of ‘right. it 5 Principia Ethica.E. “On Denoting. at least in terms of goodness. pp.’ we might solve this by the addition of ‘and x is among the things S can do. he does not give a definition of rightness in terms of goodness. 479-493. IV. 8 “Letter to Bertrand Russell of 23 October 1905. pp.’ Moore provides an analysis of rightness in the same passage. But I can’t work it out right now. in 1905.. I think. 56 (Oct. No.

if this is true of them. the subject of Chapter 5. The Philosophy of G.” Moore. for the most part.A. it is clear we have ways of thinking about goodness and these other properties. In that essay.10 Similarly. that there is a property that we refer to by the name ‘good.” p. or definable in terms of goodness. Northwestern University Press (1942). We may think of Moore’s claim about goodness as the analog to a physicist’s claim about mass. .’ ‘ought. that they have merely ‘emotive meaning’ and no ‘cognitive meaning’ at all: and.18 is clear that he was unsure whether rightness was definable (analyzable). vol. it must also be true of ‘good. I am inclined to think that this is so. We also have inconclusive evidence from Moore’s reply to his critics in Schilpp.’ This argument is the second part of Moore’s proof that goodness is simple and indefinable. of course. but only carry emotive meanings. “A Reply to My Critics. 10 This very feature will be the motivating force behind Moore’s argument that ‘good’ is not meaningless. but only by relation to other properties or objects. it is possible to recognize it for purposes of discussion.9 Regardless of whether goodness is really the only simple object of thought peculiar to ethics. IV.’ in all ethical uses. and I do not know which way I am inclined most strongly. in this more radical sense. ed.E. Schilpp. It is a basic 9 He writes: “I must say again that I am inclined to think that ‘right. and.’ in the sense I have been most concerned with.e. ‘wrong. but in a telling passage..’ ‘duty’ also. are. the project of defining ethical properties in terms of goodness. basic properties of physics—mass.. Despite not being able to define goodness. i. he admits that he is sometimes inclined to think that no moral terms are names of properties at all. Nonetheless. he defends. or whether some or all of the other concepts are simple as well. for instance—may not be defined in terms of their constituent parts. such properties may be identified and discussed. but I am also inclined to think it is not so. 554 in P. The Library of Living Philosophers collection. not the names of characteristics at all. Moore.

19 property. To use an analogy Moore comes back to frequently. Principia Ethica. but then the quote ought to read “Whenever [someone] thinks of the property named ‘intrinsic value’. On the other hand. This suggests that they should be offset by quotes. we can talk about yellowness even though I cannot define it. we will recognize it. some of which Moore noted himself in his Preface to the Second Edition. he cannot tell us much more than this. Since Moore takes this property to be indefinable. . and that when we reflect on it. this can lead to use/mention problems. . As I have noted elsewhere. Nonetheless. it strikes me that we may very well be wrong about the features that we think allow us to pick out goodness for purposes of discussion. 68. Many disciplines have core features that we may not be able to define. Though it seems that he might be referring to the property being intrinsically valuable and not the words ‘intrinsic value’ he offsets the phrase with single quotes. It is enough that we can identify instances of it when we see it. that we use it in our judgments about ethics. we all know it is there.11 Moore writes “Whenever [someone] thinks of ‘intrinsic value. This is not necessarily problematic.’ or says that a thing ‘ought to exist. but we cannot define it. p.” . though this is not anything I wanted to talk about in this dissertation.’ or ‘intrinsic worth. I must make an exception here. we can talk meaningfully about them. we recognize it.’”12 Although in this dissertation I have avoided citing to Moore’s later work except to contrast it with what appears in Principia Ethica. He can only rely on the fact that we are familiar with the property in question. We see in this quote one of the problems endemic to Moore’s writing in Principia Ethica.’ he has before his mind the unique object—the unique property of things—which I mean by ‘good. . etc. he is trying to express the thought that these are other names for the property goodness. we can discuss it. Since Moore sometimes refers to this property as ‘intrinsic 11 Actually. 12 Moore.

just as my counterpart in Bizarro world might have no beard and a malevolent streak a mile wide. In particular. p. . exists with exactly the same intrinsic properties. 75. is necessarily true of all. if true. Moore identifies two important features of intrinsic goodness: 1) Intrinsic goodness is a property which depends only on the intrinsic nature of the things which possess it. 15 Principia Ethica. . he makes two claims that seem to imply necessity.13 Moore sometimes writes as if (1) implies that if an object has intrinsic goodness. he writes that judgments that “state that certain kinds of things are themselves good” are. good in this world. First. Clearly there are worlds in which a given object. he writes that “a judgment which asserts that a thing is good in itself . good in this world. but this implication is not literally true. He believes that only predicates of value have these two features. p. universally true. p. it will be good regardless of the other characteristics of the world. it has it necessarily. it is not itself an intrinsic property.’ which brings to mind features of goodness that we might not otherwise think of.”15 By ‘necessarily true’ Moore does not mean true in every possible world. 14 Principia Ethica. 78. What Moore means is that in any world in which an object. .14 Secondly. would have intrinsic properties that make it bad. Moore’s comments about intrinsic goodness from the Second Preface are helpful. 22. 13 Preface to the Second Edition of Principia Ethica.20 value. and 2) Though it depends on the intrinsic properties of the things which possess it. if true of one instance of the thing.

whatever else may be true of that world.16 the indiscernibility is at the level of individuals. . no matter what the rest of the world is like. then x in w1 is indiscernible from y in w2 with respect to goodness. w1 and w2. His descriptions seem to imply that the supervenience relation is a strong. say. if an object is good anywhere. A weak supervenience view might claim that if two objects were indiscernible with respect to their natural (or other) properties in a given possible world. they would be indiscernible with respect to goodness in that world. The view is a variety of local supervenience because the moral supervenes on the "local" properties of the objects in question. Relational properties and other non16 Unlike. not whole worlds.21 Whatever is good depends only on the non-relational properties of the object such that for any object. if an object is good in one world. and any worlds. On Moore’s view. if x in w1 is indiscernible from y in w2 with respect to their intrinsic properties. or that it supervenes on the intrinsic properties of the objects that possess it. On this view. This is a variety of strong supervenience because the indiscernibility with respect to goodness is across worlds. It seems that Moore is trying to establish that goodness is a kind of emergent property. its exactly similar counterpart will be good in every world. local form of supervenience. We can state this view as follows: For any objects x and y. an object exactly like it is good everywhere. a global supervenience view.

Moore also believes that most (maybe all) natural and metaphysical predicates are either contingent or intrinsic. This conception of properties is examined briefly. To be simple is to admit of no definition. I do not find this identification. The simplicity of a property and its indefinability are distinct features the property may have. . simple and indefinable Simplicity Moore takes goodness to be simple and indefinable. To be a simple property is to have no other properties as constituents. it appears that indefinability is a consequence of not having parts. the indefinability of goodness is a consequence of its being simple. it is not an argument Moore makes. so it cannot be natural or metaphysical. though one is the consequence of the other. and while this would go a long way toward establishing Moore’s claim that goodness is indefinable. We might create from this an argument that goodness is not definable in terms of natural or metaphysical properties. Moorean definition consists in identifying those parts and their relations to each other and the whole. rather than being identical with simplicity.17 And the reason 17 Some doubt is cast on this claim by Moore. but given Moore’s conception of definition. in the Second Preface. For Moore. Goodness. where he writes that in Principia Ethica he identified being simple with being indefinable. himself. Intrinsic goodness is neither.22 intrinsic properties do not make up part of the supervenience base. below. have such parts. Complex properties. by contrast. II.

But we could resist this inference. or it is complex.18 In fact.20 Moore uses the analogy between goodness and yellow when he describes the naturalistic fallacy and to give an example of a natural simple property. besides the consequences for definability. What he does not do. To see this. is present in this argument any sub-argument to the conclusion that no simple natural property.19 Simplicity has some implications worth drawing. 19 Strictly speaking. It is typically asserted by those who claim that Moore’s naturalistic fallacy is a definist fallacy that Moore’s open question argument is designed to show that no definition is correct. 20 Scott Soames. 18 . We will see that Moore does not show that no definition is correct. But he emphatically does not show this. and this point has been missed by every author I have read. indefinable). he only rules out definitions that identify goodness with some complex property. He then argues that ‘good’ is not meaningless—that there is some unique property we have in mind when we use the word ‘good’ in the moral sense.23 I take this to be so important is that no part of Moore’s proof that goodness is simple and indefinable actually turns on the indefinability. in Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press 2003) does a nice job explaining this analogy. at least in Moorean terms. Rather. he shows that Goodness is simple. like pleasantness. identifying goodness and pleasantness is not to define either. From that simpleness we might infer that Goodness is indefinable. we can consider the property yellowness. What Moore does is to present an argument from the premise that either goodness is simple (hence. or it has no unique meaning. is identical with goodness.

because woozles would. Moore would add. again. “pleasure is good” may or may not be synthetic. such as “to be a woozle is to be a morally good whatzit.’ but “pleasure is the good” is synthetic (and. 23 He writes. we might also take this to be a synthetic statement. Moore would claim that this expression is synthetic.22 So. nothing Where the statement is taken as predicating goodness of pleasure. “[P]ropositions about the good are all of them synthetic and never analytic. So Moore would claim that the statement “lemons are yellow’ is synthetic.” then the statement “Woozles are good” would be analytic. the statement does not assert that lemons are necessarily yellow. false).’ It is perfectly reasonable to assert or to believe this statement. depending on the definition of ‘pleasure. Further. by definition. 21 .24 Consider the statement ‘Lemons are yellow. as it might if lemons were defined as “the yellow citrus fruit. This is because from our knowledge of yellowness. we would claim that the expression is analytic. and would be about the good.” in which case. or a world in which such things existed. If a property or object were defined in terms of goodness. so no definition is possible for it. by claiming that to be yellow is to reflect light waves of wavelength Y.” Principia Ethica. That is. Moore might have done better to say instead “Propositions purporting to define the good (statements purporting to tell us all and only the good things) are synthetic. I think this might be an error on Moore’s part.23 If someone were to attempt to define yellowness. p 58. be part of the good. 22 Moore takes pleasure to be a simple property as well. such as: Pleasure is good.21 We can hold that such a statement is true without holding that the relation between pleasure and goodness follows from the definitions of either pleasure or goodness.” So. This is analogous to statements about good. And the truth of the statement does not follow from some deeper necessary truth about lemons. that pleasure is a thing that is good. We can conceive of an orange or green lemon—it seems reasonable to think there could be such things.

a successful definition of a property is an analysis that tells us the parts that make up the object.24 Moore is interested in the kind of definition we might call a property analysis. In Moorean terms. Thus. which suggests a certain contingency about the proposed definition.25 seems to follow about Y-ish light wavelengths. and perhaps. Vol. The reason that goodness and yellowness resist definition in this way is that they are both simple. it is synthetic. Analysis Moore takes this to be so because he takes these properties to be unanalyzable. This is to say that it is not part of our concept of yellow (and in fact. and hence. His list is not considered authoritative. identifies sixteen different sorts of definition. 51 (1954). p. As in the earlier case. pp. 730-736.” The Journal of Philosophy. Hence. . simple properties—those properties that have no parts—are incapable of being defined. we could imagine a situation in which yellow things reflected wavelengths of a different size. unanalyzable properties. everything we might say about them is synthetic. 59. As a consequence of this view of definition. the relation that those parts stand in to each other and the thing as a whole. 25 Principia Ethica.25 Moore writes “definitions which describe the real nature of the object or notion 24 John Fischer. it is not part of the property yellowness) that yellow things reflect any particular kind of light. and not a successful definition. in his paper “On Defining Good. Of the many possible kinds of definition.

26 denoted by a word. are subject to this sort of definition. but the definition he offers for ‘horse’ does not look much like an analysis to Warnock.”26 Complex objects or properties.’ This contention is a source of concern for Warnock because Moore asserts it on several occasions as an aid to clarify what he means by ‘definition. Principia Ethica. at which no further analysis is possible. 29 Warnock. and those parts might be further analyzable as well. p.’ But the result. Each of these can be analyzed into its component parts. in Ethics Since 1900.. 60. and which do not merely tell us what the word is used to mean. until you get to the level of simples. p. 28 Ethics Since 1900. is not clarity at all. . nor would it be taken to be defining ‘horse’ at all.28 comments on Moore’s contention that the definition of ‘Horse’ is ‘hooved quadruped of the genus equus. are only possible when the object or notion in question is something complex. 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press 1978). with a special meaning. She writes “No doubt one could list the parts of the horse. It is evident that what Moore means by ‘definition’ is analysis. for Warnock.”29 What Moore expects of a good analysis is that it makes clear the parts which compose a thing and the relation in which they stand to each 26 27 Ibid.’. real or mythical. but to do this would not be to say ‘Hooved quadruped etc. 21.27 Mary Warnock. and even state their relation one to another. Moore illustrates with the examples of a horse and a chimaera.

themselves. while illustrating the possibility for defining both concrete and imaginary entities. are simply too complex to be useful. in the first instance. themselves. is the second concern underlying Warnock’s complaint. And this. goats. 59. complex things.”31 In some ways. which may. And we can further divide each of its parts into parts. p. An analysis of ‘horse’. the lend themselves to a good deal of confusion about what we are actually defining. a goat. 30 . but it looks nothing like an analysis in terms of parts. simply would not contain pasterns. 31 Principia Ethica. hooves and tails. chestnuts. The examples of horse and chimaera. and a lioness—and how it is put together. it seems. and lionesses are. There seem to be two sources of concern underlying Warnock’s criticism. she thinks. “[A]ll are composed of parts. his choice of examples leaves much to be desired.27 other. be capable of similar division. Warnock thinks this would not be a definition. Are we to consider these definitions of concrete entities or the properties being a horse and being a chimaera? Moore wants to assert that a certain kind of He gives such an analysis of beauty in Chapter VI. because snakes. He says of a chimaera that we can describe its parts—a snake. which no longer can be defined.30 With his examples of horses and chimaeras. he gestures in the direction he thinks a successful analysis lies. Additionally. so it is not particularly illuminating. The first might be that Moore has not given us a single complete and successful analysis against which we could measure any future analyses we might make. but fails to offer one. but which must in the end be reducible to simplest parts.

The idea of property analysis as demonstrating the component parts of complex properties is a defensible project.” Philosophical Studies 90: 155–179.. But it seems for all the world like being a bachelor does mean to be unmarried.g. The alternative is that being a bachelor has no parts and is thus.32 Consider the property being a bachelor. being male. simple. Jeffrey King. But then.33 I think it would be a weird sort of world if my being a husband was something beyond my being married and being male. This seems like a mistake. possibly simple properties. etc. “What is a Philosophical Analysis. being adult. There are some things that can be said in defense of the view that there are complex properties and that they are made up of other. e. I embrace this view of properties because I find the alternative unreasonable. and male. and perhaps (to eliminate a problem raised by Richard Brandt that I discuss in Chapter 5) being un-widowed and un-divorced. being unmarried. instantiating that property is not to instantiate all of its parts. and adult.28 definition—a property analysis—is impossible for goodness. but I think it looks very little like these particular examples. 1998. viz. but the examples he gives of property analyses look like analyses of concrete objects. 33 Could it be a mere accident that people instantiating all those properties also instantiate bachelorhood? 32 .. I am unsure whether my unease with such a view is that it leads to See. He divides the horse and the chimaera into pieces. it appears. It would have to be a whole other simple property I instantiated. It is reasonable to think that this property is a conjunction of other properties.

The remainder of this chapter considers some requirements for a successful analysis. like events. Nature of Analysis Moore claims that ‘good’ is indefinable. . 60. At any rate. He writes that good is indefinable in that “…it is not composed of any parts. when used in the sense that is relevant to ethics. p. Moore meant by this that the concept to which the word ‘good’ refers. If the idea of complex properties being composed of component properties has some plausibility. is unanalyzable. In Principia Ethica. or objects. Moore’s conception of definition as property analysis can be motivated. 36 Principia Ethica. 59. these considerations suggest an initial plausibility to the kind of view Moore must advocate.29 a weird promiscuity of properties34 or that new property instantiations seem to bring with them no new information about the object that instantiates them. so why would it be strange here? 35 Principia Ethica. which we can substitute for it in our minds when we are thinking of it”35 and “…definitions which describe the real nature of the object or notion denoted by a word…are only possible when the object or notion involved is complex. p.”36 This gives us some idea of what he expects from an analysis—that it only applies to things with parts and that it 34 This is something that does not bother me for other metaphysical entities. Moore offers little explanation of what he really intended for a successful analysis.

Consider a sample analysis of x. but to define a word is neither the same things as to give an analysis of that word. He writes “To define a concept is the same thing as to give an analysis of it. in conceptual analysis.38 The features of language. x iff y Calling x the analysandum and y the analysans. the analysandum and 37 Moore. while interesting to Moore. but not “mere” verbal expressions. p..E. 662 38 Moore uses the words ‘concept’ and ‘property’ interchangeably. Chicago. In his subsequent writing. Both analysans and analysandum must be concepts. Northwestern University Press. p 664 . nor the same thing as to give an analysis of any concept.A. It is to analyze the thing itself. 1942 . To do a conceptual analysis is not to analyze our way of thinking about a thing. for instance in his “Reply to my Critics” and in his “Preface to the Second Edition of Principia Ethica” he gives a more thorough treatment of the topic. ideas or propositions. P. Moore. What follows is an explication of successful analysis as derived from these sources. Moore sets the following criteria for a successful analysis: 1.”39 To be sure. 1942. 39 Moore. are not what he is out to discover. The Philosophy of G. “Reply to My Critics” in Schilpp.37 This is to ensure that we are clear that we are doing conceptual analysis and not linguistic analysis.30 should tell us what those parts are in a way that will enable use to substitute them for the object when we have it in mind.

the concept you are analyzing cannot be the same concept as the analysandum. . but they should not be the same concept. p. however is a consequence of having been trained in post-Moorean philosophy of language and metaphysics. if anything is to be true of them. in The Philosophical Forum. Boston University 1972.41 Similarly. Both analysans and analysandum must in some sense be the same concept. 2. Moore”.” Moore. syntax. The problem is that when you are doing conceptual analysis. Given this interpretation of ‘concept’. 267 Existing things “can. We usually think that the analysans and analysandum would need to refer to the same object or property in the world. Moore means something else. so the object for which a word stands is a concept. not its expression—the shape of the letters. No. (1899) p. P. condition (2) seems perfectly reasonable. be composed of nothing but concepts. Pettit. This criticism. p. spacing. Philip Pettit writes that for Moore everything that exists. Consider the analysis of brother: 40 41 Moore. 182. but in different terms. IV. words are meaningful because they stand for objects. but what is being analyzed is the concept. vol. Contemporary philosophers use the word ‘concept’ to denote a way of thinking about a thing. The analysans and analysandum of a successful analysis should refer to the same object. 666. 1942.” Mind. and everything that is known—including objects of perception—is composed of concepts. “Nature of Judgment. but it might be the saving grace of this condition. etc.E. “The Early Philosophy of G. 2.31 analysans are expressed verbally.40 The inclusion of ‘in some sense’ is terribly unsatisfying. This would make the analysis useless.

32 x is a brother iff x is a male sibling ‘Brother’ and ‘male sibling’ both refer to the same objects (Moore would say ‘concepts’) in the world. 3. is the source of Moore’s paradox of analysis. This. The analysans must be such that nobody can know or verify that the analysandum applies to an object without knowing that the analysans does also.42 This condition is troublesome to me. 42 Moore. 1942. 663. This analysis. Clearly. It is conceivable that one might have a sophisticated molecular motion detector and not know that it is also a heat detector. It can offer us no new information. p. might be worded something like this: x is hot iff x has rapidly moving molecules. In fact. one might know that some object has rapidly moving molecules without knowing that that object was hot. but this condition keeps such an analysis from being informative. If Moore is actually giving an account of this property: x is a successful analysis of y for S(someone). then (3) might be a good condition. Consider the folk philosophical analysis of heat. thought to be correct and successful. I believe. anyone unfamiliar with the analysis could know one side of the bi-conditional applied without knowing that the other applied as well. An analysis is not successful unless it meets this condition. .

33 4. in a sense. but in terms of content it is certainly acceptable.43 This particular condition is one that gave Moore some difficulty. ought to be rejected. Ibid. The expression used for the analysans must be synonymous with that used for the analysandum. I believe. If synonymy of expressions means simply that two expressions refer to the same object. Stylistically it is awkward. then this condition is clearly correct. . He thought it was necessary for any successful analysis but he also thought that it was not satisfiable. or reject his assertion that this is a bad translation. I think the proper response to Moore’s concern about translation is one of two things: either reject translational substitutivity as a criterion for synonymy. But he seems to want something more of synonymy. which. has not the same meaning as ‘x is a male sibling. This is because he is not sure what criteria to use for synonymy. Issues of correctness in translation (particularly this translation) are as much issues of style as they are of content. Another possibility is to simply reject condition (4). 667. p. the expression ‘x is a brother’ is not synonymous with. 43 44 Ibid p. whereas if you were to translate it by ‘brother’ it would not”44 This suggests an alternate criterion for synonymy.’ since if you were to translate the French word ‘frère’ by the expression ‘male sibling’ your translation would be incorrect. 663. In his “Reply to My Critics” he writes: “It is obvious…that.

‘being male’ and ‘being a sibling’ are not mentioned by ‘brother’ and the method by which the concepts male and sibling are combined is conjunction. 46 45 . There is nothing like unanimity on the requirements for a successful analysis. The expression used for the analysandum must be different from that used for the analysans in two ways: a) The analysans must mention explicitly concepts not used in the analysandum. which could stand as the referents of the analysans. good is unanalyzable because it is simple. Since it has no parts.46 For Moore. the part/whole discussion may be enough. which has other concepts as constituents.34 5. p. b) The analysans must mention the method by which the concepts are combined. For Moorean ethics purposes. Simple concepts have no parts. 666. Ultimately.45 For example. there are no other concepts. unlike brother. which can be combined in any way. Ibid. Moore’s claim is that there is no analysis of intrinsic goodness that satisfies (1-5).

e. See. No. and it is the one holdover of Moore’s arguments that even nonphilosophers embrace.35 Chapter 3 What is the Naturalistic Fallacy? “[F]ar too many philosophers have thought that when they named [the other properties that good things have]. and perhaps naive. Ursula Goodenaugh. 55. p. Ch. . Moore on the Naturalistic Fallacy. namely. Oxford: Oxford University Press.. they were actually defining good. wherein she reviews Stephen J. and Kolnai. It is the one contribution of Principia Ethica most recognized and relied upon by other philosophers.g. Ethics Since 1900. May 1999. e. . My own informal observations suggest that most non-philosophers take the naturalistic fallacy to be the attempt to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’—the undertaking of attempting to reach moral conclusions from scientific. Though the embrace is hesitant.. 5-16. there are a vast number of papers and book chapters devoted to it. Casimir. Vol 50. illuminates why the naturalistic fallacy is held in such high regard by some and completely dismissed 1 2 Principia Ethica. 3rd ed. This view I propose to call the ‘naturalistic fallacy. Gould’s Rocks of Ages (Ballantine Books. (1965) pp 251-262.3 None of this commentary. “G. Mary. 1.. were simply not ‘other’ but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. 1999) Goodenaugh writes that “the book attempts to make a . 62. or other. . pp. in fact.” American Scientist. Philosophy. 211. 1978. however.’1 Introduction Perhaps the most enduring impact of Principia Ethica is the addition of the expression ‘the naturalistic fallacy’ into the lexicon of analytic ethics. Lewy. Vol. that these properties. The Ghost of the Naturalistic Fallacy.” 3 In addition to the commentary I examine in this chapter. that scientists are prone to commit the naturalistic fallacy—to derive ‘oughts’ from ‘ises’—on a grand. 1980).. “The Holes in Gould's Semipermeable Membrane Between Science and Religion. observations.2 Those precious few pages of Principia Ethica in which Moore describes the naturalistic fallacy have received a great deal of commentary. point. Warnock.E. See. Aurel.” Proceedings of the British Academy.g. overbearing scale. (Jan.

while this is a claim of Moore’s.e. For example. below. G.36 by others. 90-93 and 176. Rutledge (London 1990) p. or nearly all. writes that it is Moore’s central claim in Principia Ethica that the naturalistic fallacy is committed by almost all moral philosophers. 6 See. See Baldwin.E. it is not clear what is being asserted when a theory is said to commit the naturalistic fallacy. “The ‘naturalistic fallacy’ is the name Moore gives to any 4 For instance. 5 He is not using the term ‘metaphysical’ as we do today. See Principia Ethica. Principia Ethica. . pp.... Typically. I contend that. Thomas Baldwin. This is due. Moore. 161. philosophers who advocate metaphysical ethics—those theories that hold that ethical truths follow from metaphysical truths5—commit the naturalistic fallacy.g.6 Despite one hundred years of philosophical work on the subject. part of the super-sensible) realm. Tom Regan writes. p. whose work is discussed in detail. e. to a failure by commentators to tease out from Moore’s somewhat cryptic text a coherent reconstruction of what committing the naturalistic fallacy entails and what role the fallacy plays in Moore’s overall project. I believe.4 Moore states that nearly all philosophers who advocate naturalistic ethics—those theories that hold that good or some other moral property is identical with some natural property or properties—and all. it is far from his central claim. or that Moore’s comments are so hopelessly confused that his claim is meaningless. By a ‘metaphysical truth’ he means some proposition about the metaphysical (i. 69. T. commentators conclude that Moore’s claim that naturalistic theories commit the naturalistic fallacy simply amounts to the claim that such theories assert that good is identical with some natural property.

Moore has as his primary purpose in Principia Ethica the scientization of ethics. So. I offer that this is because Moore’s text is brutally hard to interpret and subject to a variety of challenges. 197. Before examining this secondary literature. it is worth reviewing Moore’s goals for Principia Ethica and. Bloomsbury’s Prophet (Temple University Press 1986). What error do naturalistic theories (or those philosophers who assert their truth) commit? Is it correct to call it a fallacy? In this chapter I examine answers to these questions as proposed by Thomas Baldwin. identifying some of the confusion surrounding the naturalistic fallacy. As we shall see.”7 Regan. In order to establish a science of ethics on a par with the natural 7 8 Tom Regan. and William Frankena. . Arthur Prior. and finding instances of it in others’ work. p. The two most significant claims Moore makes—that most naturalists commit the naturalistic fallacy and that goodness is simple and indefinable—are left unexamined. even though Regan points out that nearly two-thirds of Principia Ethica is devoted to the explanation of the naturalistic fallacy. p.8 Regan sidesteps the very issue of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy. Moore’s own subsequent commentary on the Principia Ethica is the root of some of the confusion.37 attempt to identify Good with something other than itself. Regan. opts not to analyze just what the naturalistic fallacy is. including those coming from Moore himself. who provides a thorough treatment of the impact of Moore’s ethical philosophy and the metaphysics underlying his claims. 193. beyond this simple assertion. in light of these. T.

especially at the peripheries of those sciences.pdf . Y. One might infer from this that to identify what goodness is. unlike some of the properties that are the proper subject of the natural sciences. then. (New York: Oxford University Press 1995) cited in Michael Esfeld. “Holism in Cartesianism and in Today’s Philosophy of Physics. 17–36 available online at http://www. it may help to determine what it is not.9 but not about their central concepts. Auyang. One way to view Moore’s writing on the naturalistic fallacy. S. e.ch/webdav/site/philo/shared/DocsPerso/EsfeldMichael/1999/JGPhilSci99.unil..” Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 30 (1999). See. a big part of Moore’s work is to identify what goodness is.38 sciences—which had seen substantial success by the time Moore wrote Principia Ethica—Moore believes it is necessary to establish precisely what the proper subject of ethics is. In keeping with goal of solidifying the central concepts of ethics. pp. 9 For example. How is Quantum Field Theory Possible? . is a property about which there is nothing like unanimity in the views about its nature. he takes the proper subject of ethics to be goodness. It takes a certain solidification about central concepts before advancement is possible. As noted in the first chapter. there is debate about the nature of fields in physics. Disabusing fellow philosophers of their false views about the subject matter of ethics would go a long way toward establishing a core science of ethics. And this is no surprise. there is something like unanimity about what angles are or what it is that chemistry studies. The paradigms of sound reasoning—mathematics and the natural sciences—might face this problem.. Goodness. is that it is an attempt to determine what it is that goodness is not.g.

I take up Moore’s criticisms of ethical naturalism in an attempt to determine just what committing the naturalistic fallacy entails in the next chapter.g. or alternately. 27 In fact. that being more evolved is morally better than not being so evolved. Fully one third of Principia Ethica is devoted to showing that naturalistic theories. Principia Ethica. sec.11 Both of these theories and all others that define goodness in terms of some natural property or object are said to rest on a naturalistic fallacy. Ch II.39 Moore claims that the naturalistic fallacy is committed in the arguments for nearly all forms of naturalism and by any other theory that attempts to define goodness.. commit the naturalistic fallacy. Ethical naturalism. 12 If we reserve about a third for the explanation of the naturalistic fallacy. and detecting it in metaphysical theories. we get the two-thirds that Tom Regan pointed out above. Moore offers Hedonism—the view that goodness is pleasure—and Spencer’s evolutionary ethics—the theory that goodness is being conducive to life. and Hedonism in particular. The bulk of his critical work in Principia Ethica is an assault on ethical naturalism. 10 11 See. as defined by Moore. one of Moore’s criticisms of Spencer’s view is that underlying his view is a form of Hedonistic naturalism. Moore’s claim that every form of ethical naturalism commits the fallacy suggests to us that goodness is not any natural property or object. . encompasses those theories that attempt to define goodness in terms of natural properties. e.12 If we were to take what Moore says about the naturalistic fallacy as a way to determine a little about what goodness is not.10 As examples of such theories.

16 See discussion of Frankena.”13 As an example. See Principia Ethica § 66 (pp. but rather it is the derivation of moral conclusions from these non-moral facts that he condemns.17 as we will see below. often repeated in popular literature.14 Some of what Moore ultimately says about goodness is true of these metaphysical properties—for instance. is taken up and effectively refuted by William Frankena. .” Mind 48. and many of them expressly hold. Moore writes. This suggestion. Ch. This is the idea. .40 Moore also argues that no metaphysical theory of ethics can be correct. that they are part of super-sensible reality and are non-natural. Principia Ethica. 161.16 Indeed.161-164). that is. .15 In this respect. 15 See Principia Ethica. This other-worldly aspect of metaphysical properties is not what Moore objects to. to derive a moral conclusion from non-moral premises. “The Naturalistic Fallacy. that ethical truths follow logically from metaphysical truths. below. “They all imply. p. And the result is that they all describe the Supreme Good in metaphysical terms. 14 13 . Moore offers the theory that goodness is the Absolute.192 (1939): 464-77. 17 William Frankena. some Moore scholars have argued that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is merely to violate Hume’s Law. IV. of the universe as a rational whole. These theories define goodness in terms of metaphysical properties or objects. embraced by British Idealists. Moore’s assertion that theories of metaphysical ethics commit the naturalistic fallacy sounds a lot like an application of Hume’s law.

in part because it is not clear to me that the commission of the naturalistic fallacy actually makes any theories false. 19 Baldwin. We know that Moore thinks the naturalistic fallacy is a mistake made by almost all ethicists. but is it merely a mistake that other theorists make or is it the mistake that makes their theories false? This. pp. and that this very mis-identification is the naturalistic fallacy. we might gain some insight into what the naturalistic fallacy is by comparing the false-making characteristics of these theories and seeing what it is that they have in common.19 I am opposed to Baldwin’s sort of approach to sorting out the meaning of the naturalistic fallacy. If this is the case. We see this thinking in Thomas Baldwin’s work.41 As noted above. then. Moore’s writing seems to suggest that all other theories are wrong in virtue of mis-identifying goodness. At times. is unclear. . 18 “Involve” is a loaded term. What the relation is between the naturalistic fallacy and these defective theories will become clear in the next chapter. Moore believes that both naturalistic and metaphysical ethical theories involve the naturalistic fallacy. clearly. The proper role of the fallacy will naturally depend on what it is to commit the fallacy. existent (notably not nonnatural) properties. Baldwin decides that Moore meant to write that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deny the non-naturalness of goodness. Since both naturalistic and metaphysical ethics attempt to define goodness in terms of real. 72-ff.18 If this is the mistake these theories make that makes them false. in both the primary and secondary literature. for example.

it is a mistake sufficient to make false any theory that relied on the identification for its truth. Moore writes.42 commission of the naturalistic fallacy is what makes these theories false. “…the naturalistic fallacy [is] the fallacy which consists in identifying the simple notion we mean by ‘good’ with some other notion. and indeed. We will see this strand of thought in Frankena’s work. non-identical notion is a mistake. Further. below. Nevertheless. This is understandable. suggesting that to commit it is merely to attempt to offer any definition of goodness at all. . A third way to interpret the naturalistic fallacy might be to claim that to commit it is simply to take an unreliable approach to moral reasoning. would depend not on whether it attempts to define that property we mean by ‘good. such identification is what Moore takes to be the defining feature of naturalistic and metaphysical ethical theories.21 Whether a naturalistic theory was false then. it may not be a fallacy at all.’ but on whether the theory gets the definition right. p. given his conviction that goodness is indefinable. For instance. Moore sometimes treats the naturalistic fallacy in more general terms. 109. This suggests the naturalistic fallacy is the false-making mistake made by advocates of naturalism and other theories. a naturalist could argue that given this more expansive conception of the naturalistic fallacy. some of Moore’s passages suggest that to commit the naturalistic fallacy 20 21 Principia Ethica. On the other hand.”20 It seems clear that to identify one notion with another. For instance.

If this were the correct view of the naturalistic fallacy. Moore. For example. So. See. in itself. make the identification and any theory based on it false. Frankena claims that. Principia Ethica. makes this assertion. who assert that a theorist has committed the naturalistic fallacy are really asserting that her theory is false in virtue of running afoul of the fallacy. there are a number of ways to interpret the naturalistic fallacy and its role in Moore’s scheme. And there is some textual support for each. Moore. at times. like Moore. and goodness. Moore wields the naturalistic fallacy like a weapon. In fact. and to infer from this connection that they are one and the same property. The commentators whose work I highlight in this chapter note the difficulty in determining the appropriate role for the naturalistic fallacy in Moore’s writing. himself.22 This would be an unreliable method for investigating the nature of moral properties—it certainly would make for an invalid argument—and. but might still insist on a counter-argument that proves their identification wrong. These philosophers This seems to be what Moore describes in the passage I quoted at the start of this chapter. § 14.23 Even a fallacious argument can have a true conclusion. 23 22 . if this is a mistake commonly made. perhaps it is best thought of as a fallacy of some sort. But if this is the right interpretation of Moore’s naturalistic fallacy.43 is to see that there is a constant conjunction between some natural property. Ch I. This is to say that those. after all. commission of the fallacy does not. then adherents to such faulty reasoning can accept that they have engaged in a fallacious argument. say pleasure. in a passage I have found cited only twice in secondary literature (and not for the proposition I offer here).

Frankena aims to show that asserting that a theory commits the naturalistic fallacy is okay. but only if it is the conclusion of an argument against the theory in question. it describes an error that is common to naturalist reasoning about ethics (an error that is easy to make). but not necessarily decisive. Others. For any other theory. He takes the naturalistic fallacy to be a decisive argument only against those naturalists who assert their definitions of goodness as truisms that prove. like Prior. If the naturalistic fallacy is a mistake in reasoning. take the naturalistic fallacy to be a mistake. argues Prior. much the same way as affirming the consequent describes an error common among those just learning logic. the falsity of rival theories. whether or not it has been determined that his view is false. claims Frankena. That is. as a logical consequence. . Or it may be Moore’s diagnosis of where a theorist has erred. Frankena argues that a philosopher who claims a theory is false by virtue of having committed the naturalistic fallacy is committing the same sort of error that intuitionists attribute to naturalists—they assume the truth of a view that needs argumentation. the naturalistic fallacy has no effect on its truth. but not the fundamental flaw with any given naturalistic theory. it need not play any particular role in Moore’s critiques of naturalism. not a starting premise.44 who wield their accusations like a weapon are making an error.

Moore writes. it is due. We would expect that the problem must not be in the theorist’s view of his own activity. I take up a proper reading of this suggestion in the next chapter. in part. 1-90. Then again. Consider. I trust that a thorough examination of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy will provide a ready answer to its proper role in Moore’s scheme. thorough thinker. 1 (Princeton University Press 2003). p. one is merely enumerating the properties that good objects have. “The naturalistic fallacy always implies that when we think. A close reading of Principia Ethica and his other early works may lead one to realize that this reputation is likely justified by his later works. is a source of some of this confusion. 25 24 .’ what we are thinking is that the thing Principia Ethica. but in the proposed definition itself. For instance. 62. to Moore’s desire to bring clarity to a difficult subject where some of the tools of contemporary analytic philosophy did not yet exist. Though Moore’s Principia Ethica is a tough read. 26 No. Moore is famous for being a careful.25 Could it be that the problem is one of selfperception?26 Just a few pages later.45 Which of these is the correct function of the naturalistic fallacy is as debated as the meaning of the naturalistic fallacy itself. The source of the confusion Moore’s writing. Part One. Vol. Scott Soames’ Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century. pp. for example. In fact.24 This is to say that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to have mistaken beliefs about one’s own philosophical activities. he writes that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to believe of oneself that one is defining goodness when. some take Moore’s early work to be the very founding of our trade. it cannot be. This would not be an entirely fair assessment. in reality. ‘This is good. itself.

46 in question bears a definite relation to some one other thing. p. any discussion of his views as they appear in this preface is somewhat suspect. himself. 17. 90. responsible for the confusion surrounding the naturalistic fallacy. while simultaneously proving my contention that he is. . p. it surely leaves room for interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy different from the previous one. and from Thomas Baldwin who included it in the 1993 reissue of the original edition of Principia Ethica. 29 Moore.”27 He goes on to state that this other thing may be either a natural object (naturalistic ethics) or an object inferred to exist in supersensible reality (metaphysical ethics). in trying to explain what he must have meant when he wrote Principia Ethica. Happily. Knowledge of the contents of this preface comes to us from Casimir Lewy. ultimately discounts the first two choices and claims that the third option 27 28 Principia Ethica. 2) Identifying goodness with some analyzable predicate. But in this case. Moore gives us some guidance about the meaning of the naturalistic fallacy.” Principia Ethica. who inherited Moore’s unpublished work and whose paper referenced above highlighted the major themes in the second preface. they are worth examining as they suggest that Moore. Whatever Moore intended in this quote. He writes in the preface to the second (though unpublished)28 edition of Principia Ethica that there are at least three different characterizations of the naturalistic fallacy that appear in Principia Ethica. 29 Moore. was acutely aware in 1922 of the problems with his earlier arguments. Please note that Moore decided not to publish this new preface when he scrapped plans for a second edition of Principia Ethica. For this reason. in part. These are: 1) Identifying goodness with some predicate other than goodness. “Preface to the Second Edition. and 3) Identifying goodness with some natural or metaphysical predicate.

In an to effort to clarify the meaning and significance of the naturalistic fallacy. This chapter attempts merely to highlight this confusion about the proper role and meaning of the naturalistic fallacy. Each has attempted to identify either the proper understanding of the naturalistic fallacy—that is. I examine the work of Baldwin. that is. rather than being any identification of good with some natural of metaphysical predicate. One would expect a measure of shared understanding of a philosophical concept used by so many for so long. those which do not depend only on the intrinsic natures of those things which possess them. if any—or the proper role of assertions that some theorist has committed the naturalistic fallacy. in that he believed that the naturalistic fallacy. The picture we are left with is not a very satisfying one considering that this aspect of Moore’s views is supposed to be the most enduring. and are themselves intrinsic properties of those things. I find that none of the commentators offers an account of the naturalistic fallacy that is in keeping with the text and spirit of 30 Viz. or both. should be more narrowly conceived as identifying good with a limited subset of the natural or metaphysical properties. Prior. .. and Frankena. His position at the time he wrote the second preface was different still.30 It is worth noting that none of these three characterizations is much like the one mentioned in text accompanying footnote 24. believing oneself to be giving a definition when really merely naming properties coextensive with goodness in good objects.47 or something like it is what he must have meant. to answer what mistake it really is.

G.48 Principia Ethica. He argues that. he suggests that since there are (at least) three interpretations of Thomas Baldwin. Literature Review 1.32 Baldwin claims that while each of these interpretations has roughly equal textual support in Principia Ethica.31 Baldwin offers three interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy. claiming that each of these interpretations is equally well supported by Moore’s language in Principia Ethica. you should conclude that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is: (a) to deny that goodness is indefinable. In his book G. He focuses on both the text of Principia Ethica and what he takes to be the proper role of the naturalistic fallacy in Moore’s scheme to determine what Moore meant the fallacy to be. 31 . only (c) is philosophically interesting. (b) to assert of something other than goodness that it is goodness. depending on what bit of Principia Ethica’s text you read.E. Moore (London: Routledge 1990). 70.E. More importantly. [or] (c) to deny that goodness is non-natural. I will rely heavily on the work of Frankena and Prior in setting the foundation for my positive account of the naturalistic fallacy in Chapter 4. Baldwin’s views on the naturalistic fallacy can also be found in Principia Ethica. editor’s introduction. Thomas Baldwin The first commentator whose work I examine is Thomas Baldwin. p. 32 Baldwin. Moore.

reprinted in Principia Ethica (revised edition). Preface to the Second Edition. Philosophical Studies (1922). but I think there is some reason to think the later Moore ought not to be considered authoritative about his own earlier views. Ethics. E. although I think it is more likely that his views on the metaphysics of properties had changed in ways which could not be reconciled with his earlier views. in particular the ones underlying his writing on the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica.33 This is not an entirely absurd conclusion. This is a little hard to square with the material from the Second Preface. There are several claims he Baldwin. But if he did think that there were several competing interpretations of his writing. Moore himself once wrote that it was a he was confused about what he meant in the text itself. 34 33 .”35 I accept that Moore may have avoided writing about the naturalistic fallacy in his later works out of a belief that he had been a little incoherent about it in Principia Ethica. and in his paper. p. Moore. with no way to choose between them.49 Moore’s words. After all. pp. 16. there was no one thing that Moore had in mind when he wrote it. the naturalistic fallacy has no real meaning at all. or more precisely. “The Conception of Intrinsic Value. Principia Ethica. 35 Published in G. I do not believe that they are the interpretations offered by Baldwin.34 Baldwin writes that it was Moore’s recognition that the naturalistic fallacy was unsalvageable in virtue of its vagueness that inspired Moore to drop all references to it in his later book. 70-71.

18-19. he claims that since to commit a fallacy is to make a bad inference of some kind. p. and is looking for and not finding. in fact. For instance.”37 This suggests to me that Moore has refined his view about what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy. He also thinks that many of his arguments are fatally flawed by use/mention problems. as we can see in my reconstructions in Chapters 4 and 5. p. Moore also mischaracterizes some of the more controversial material. Besides exaggerating the faults that Principia Ethica genuinely exhibits. 21. some of his main contentions in the eighteen years between Principia Ethica’s publication and his authorship of the Second Preface. 36 37 Second Preface. It is not surprising to me that Moore might have forgotten. while. By ‘G’ he means intrinsic goodness. But it seems to me that I suggest this constantly by what I say.36 Proving the thesis that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is actually to make just such a bad inference is the goal of Chapter 4 of this work. evidence for this new view in his text. they are easily rescued from these problems. He writes “That I ever actually mean by ‘committing the naturalistic fallacy’ merely ‘identifying G with some predicate other than G’ I do not know how to show. or grown to doubt. and his earlier views do not require any inference to be made. Second Preface. . his earlier views are deficient.50 makes in the Second Preface which are incorrect.

I find that there is some way to derive each of these things from what Moore says in Chapter 1 of Principia Ethica.38 At any rate. In this section. Baldwin describes the example this way: Moore. but it appears that Moore is particularly uncharitable to himself.51 I expect that all of us have a tendency to view our past work with a critical eye. is not to find fault with Moore’s 1903 views. though they echo Moore’s retrospective self-interpretation. pp 204-05. “Having declared that this property is indefinable. and that his criticisms in the Second Preface foreshadow most of the criticisms that would be leveled against Principia Ethica in the following decades. in a hypothetical example. I take a closer look at each of Baldwin’s suggestions and see how well supported they are by Moore’s text. The first passage is from an example Moore uses to illustrate the naturalistic fallacy. 38 . [Moore] says that the mistake someone would make if he sought to define it Tom Regan claims that Moore is his harshest critic. I think that finding fault with Baldwin’s views. Regan. T. but there are good reasons to reject each of them as an interpretation. Baldwin relies on two passages from Principia Ethica as evidence for this interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. declared that the property of experiences whereby they are pleasant is indefinable. (a) to deny that goodness is indefinable The first version that Baldwin finds in the text is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deny that goodness is indefinable.

Baldwin takes Moore to mean that denying the indefinability of goodness is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. quoting Moore. 70. pleasantness. but in so doing they are not defining goodness. Ethicists routinely identify other properties of good things.”41 she would not be defining yellowness.52 ‘would be the same fallacy as I have called naturalistic with reference to Ethics.’”39 The idea here is that if pleasure40 is indefinable. p. notes a similarity between the natural property yellowness and goodness. or by identifying the physical characteristics it corresponds to—identifying.”42 Goodness. Or. 41 1903 philosopher-physics quoted from Moore. for example. For example. in introducing us to the naturalistic fallacy for the first time. or a feature that attaches to all instances of yellowness. If someone were to attempt to define the property yellowness by describing the effects it has in the world. . 62. if one claimed that yellowness was simply a certain “light-vibration. it is a mistake to try to define it. is like yellowness with respect to its inability to be defined. The second passage Baldwin relies upon is from Moore’s analogy between goodness and yellowness. Principia Ethica. Baldwin cites what Moore says next as his 39 40 Baldwin. says Moore. 42 Ibid. but rather pointing out an effect of yellow things. Principia Ethica p. From this. 65. the other properties that yellow objects have—she would not be giving a definition at all. perhaps. p. Moore. “The most we can be entitled to say of those vibrations is that they are what corresponds in space to the yellow which we actually perceive.

then the fallacy is not that interesting and hardly worthy of a century of debate. that these properties. they were actually defining good. in fact. every 43 Ibid. Baldwin takes from this that denying the indefinability of goodness is what Moore calls the ‘naturalistic fallacy.53 further evidence for his first interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. But it does not seem to be something committed by people who do not offer mistaken definitions. We can suggest. but this does not help much either. . on Baldwin’s behalf.’ My concern with this interpretation is that it does not seem to be a big enough problem. This view I propose to call the ‘naturalistic fallacy.’43 As in the first example. Is it a fallacy to claim that Moore is wrong about the definability of a property he has declared indefinable? If that is the definitive illustration of the naturalistic fallacy. someone who merely denied that goodness was indefinable. but offered no alternative to Moore’s view would not be offering a naturalistic theory at all. that the proper interpretation is to deny that an indefinable property is indefinable. The naturalistic fallacy is a problem that supposedly afflicts all naturalistic theories. Moore writes: But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties. After all. After all. were simply not ‘other’ but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness.

but still seek a definition. or in this case.54 instance of the naturalistic fallacy that Moore points out involves not merely denying the indefinability of goodness. Baldwin’s use of the “pleasure” example as evidence for this first interpretation of Moore’s naturalistic fallacy is troubling for several reasons. This seems to weigh against Baldwin’s suggestion. In any case. I am not sure whether someone who acts rationally when attempting to define a property can rightly be said to commit a fallacy when doing so. For example. Notably. the example is not of someone who asserts that pleasantness is definable after pondering its nature. My first concern with this example is that the person who seeks to define pleasure does not necessarily deny that pleasure is indefinable. Another significant problem with interpreting Moore’s “pleased” example as Baldwin does is that the example he calls upon as evidence for his interpretation is not a case of denying that pleasure is indefinable. pleasantness. I suppose that suspending judgment when one should not is irrational in itself. no such argument is made by Baldwin for this interpretation. but also providing a definition of goodness. The example is of actively seeking to define it. Given this. why ought we accept that the . and perhaps it is implicit in Moore’s argument that we should not suspend judgment about the indefinability of goodness. we could claim that such a person was acting rationally in so doing. Certainly. or of someone even denying that it was indefinable. she may merely suspend judgment on whether pleasure is definable.

The definitional non-naturalist denied that goodness was indefinable. denies that it is indefinable. we might argue that Baldwin’s first interpretation actually would apply to those who actively tried to define goodness. she might merely suspend judgment on the definability). She might seek to define it as part of a strategy to determine whether such a definition were possible. returning to the realm of ethics. at least implicitly. recognize that anyone who seeks to define a property. yet made no . very likely. (Though perhaps not. one who thought she had successfully defined such a property would. But this attempt fails. if it is a mistake at all. yet would still be accused of committing the naturalistic fallacy under Baldwin’s interpretation.55 analog for ethics is to deny that goodness is indefinable. say. In this case. someone who denied that goodness was indefinable yet also denied that it was a natural or metaphysical property—a definitional non-naturalist—could not properly be said to have committed the naturalistic fallacy without having engaged in any further philosophizing. This mistake. for instance. again at least implicitly. So. The denial just is not the fallacy. as opposed to. can we salvage this interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy? We might. And certainly.’ For example. deny that it is indefinable. and our definitional non-naturalist has done nothing else. seeking to actually define it? Reading Baldwin charitably. hardly deserves the name ‘naturalistic fallacy.

He asserts on these grounds that he is pleased. very bad definition of a property. This is because Baldwin gets the example wrong. In the example. she neither sought nor believed herself to have succeeded in defining goodness.” But the example is of a man who has given a particular. Whatever Moore’s example really shows about the naturalistic fallacy. Moore writes that if by “I am pleased” our subject meant to say that he was the very same thing as pleased—that is. but of someone who does an exceptionally bad job of defining it. Moore’s example is not of someone who seeks to define pleasure (let alone of someone merely denying that it cannot be defined). when read in its entirety. that he and the property being pleased are one and the same thing—then he would be committing a fallacy analogous to the naturalistic fallacy. and in so doing. though. is that in addition to focusing on the denial as opposed to the definition. Moore presents us with a subject who recognizes that his emotional state is a pleasant one. Baldwin claims that Moore writes that if a man sought to define pleasure it “would be the same fallacy as I have called the naturalistic fallacy. . it can offer no support for the interpretation that Baldwin offers. The biggest problem with this interpretation. Baldwin has taken the quoted material out of context.56 attempt to offer such a definition. has changed its meaning. it is clear that a different mistake is being highlighted.

But more importantly. it is not that the fallacy lies in denying the indefinability of goodness. he has implicitly denied the indefinability of some property (or of himself)? As discussed above. our confused self-identifier did not deny the indefinability of anything at all. When Moore discusses yellowness as an analog to goodness. he emphasizes its indefinability. nobody who carefully considered his own nature. I do not take the denial to be made. but in this example. and the nature of the property being pleased would think that they were one and the same thing.57 It is hard to believe that anyone would make such an error. of the definer. there are some mistakes being made in this example and in the example of thinking one has defined yellowness by citing its physical characteristics. as explicated in Principia Ethica. After all. What about the response that by having asserted a definition. But this is precisely the point of the example. he emphasizes the confusion. even implicitly. After all. albeit false. there is no indication that either the confused definer or the property being pleased is incapable of definition. We all see that that identification would be a huge mistake—perhaps worthy of being called a fallacy. by asserting a definition. If these examples are to be used to support Baldwin’s first interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. Plainly. Whatever it is we are supposed to learn from this example. we must accept that Moore was trying to draw our attention to the implicit denial . or the mistake.

46 he writes: In this chapter I have begun the criticism of certain ethical views. 70. that would be the same fallacy which I have called the naturalistic fallacy. Again. that it is goodness The second interpretation that Baldwin finds in Principia Ethica is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is “to assert. 46 His assault on naturalism and Spencer’s Evolutionary Ethics. and away from the other mistakes. concerning something other than goodness. Well.”45 In the second passage. I find that there simply is not adequate textual support for Baldwin’s claim that Moore implies that to deny the indefinability of goodness is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. p. (b) to assert. .”44 The textual evidence for this interpretation is somewhat better than that found for the prior interpretation. Principia Ethica. .58 (which may not even be present in the “pleased” example). which seem to owe their influence mainly to the naturalistic 44 45 Baldwin. Moore’s wrap-up of Chapter II. Moore writes “if anybody tried to define pleasure for us as being any other natural object . . . concerning something other than goodness. So. that it is goodness. but there are problems that suggest even this interpretation fails. 64-65. Baldwin offers two passages. p.

and in particular. While technically true (the eating is a necessary part of the experience of a gourmet meal).47 Both of these passages seem to offer better textual support for this interpretation than either of the previous passages did for Baldwin’s first interpretation. . In fact. this interpretation seems to be the majority view on the naturalistic fallacy. it is hardly what we mean by ‘the experience of a gourmet meal. at least among those who bother to distinguish it from Hume’s law). just as eating is a necessary component of enjoying a gourmet 47 Principia Ethica. I take it that stating that the naturalistic fallacy is the fallacy that “consists in” identifying the simple notion we mean by ‘good’ with some other notion is akin to saying that the experience of a gourmet meal consists in eating. which is perfectly appropriate for a conclusion of a chapter. in his discussion of Mill and Spencer. I have an idea about what it is to commit the naturalistic fallacy that is consistent with what Moore writes here. p.’ Similarly. I think I can at least cast some doubt on the support they offer (though. 109. notably. Moore’s statement that the naturalistic fallacy consists in the misidentification of goodness with some other property is a gross oversimplification.59 fallacy—the fallacy which consists in identifying the simple notion which we mean by ‘good’ with some other notion. Nevertheless. the misidentification is a necessary component of committing the naturalistic fallacy.

for instance. where a man confuses himself with the property being pleased. I am ruling out the mere olfactory enjoyment. There are reasons to believe that committing the naturalistic fallacy requires more than merely asserting a mistaken definition of goodness that will become evident after analysis of Moore’s first statement. p. .48 It is hardly the whole thing. . 63. . This discussion is short by necessity. or the visual enjoyment you might get from walking through the kitchen. the omitted material makes a difference to the reasonableness of his interpretation. above. and were to deduce from that that pleasure is a colour. we should be entitled to laugh at him and to 48 Of course. if anybody were to say.” The full statement is as follows: And if anybody tried to define pleasure for us as being any other natural object. that pleasure means the sensation of red. and. The mere possibility that these are necessary components of enjoying a gourmet meal proves my contention that ‘consists in’ represents a narrower sort of relation than identity. The mere possibility that an alternative to Baldwin’s interpretation of Moore’s statement is reasonable is all I need for now. Baldwin elides Moore’s statement about defining pleasure and the naturalistic fallacy.49 The omitted material is an example to illustrate what Moore had in mind by “if anyone tried to define pleasure for us as any other natural object . . The elided material comes from the passage discussed above. 49 Principia Ethica. in this case.60 meal.

Well. giving such a definition does not look much like a fallacy. admittedly. I am inclined to think that this is a bit of sloppy writing on Moore’s part. or it may be deducing from such a belief that pleasure is a color. and this is a relatively minor point. The relationship between the naturalistic fallacy and this kind of argument invalidity—violation of Hume’s law—is discussed 50 51 Principia Ethica p. I am hard-pressed to accept Baldwin’s claim. does support the interpretation that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to identify goodness with some other property. even taken without Baldwin’s ellipsis. For example. These defects might make them invalid. is hard to address with much sensitivity.50 It is clear that there are several possible referents of the word ‘that’ in Moore’s last sentence. We expect of fallacies that they are defects of some sort in an argument. 64-65. Finally. namely deciding that two distinct properties are one and the same by virtue of their being conjoined in a single object. So perhaps this statement. A text that. that would be the same fallacy which I have called the naturalistic fallacy. The fallacy may be saying that pleasure means the sensation of red. But given that the very next sentences elaborate and specify that some other error is paramount. .61 distrust his future statements about pleasure. I think it takes a certain insensitivity to the text51 to adopt Baldwin’s position. or otherwise unsound. an assertion that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deduce ethical conclusions from non-ethical premises might be to assert that it is an issue of argument invalidity.

(c) to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deny that goodness is nonnatural The third version of the naturalistic fallacy Baldwin finds in Principia Ethica is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deny that goodness is nonnatural. p. I would expect more of Moore. 52 Principia Ethica. I have articulated my suspicions about that interpretation. above.”52 Again. even a false one. I explained. If this is the case. This passage seems to mean that the naturalistic fallacy consists in contending that the word ‘good’ refers to some property. is not a fallacy in this sense. A definition. 125. Baldwin quotes Moore as follows: “In this argument the naturalistic fallacy is plainly involved. and that property may be defined (is identical with) some natural property. this passage actually supports Baldwin’s second interpretation. but it does appear that he is claiming that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to contend that good is identical with some natural property.62 below. That fallacy. The textual evidence for this comes from Moore’s discussion of Mill’s argument for the proposition that pleasure is the sole good. While people use the word ‘fallacy’ for all sorts of errors. . not this one. consists in the contention that good means nothing but some simple or complex notion. Moore uses the “consists in” locution. that can be defined in terms of natural qualities.

Finally. are one and the same thing . Mill. this one suffers from being removed from its proper context. 1969) pp.55 every good thing has the property being desired. 54 Principia Ethica p. X.”53 This statement. Utilitarianism.54 According to Moore. . 124. When I actually offer a definition in non-natural terms. reprinted in John Stuart Mill. J. 13th edition. Moore provides this explanation of the naturalistic fallacy in the context of evaluating Mill’s claim that “to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake of its consequences). Since the test of what can be desired is what is desired. I may implicitly deny that goodness is non-natural. as is the case with other quotes relied upon by Baldwin. but I might not. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Collected Works.M. p 58. 234. then we shall have found the only thing good as an end. To identify those things that can be desired is to identify the set of all good things. Mill takes “the good” to mean that which can be desired.S. . The text can be found. ed. . rests on the naturalistic fallacy. Robson. If we can find some one thing that is always (and alone) desired. I may even be attempting to offer a non-natural definition but failing by virtue of ontological confusion—if I think. 55 This is an instance of a philosopher taking the measure of the possible to be the actual. unchanged from the 13th edition. 53 . 203-59 at p.63 This interpretation also suffers from the same defect as the first. for example. Mill will ultimately claim that this one thing Moore cites J. and to think of it as pleasant. Moore writes. that goodness is identical with a mental state and I think all mental states are non-natural. 1897. Vol. I can deny that goodness is non-natural all day long and not have committed any fallacy.

but it is in the argument. that Moore claims the naturalistic fallacy is committed. Regardless of the merits of either Baldwin’s view or my criticisms. I take this suggestion up in detail in Chapter 4. for reasons of consistency with Moore’s ultimate goal of advocating ethical non-naturalism. . He concludes from this that Moore did not have any one thing in mind. Baldwin claims that there are three possible conceptions of the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica with nothing to recommend any one over the others. Baldwin.64 is pleasure. chooses the third conception as the best version. Before considering my alternative view. not in the subsequent claim. I dispute this claim on the ground that the suggestions offered by Baldwin are not wellsupported by the text. I will offer a version of the naturalistic fallacy that is both consistent with the text and advances Moore’s goal of supporting ethical non-naturalism. I take this example to show that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make an invalid inference from the constant conjunction or even necessary coextension of two properties to their identity. it seems clear that it is not simply a matter of denying the non-naturalness of goodness. two other philosophers’ views bear close scrutiny. he has provided ample evidence that it is difficult to pin a definite meaning on Moore. But whether it shows that or not.

58 Prior.57 With regard to (b). but he seems to conflate these interpretations with Moore’s open question argument. 2. For example. 1949. say. Given this characterization. they attribute the same property to those objects. then someone commits the fallacy when they fail to recognize that the word ‘good’ and whatever naturalistic term is offered do not denote the same property of the object to which they both apply.58 If Prior is right about the naturalistic fallacy.65 2. Prior. p.N. this property is identical with the property goodness. Arthur Prior A. Prior takes Moore’s explanation of the naturalistic fallacy to show one very significant point: that if the naturalist wants 56 57 Oxford University Press. in Logic and the Basis of Ethics. ‘pleasant’ (or any other word for that matter) necessarily describe the same objects. . Someone would commit a fallacy akin to the naturalistic fallacy if they if they thought that ‘red’ and ‘spherical’ both denoted the same property of the balls.56 describes the naturalistic fallacy in two different ways: a) the assumption that because some property (or properties) is (are) necessarily coextensive with goodness.1-12 These seem to be two ways to express the same error. and b) the assumption that because the words ‘good’ and. Prior’s reading seems exactly right. he notes that it is to claim that the necessary relation that exists between two words that are so related is that they denote the same property. pp. imagine that balls only came in red and no other objects were red.

’ If it is not a truism. 3. much as ‘pleasure is pleasure. it must be trivially true and obvious to anyone who considers it. it would fail to have the rhetorical force the naturalist desires. that is to say. On the other hand they want to make it 59 60 Prior. Prior writes. “They want to regard ‘What is pleasant is good’ as a significant assertion. For example. in fact. and its goodness another. is to utter an empty tautology.60 The naturalist cannot both claim to have discovered a truth of great significance and prove other views are false. it cannot do the work of proving alternate definitions false. or that what is pleasant is good. by virtue of being a truism. consider the sentence: What is good is pleasant If the words 'good' and 'pleasant' mean the same thing. p.66 to give a naturalistic definition of goodness. That is. the naturalist’s assertion were correct. if it were a truism. and it can only be so if the pleasantness of what is pleasant is one thing. imply the falsity of any other view. writes Prior – “if. the naturalist’s definition must be a truism. it would. and desires thereby to show that all other definitions are false. the quality of pleasantness is identical with the quality of goodness – then to say that what is good is pleasant. On the other hand. .”59 It is merely to assert: What is pleasant is pleasant or What is good is good If. This is the very crux of the paradox of analysis.

While it may be that some other philosophers take the naturalistic fallacy to be an argument against naturalism. he is careful not to assert that they are false simply because they have committed the naturalistic fallacy. suggests a way out of the inconsistency—instead of hoping to achieve a truism with a proposed definition. the arguments in favor of the view would (if they had any merit) likely show others false. I think it is worth noting that if one wished to give a naturalistic definition. While he does argue against such theories. of course. This is the mistake Prior accuses the inconsistent naturalist of committing.’ This move is a mistake on Prior’s part. This. Moore never uses it as such. and then try to argue that it is correct. .67 logically impossible to contradict this assertion—they want to treat the opposing assertion that what is pleasant may not be good as not merely false but logically absurd. he explicitly rejects the claim that naturalistic fallacy is the false-making characteristic of theories whose advocates commit the fallacy. but the mere assertion of the definition would not. of course. In this respect. as we will see in Chapter 4. the naturalistic fallacy can only be seen as an argument against those naturalists who want or expect their view to have the logical force of a truism while still seeming significant—Prior calls them ‘inconsistent naturalists. the naturalist should ‘settle’ for a significant assertion and 61 Prior p.”61 Interpreted this way. In fact. Prior is right. 8.

For example. . This would be a sort of dual-aspect theory for moral properties. The ‘inconsistent naturalist’ was not his only target – he wanted to show that any naturalist who made the sorts of assumptions in (a) and (b) committed a fallacy. and can be seen in Frankena’s work as well. I believe the error Prior makes is in conflating the naturalistic fallacy with Moore’s open question test. This is a common thread among Moore commentators.68 explain away the fact that it does not appear to be a truism. a theory might assert an identity between goodness and some natural property and then rely on the fact that we are simply unable to see the relation between the evaluative features of a property and its natural features. as the inconsistent naturalist do. rather than relying on the truth of the candidate theory. William Frankena The explication of Moore’s naturalistic fallacy and diagnosis of its failings considered authoritative by most commentators comes to us from William 62 Compare to the dual aspect theories of mind attributed to Baruch Spinoza or Thomas Nagel. Candidate explanations could revolve around quirks of language use or our inappropriate clinging to the idea of a fact/value distinction. 3. A second issue of note is that Prior’s characterization does not seem to be what Moore had in mind.62 Then individual arguments could be made against alternate definitions. which I take to be a different argument against naturalistic theories.

48. Frankena examines uses of the fallacy by intuitionists and the origins of the idea in Principia Ethica.K. Despite this. if it is a fallacy at all. He also offers an explanation of the naturalistic fallacy and argues that in formulating and using it to debunk rival ethical theories. it is the attempt to define an indefinable property. To determine the proper place. based on that.” Each of these ideas has its origin in Frankena’s seminal paper. of the naturalistic fallacy in our moral reasoning. W. if any. He concludes that one of the more common uses of the term—as a label for violations of Hume’s law— is a mistake. Frankena claims that Moore assumes the truth of the indefinability of goodness and claims.e. but they always come back to Frankena's position. The Naturalistic Fallacy. Rather than being a 63 Frankena. 464-477 ..69 Frankena’s paper The Naturalistic Fallacy. Frankena's interpretation of the Moore’s naturalistic fallacy and his account of the error Moore makes in advocating it is held to be the authoritative position. Issue 192 (1939) pp.63 The previously discussed philosophers owe much to Frankena. and they agree that to claim that a philosopher has committed the naturalistic fallacy is to “beg the question. Thus the paper deserves a close read and analysis. that any proposed definition commits the naturalistic fallacy. Many others have offered accounts of what is wrong with Moore. vol.. is a definist fallacy. I think that Frankena dismisses the view too quickly. Moore has committed a simple logical error. Mind. i. Each ultimately agrees that the naturalistic fallacy.

Contemporary theorists are accused of committing the fallacy as well. (See Spencer. Principia Ethica. The term is still being bandied about. p.66 He points out that Moore made some fairly bold claims about the scope and the importance of the naturalistic fallacy. Spencer may have committed the naturalistic fallacy. I take Moore's view to be a subtle and powerful analysis of a mistake made by too many theorists.”67 He also claimed that all naturalistic and metaphysical theories of ethics “are based on the naturalistic In advocating his brand of evolutionary ethics. p. etc. (London: Henry S. ch.70 mere logical error. 116. Non-naturalists of all stripes (objectivists. (1879)). 64 .” The most famous of these fallacies is the naturalistic fallacy. citing Principia Ethica. 65 On the other hand. 66 Frankena.65 Frankena takes the quarrel between intuitionists and naturalists to be founded on a logical error and seeks to dispel that error. 67 Frankena. Moore wrote. and still do. accuse naturalists of having committed the naturalistic fallacy. disfavored uses. for example. and can be seen recently being applied to evolutionary theorists/ethicists. but Moore notes that if Spencer were to choose. King.) would. 464. 465. and The Data of Ethics. Herbert. 1873). Frankena is foreshadowing his ultimate posture. The Study of Sociology. London: Williams and Norgate. that the naturalistic fallacy is a real fallacy and that it “must not be committed.’ The relationship between being more evolved and the ethical properties denoted by ‘higher’ and ‘better’ is left largely uninvestigated. II. Frankena begins his paper by noting the prevalence of early twentieth century philosophers labeling their opponents’ views as “fallacies. §§ 31-34. it is possible that the persuasiveness of Moore’s use of the term inspired imitators. p. he would likely commit the naturalistic fallacy.64 By placing the uses of the term “naturalistic fallacy” in the context of these other. intuitionists. He asserts that that which is ‘more evolved’ is ‘higher’ or ‘better.

The simplicity of the theories makes them appealing. Here. in the sense that the commission of this fallacy has been the main cause of their wide acceptance. about what it is that people who are said to commit the fallacy actually have done. to commit the naturalistic fallacy is a to make a mistake in defending or even formulating a theory. These claims ought not to be taken entirely literally. indeed. For example. My take on the naturalistic fallacy is that it is a mistake in reasoning. Taken this way. so there is an extrinsic reason to commit the fallacy. even amongst those who invoke it.69 To demonstrate the confusion about what the naturalistic fallacy is and what it means to commit it. But it is a mistake that is either easy to make or has. In addition to the questions about the scope and the importance of the naturalistic fallacy. p. something appealing about it that causes defective theories to gain wide acceptance. but it is not why people like the theory.71 fallacy. the appeal of such theories is that they identify good with something tangible—a property people can more easily wrap their heads around. 68 69 Principia Ethica.”68 Moore’s combination of claims makes the naturalistic fallacy sound like a strange sort of beast. But the fact that they commit the naturalistic fallacy does not make them any more attractive. . something appealing. evidently. but there is. Not only must it be avoided. Frankena is lamenting the same state of affairs I describe at the start of this chapter. as its result. 90. says Frankena. there is confusion. Frankena cites conflicting uses of the term.

we see that it gets applied to a theory “after the smoke . Ultimately though. Clarke’s “Cognition and Affection in the Experience of Value.”72 Frankena takes this latter use to be the only legitimate use. Frankena cites to M. This suggests that “the fallaciousness of the naturalistic fallacy is just what is at issue in the controversy between the intuitionists and their opponents. That is. as though it had violated some axiom of ethics. 72 Frankena.”70 But in other places.E.”71 This means that some problem is found with the naturalistic or metaphysical theory in question. the naturalistic fallacy is used as a weapon.” Journal of Philosophy 1938. when a proponent of the theory commits it). 71 Frankena. Frankena takes the view that there is no legitimate use because the naturalistic fallacy is no fallacy at all.72 Sometimes. and then it gets labeled as an example of the commission of the naturalistic fallacy. non-naturalists hurl it upon naturalists like an epithet. Once a theory has been identified as having committed the naturalistic fallacy (or more precisely. p. 465. the theory is given no further consideration. 465. and dismissed out of hand. . p. 70 . . To use the naturalistic fallacy in this way is to treat it “as if it were a logical fallacy on all fours with the fallacy of composition. has cleared. if there is one at all. the revelation of which disposes of naturalistic and metaphysical ethics and leaves intuitionism [or whatever nonnaturalistic theory we are concerned to advance] standing triumphant. Frankena. p. 465. and cannot be wielded as a weapon in that controversy.

he notes. Gillian Russell has a very good paper on Hume’s Law and related “inference barriers.” the Australasian Journal of Philosophy 38:199-206 (1960). The bifurcation. Sometimes.74 The claim under consideration. Frankena examines a common use of the term by intuitionists. 165. but the presence of which in an object or 73 74 Principia Ethica. Incidentally. is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to disregard the bifurcation between ‘is’ and ‘ought.”73. in his discussion of metaphysical ethics Moore writes: “To hold that from any proposition asserting ‘Reality is of this nature’ we can infer. then. would provide a metaphysical explanation of the central epistemic idea behind some forms of intuitionism. Prior in his paper “The Autonomy of Ethics. p. For example.73 To make sense of what the naturalistic fallacy might be. Moore’s own writing seems to endorse this use at times. not detectable by any of our normal senses. For example. . The gap between the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’ (the fact that you cannot derive normative conclusions from non-normative premises) explains the need for a special faculty for detecting moral properties. or obtain confirmation for any proposition asserting ‘This is good in itself’ is to commit the naturalistic fallacy.’ This bifurcation is a reasonable position for an intuitionist to take.N.” Her work suggests that Hume’s law deserves work to resurrect its efficacy in a non-ad hoc way in light of critiques such as that provided by A. if it exists. intuitionists will call an instance of attempting to derive normative conclusions from natural facts a naturalistic fallacy. one form of intuitionism might hold that moral rightness is a special property.

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state of affairs is only detectable by intuition.75 Further, it might hold that moral knowledge is not inferable from any beliefs formed by the action of our bodily senses. Such a view would be false if propositions about moral rightness could be derived from natural facts to which we have ready epistemic access. If normative moral facts were discoverable by observation of natural facts and inferences drawn therefrom, no special faculty of intuition would be necessary. Such an intuitionist would be keen to accept some version of the bifurcation between the normative and non-normative. The importance of this bifurcation between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ was emphasized by David Hume. Following Frankena’s lead, let us turn our attention to Hume’s work for a moment to see the origin of the modern view of the bifurcation. Hume notes that in all the moral theories he has studied, the proponents begin by making observations about God or about human affairs—that is, descriptive, non-normative observations—and arrive at propositions about what ought or ought not be done. That is, the authors of these theories seem to derive normative conclusions from solely non-normative premises. Hume writes: For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for

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This would be true of an intuitionist theory that held that intuitions are the product of some moral sense faculty.

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what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.76 With respect to the attempt to start from purely factual claims (Torture is painful, Bill’s beard is flecked with gray) and arrive at evaluative conclusions (Torture is morally wrong, Bill ought to shave), Hume’s proposal seems to be that you cannot get there (‘ought’) from here (‘is’). The typical reading of this passage is that no ‘ought’ statement can be validly inferred from any collection containing exclusively ‘is’ statements. The generalized form of this thesis is that no normative or evaluative judgments can be inferred from factual premises. Thus, “Hume’s law,” as it has been dubbed77 is held to be a consequence of the fact/value distinction. We would say that no valid argument can proceed from premises that assert only non-normative facts to a normative conclusion, or alternatively, that any argument that attempts to deduce a normative conclusion from non-normative premises has some suppressed normative-linking premise. Frankena claims that intuitionists are committed to three theses that rely on the is/ought distinction. These theses are: 1) Ethical propositions are not deducible from non-ethical ones. 2) Ethical characteristics are not definable in terms of non-ethical ones.
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III,, part I, § I (1739-1740). It appears to have been so named by R.M. Hare in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, LV (1954-19 55), 303. See also, “Hume on ‘Is’ and ‘Ought,’” A. C. MacIntyre, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 68, No. 4 (Oct., 1959), pp. 451-468
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3) Ethical characteristics are different in kind from non-ethical ones.78 Since Frankena takes (1) and (2) to be inferable from (3), (3) is all the intuitionists really need. Note that, strictly speaking, (3) is not what Hume said. Rather, he said that ‘ought’ expresses a different relation than ‘is,’ not that moral properties, in general, were different in kind from non-moral properties. But this is quibbling. Intuitionists accept that the non-moral propositions are different in kind, and therefore there needs to be some explanation for the deduction of moral propositions from them. Moreover it is inconceivable to them, and to Hume, that there could be such a deduction. Of course, the addition of a premise linking the moral to the non-moral would make for a valid argument, but this is not the sort of deduction they rule out. The relation to the naturalistic fallacy is this: Many naturalists, in advocating their views on the relation of natural to moral properties (often, the relation is identity) argue from solely non-ethical propositions to their moral conclusions. This practice might violate Hume’s law. The supposition under consideration is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is simply to violate Hume’s law.79 Frankena contends that intuitionists, seizing upon the importance of

Frankena, p 467. Moore uses the Open Question Test to show that since our idea of goodness and happiness are different, the properties that the words ‘good’ and ‘happiness’ refer to are different properties. If the open question test does not show what he thinks it shows, then it may very well be that some of these naturalist arguments are not logically invalid after all. If, for instance, happiness really was identical with goodness, arguments that proceeded from statements about the natural property happiness (a psychological property, hence natural) could be used to reach moral conclusions
79

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Hume’s law, say that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to violate Hume’s Law.80 Frankena points to two examples of intuitionists making this claim.81 He also notes that Moore generally does not make this claim. Rather than claiming that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make such a deduction, he claims that making such a deduction “involves, implies, or rests upon” the naturalistic fallacy.82 Finally, Whittaker, in The Theory of Abstract Ethics, identifies the deduction as the naturalistic fallacy and claims that it is a mere “logical” fallacy.83 So, is it fair to charge naturalists who deduce moral conclusions form nonmoral premises with committing the naturalistic fallacy? Is it a fallacy to “deduce ethical conclusions from non-ethical premises?”84 Frankena is asking whether the standard interpretation of Hume’s law in fact identifies a fallacy. If so, we have our first legitimate candidate for the naturalistic fallacy. The example Frankena considers is an argument in support of Epicurean Hedonism.85 The short version

because their premises would be moral premises. in disambiguating the premises (see below) the argument need not turn on an equivocation. 80 Frankena, p. 467 81 He cites to P.E. Wheelwright, A Critical Introduction to Ethics, pp 40-51, 91 ff. and to L. Wood, “Cognition and Moral Value,” Journal of Philosophy, 1937 p. 237. 82 Frankena, pp 467-68. See Moore, Principia Ethica pp 114, 57, 43, 49. 83 See Frankena p 468, fn 1, citing to Whittaker, The Theory of Abstract Entities, pp 19ff. 84 Frankena, p 468. 85 The starting point for Mill’s disastrous analogy. I think a far better example of an argument that purports to violate Hume’s law would have nothing in it that was derived from a definition of good, as is the suppressed premise Frankena will eventually supply. An argument that proceeded from the pain of childbirth to the conclusion that we ought to stop reproducing would probably be truer to the spirit of What Hume was railing against.

as Frankena reconstructs it is as follows: 86 87 Frankena.87 The interesting question. of course. that pleasure is good. since I take Moore to be arguing not that the mere definition of good in natural terms is the naturalistic fallacy. p. is ambiguous in that it may mean that pleasure is identical with the property goodness. but rather that the fallacy occurs in the defense of that definition. is whether there is a fallacy involved when we supply the premise suppressed in the Epicurean argument. The argument. pleasure is good. but is not identical with it. is fallacious. Any philosopher interested in advancing the arguments would fix the invalidity issue first. it appears that this is Moore’s approach as well. Frankena reconstructs the argument as follows: (a) Pleasure is sought by all men. In fact. Rather. Nobody claims that the Epicurean argument is a violation of the naturalistic fallacy by virtue of its invalidity. . But the fallacy at work here is not something so complicated as a violation of Hume’s law.”86 Note first that this argument’s conclusion. This argument. (b) Therefore. it is merely that the argument is logically invalid.78 of the argument is “pleasure is good since it is sought by all men. and the one Frankena takes up next. 468. and then assault the argument. or it may mean that pleasure is a good thing—that it has the property goodness.

It is easy to recast the whole argument in a way that avoids this difficulty. (b) must be read as a property attribution that follows from a definition or identity statement. the argument has no moral conclusion at all. and for the same reasons. (b) is ambiguous between offering a definition of good as being that which is sought by all men. then (c) must also do so to preserve validity. Then there would be no question about whether the argument violated any of the three intuitionists’ theses. that of being good. 469. given this reconstruction.88 Premise (b) raises warning flags. But note. pleasure is good. just as the conclusion of the original invalid argument did.79 (a) Pleasure is sought by all men (b) What is sought by all men is good (by definition) (c) Therefore. 90 Frankena p 469. .”90 In identifying goodness with the property being-sought-by-all-men. to preserve validity and to preserve the Epicureans’ likely intentions. 88 89 Frankena. p. So.89 Frankena writes that the suppressed premise. the Epicurean has committed the fallacy. Frankena takes the proponents of the Epicurean argument to be offering a definition of good or to be intending to assert a proposition that is true by definition in (b). The conclusion. In such a case. if (b) is a definition. (b) is the reason that the argument “involves the naturalistic fallacy. but doing so is not necessary for our purposes. and offering a property attribution to those things sought by all men. or asserts an identity. we saw. was ambiguous between being a definition and attributing a property to pleasure.

to identify goodness with any other property would be to commit the fallacy. That is. is the fallacy. Since Frankena takes Moore’s claim to be that the identification of goodness is the fallacy. he also claims Moore’s position is to beg the question on the definability of goodness.80 Frankena wants to show that in fact. then committing the naturalistic fallacy is not to violate Hume’s law. the fallacy is committed when a definition of good in terms of any other properties is given. Rather. it is not a violation of the first of the three Intuitionists’ theses about the bifurcation of moral from non-moral. it tells us something else. It tells us the logical relationship between that which is sought by all men and goodness. That is. If the fallacy occurs where there is no Hume’s law violation. but Frankena seems dissatisfied. but not ethical. Frankena derives his . Frankena takes Moore to be claiming that the identification. Someone who thought goodness could be analyzed and thought that (b) was a statement of the correct analysis of goodness would take (b) to be analytic but not ethical because rather than predicating a property of that which is sough by all men. but premise (b) is supported by an instance of the naturalistic fallacy. itself. because he takes goodness to be indefinable. Frankena’s claim is that this argument is a case where there is no longer a violation of Hume’s law. then committing the naturalistic fallacy is not the same as deducing ethical propositions from non-ethical ones. This is a fairly commonsensical view. If this is correct. Frankena writes that Moore takes (b) of the original argument to be analytic.

whether true or false. It is the open question argument. I might be inclined to agree with Frankena. But the proposition that pleasure is morally good most certainly is a moral proposition. For example. in trying to refute each other will rely on purely psychological statements. if (b) were taken as property attributing. It would be begging the question to say that definition X is wrong on grounds that definition Y was correct. . it hardly seems to be begging the question to say that a definition is wrong because the property that is being defined is incapable of definition. To generalize from this example that Moore takes all statements of the form “x is good” to be non-ethical is a serious mistake in interpretation. 91 The position taken by Prior’s inconsistent naturalist. and perhaps. it would be because he took it to be a definition of goodness. So. I examine. an induction from multiple iterations of the argument. If Moore never offered an argument that goodness was indefinable. someone who held that goodness was desirableness and who wanted to refute the view that goodness was pleasure would argue that pleasure is not the object of desire. then it is ethical.91 But to say X is wrong because it is conceptually impossible to give such a definition is not begging the question. but a psychological one. in Chapter 5.81 view of Moore from a passage in which Moore notes that two naturalists with competing ideas of the nature of goodness. But he does. If Moore takes (b) to be analytic and not ethical. This is not an ethical/moral proposition. Regarding Frankena’s claim that Moore’s view begs the question against naturalism.

that these properties.”93 and. (quoted in Frankena. pp. . 94 Principia Ethica p. 91-92.94 92 93 Principia Ethica. (quoted by Frankena at 470). p 470). . .This method consists in substituting for ‘good’ some one property of a natural object or of a collection of natural objects…. Principia Ethica p. and find that it is significantly stronger than critics claim. but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. 62. (quoted by Frankena at 470). in fact. Frankena offers a number of passages from Principia Ethica. “I have thus appropriated the name Naturalism to a particular method of approaching Ethics…. To support the claim that Moore takes the commission of the naturalistic fallacy to be to identify goodness with some property (to offer a definition of goodness). reproduced here. This view I propose to call the ‘naturalistic fallacy’. in full: [F]ar too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties [belonging to all things which are good] they were actually defining good.82 Moore’s argument that goodness is indefinable. cf. were simply not ‘other’. . “…the naturalistic fallacy [is] the fallacy which consists in identifying the simple notion we mean by ‘good’ with some other notion.92 and. 125. p. 109. xiii.

I accept that it has little bearing on Hume’s law. 98 Frankena. moral and nonmoral.83 Finally. 97 Frankena. that Moore would say the same about identifying metaphysical objects or propositions as well. p 472. someone claimed that being a set was identical with being ticklish.”97 If this were the proper way to view the fallacy. but I do not accept Frankena’s conclusions. the naturalistic fallacy reflects the literal meaning of Bishop Butler’s inscription on Principia Ethica: “Everything is what it is. then.96 We can see. he points to another section95 where Moore notes that the fallacy is also involved when someone identifies some natural property with some other natural property. In fact. 65. that the fallacy underlying the naturalistic fallacy is a generic definist fallacy). If. or of substituting one property for another . Frankena says that it is really a generic definist fallacy (or. p 471. and not another thing. 96 95 . Formulated this way. . that the fallacy is not limited to cases of defining goodness. While he would not call this error a ‘naturalistic fallacy. at least.’ he takes it to be the same mistake. The quoted Principia Ethica passages suggest to Frankena that the fallacy is “the process of confusing or identifying two properties. . ultimately. [T]he fallacy is always simply that two properties are being treated as one. quoting the motto from Principia Ethica. Frankena points out. we can see that it surely is no violation of Hume’s law. or being incorporeal. rightly. and that it can occur when defining many properties. for example. .”98 Principia Ethica p. of defining one property by another.

it must be understood to mean. On this weaker version. that Moore assumes that goodness is indefinable.’ Mr. His ground. This just raises the question. he might be held to be begging the question in favor of his view by assuming goodness is indefinable and then accusing competing views of committing the naturalistic fallacy. if it has no unique meaning.84 So Frankena finds that one version of the naturalistic fallacy to be simply the identification of goodness with any other property. for he proceeds as if ‘good’ has no meaning. like Prior. by Moore. and not what is meant by any other term. While it is clear that identifying two distinct properties is an error. for accusing a philosopher of committing the naturalistic fallacy is not simply that they have defined goodness.” Frankena. 100 Frankena writes: “To be effective at all. . is there a reason to think that anyone who defines goodness does this? Frankena proceeds as though the existence of the fallacy itself is supposed. p. I suspect. in each case. since no synonyms can be found. ‘Every term means what it means. and then uses that to claim that any proposed definition is false. to prove that such a definition is impossible. it will follow that ‘good’ is an indefinable term. it is an error to attempt to define an indefinable property. does not view the open question argument to prove anything other than that there is a fallacy.99 That is. 99 This is. what properties are indefinable? If this is the fallacy as Moore intends it.100 I reject the claim that Moore does this. If the motto be taken in this way. And then the method is as useless as an English butcher in a world without sheep. because he. 272-73. Moore seems implicitly to understand his motto in this way in section 13. Frankena admits that this version of the naturalistic fallacy may be a misinterpretation of Moore and that the passages cited support a weaker version of the definist fallacy.

as I have noted. more important reason to reject the view that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to attempt to define an indefinable property is that Moore points out examples of the naturalistic fallacy being committed in definitions of definable properties. After all. . Rather. and thereby. Moore can accuse anyone who has attempted such a definition of committing the naturalistic fallacy.85 We can see the appeal of such a position. then you would expect that Moore would have to claim that beauty is unanalyzable and indefinable too. he offers a definition of beauty that does not commit the 101 Principia Ethica. This would not be an accurate description of Moore’s method (though other intuitionists might be less careful). 259. dispense with their views. For example. In fact. So the supposition is that having proved goodness is indefinable. Moore says that the naturalistic fallacy is commonly committed with respect to beauty. he identifies a particular sort of error as the naturalistic fallacy. Moore does not use the naturalistic fallacy as a weapon. just as it is committed with respect to goodness. He does not merely assert that Mill’s view attempts to define an indefinable property and so is false.101 If you think the naturalistic fallacy is a mere definist fallacy. Another. But he does not. Moore includes an independent proof of the indefinability of goodness in § 13. p. thereby undermining the argument by which the offending definition was derived. three sentences after he makes this pronouncement. This argument against Mill will be treated more fully in Chapter 4.

By noting the proper role of the . Conclusion Baldwin. simply take it to be the same as Hume’s law. with those who think there is some problem with the naturalistic fallacy generally adopting the position that it is a triviality. but in the inference from the conjunction of beauty and that feeling to the identity of those properties. that to be beautiful is to cause such a feeling. The upshot for Frankena is that of the possible uses of the naturalistic fallacy he has identified. We shall see whether this is the case in the next chapter. I contend that the fallacy here is not in defining beauty in terms of our subjective feelings. identification with violations of Hume’s law is a mere logical fallacy. Frankena and Prior each offer analyses of Moore’s use of the term ‘naturalistic fallacy. Frankena’s analysis has been the most influential. and the other may be refuted by Moore’s actual practice. those who do not see a problem. In the next chapter. I explain why it is not a mere triviality. To commit the naturalistic fallacy with respect to beauty is to suppose that since beautiful objects all cause some certain feeling in us. one seems overly strong. and not broad enough to capture the full range of arguments and theories to which the term is applied. Typically.’ Of these. and of the two versions of the definist fallacy.86 naturalistic fallacy. or beauty is identical with a tendency to cause such feelings.

and placing it within the context of his overall assault on naturalism. Moore’s proof that those conclusions are mistaken.87 naturalistic fallacy in Moore’s thought. the open question argument. is a different argument altogether. I show that. rather than being question begging. it is an explanation of how naturalists arrive at their conclusions. .

let’s call this ‘the general definist fallacy. that of mistakenly thinking that since I am pleased. this interpretation is not consistent with Moore’s text because he points out that the naturalistic fallacy is frequently committed with respect to beauty. In this chapter I offer a new interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy that more closely matches the text of Principia Ethica. I am the definition of being pleased. the case of . The second interpretation we must consider is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is simply to inaccurately define a property. two deserve serious consideration. Frankena’s work demonstrates that of the many possibilities considered for what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy. I showed that there are a number of different interpretations of what Moore means by his claim that naturalistic theories of ethics commit the naturalistic fallacy. As I showed in the last chapter. After all. a definable property.’ This interpretation has much to recommend it.88 Chapter 4 The Naturalistic Fallacy: A New Interpretation In the previous chapter. The first is that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to define an indefinable property. every example that Moore offers of committing the fallacy is a case of someone getting a definition wrong: There is the example of identifying yellowness with a certain type of light vibration. For purposes of this discussion.

Baldwin’s second interpretation. there are no such 1 In essence. This seems like pretty good evidence that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to incorrectly define a property. The details of this view are worked out below.89 believing since oranges are yellow.1 Despite this. Moore’s examples in the sections in which he describes the naturalistic fallacy. the evidence required to prove this is a bad interpretation would need to be strong. his analyses of individual theories that are said to commit the naturalistic fallacy. as articulated in the last chapter. being an orange is the same as being yellow. Given that the general definist fallacy is well supported by Moore’s examples. etc. There seems to be an explanation for why the mistake was made. The best evidence would be a Moorean example where someone got the definition right. This would prove that the general definist interpretation was false. to think of two properties that they are one and the same. This suggests to me that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer from inadequate evidence that what we think of as two properties really is one. . though it would not necessarily prove any alternative. seem to stress something besides the misidentification. Every one of these definitions is supposed to illustrate the naturalistic fallacy and every one is an example of an incorrect definition. The view I favor is something akin to Prior’s view. generalized to apply to properties besides goodness. that is. but was still accused of committing the naturalistic fallacy. I prefer a different view. Unfortunately.

4 Presumably. as seems to be the mistake highlighted in several of the cases we’ve looked at. p.2 He also imagines the value of the experience if certain features are added. 249. the contemplation. . If we saw that Moore was very careful not to infer from the co-instantiation of properties that they were identical. it is not clear what process Moore uses to define such properties as beauty or virtue. He seems to be determining what features are necessary to our experience of beauty. Again.”3 Note that this is a definition of the beautiful. 243.4 2 3 Principia Ethica. In fact. Moore then takes the next step and defines being beautiful as being an essential part of an intrinsically valuable experience. But there seems to be no inference from these observations to the definition Moore offers. He writes that “the beautiful should be defined as that of which the admiring contemplation is good in itself.90 examples in Principia Ethica. Principia Ethica. When he defines beauty. p. we do not find this sort of care. and does not necessarily define the property being beautiful. We might also look to examples Moore gives of successful definitions. we might infer from this that his care was directed at avoiding the naturalistic fallacy. he asks what properties can be removed from an experience while maintaining its beautiful character.

p. It is not at all clear that Moore actually made the inference I claim is forbidden. we still have to overcome the hurdle of getting from the beautiful to beauty. First. The discussion so far makes the prospect of defending the view I suggested in Chapter 3 look pretty dim. p. 102. 6 it genuinely seems that he has identified such an inference. p. Principia Ethica. Principia Ethica.91 One way Moore could have arrived at this definition is by intuition. When it comes to good. 20-21. it is hard to believe that Moore does not understand what a fallacy is. And this maneuver is forbidden. 7 See example below.7 Moreover. Second. despite Moore’s protestations that he does not describe a bad inference. Sidgwick’s use of this method is commended as a route to determining the good. I find it easier to believe that he stated his examples in ways that sometimes failed to emphasize the bad inference.5 so perhaps it could be used to determine the beautiful as well. 5 Though his particular conclusion is not embraced. this would weigh against the suggestion that the naturalistic fallacy is a kind of inference from inadequate evidence to a definition. Moore says that people theorize about the good and then decide whatever they chose as the good is the very meaning of good. the problem raised by the definition of beauty is highly speculative. and so has not actually found anything that should be called a fallacy. Second Preface. 145. But if so. But it is not as bad as it seems. But it looks like that what he has done here. If so. presumably because it involves the naturalistic fallacy. 6 .

What remains. perhaps by showing that goodness and the property are not even coextensive. for instance.9 Finally. 9 The closest he comes to claiming that the definition offered by a philosopher is wrong is when he writes “The direct object of Ethics is knowledge and not practice. and see if any of them seem to weigh more heavily in favor of either view. Evidence for this claim is provided in two 8 When it was a complex definition. In so doing. so surely not identical. 71. A corollary of my view of the open question argument is that Moore cannot prove that any simple property identity is false by use of the argument. each treat it as though it were an argument against naturalistic theories. Though this could mean either a mistake in the definition. but it does not hurt. . while providing a degree of explanatory power. he never claims that their definitions are wrong but merely that they committed the fallacy also suggests that the error is not the definist fallacy. they share a common error. .92 instead focusing on the falsity of the view. in that it explains why the faulty definitions were proposed. . is to look at the specific examples Moore gives us in more detail.” Principia Ethica. Prior and Frankena. He may show that a given simple definition is wrong by means of a specific argument. despite offering distinctly different interpretations of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy. This is certainly not a requirement of a good interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. . the interpretation I favor is consistent with the general definist fallacy for every example we have.8 The fact that when he actually accuses particular philosophers of having committed the naturalistic fallacy. The first section of this chapter explains the error and shows that Moore was explicit in his assertion that theories are not false by virtue of resting on an instance of the naturalistic fallacy. then. and anyone who uses the naturalistic fallacy has certainly not fulfilled this first object. p. or a failure in its justification.

. Examination of such arguments makes it clear that Moore does not intend us to believe that naturalistic theories are false for resting on the fallacy. I argue that a single interpretation is consistent with each of Moore’s usages. The actual proof is provided by the open question argument. I draw on Moore’s description of the fallacy. and demonstrate that at no point in these arguments does Moore assert that they are false for resting on the naturalistic fallacy. if they are false. or by accusation that advocates of those theories commit the fallacy. in each case.10 The proof that such identities are false ones is not proved by the naturalistic fallacy. it appears that. the advocates have undermined the possible evidence for their normative claims. Mill. And the evidence for their theories are inadequate because by having committed the naturalistic fallacy. and on his arguments against the theories of Bentham. After demonstrating that Moore does not take the fact that a theory rests on the naturalistic fallacy to be a fatal flaw for the theory. Moore is merely pointing out that there is such an error being made that explains where philosophers who advocate such theories have gone wrong—why it is that they embrace and endorse false theories. are so because they are wrong about what things ought to be done or because they advocate an incorrect theory of the good. and Spencer. including those inspired by Moorean 10 The theories.93 forms—direct and indirect textual evidence. I present my own account of the fallacy. In the course of this discussion. I consider several criticisms. But the theories are alleged to be false by virtue of some other error. By ‘indirect evidence’ I mean I examine one or two of Moore’s arguments against particular forms of naturalism. This proof is examined in detail in the next chapter. Rather.

in part. as he conceives it. Moreover. by and large. This is the very basis of Frankena’s claim that it is question begging. Interestingly. is an effective weapon (at least against those he called “inconsistent naturalists”)—take sides on the matter. in the last chapter. § 1) The proper role of the Naturalistic Fallacy We saw. Since the basis of my criticisms of Frankena and Prior rest. none of the philosophers whose work we examined attempted to resolve the debate. on their having gotten the role of the naturalistic fallacy wrong. at least. it is incumbent on me to provide some proof that Moore. on an initial read. at least two of them. about what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy.94 text that. Frankena—who pointed out that there are some intuitionists who use the naturalistic fallacy like a weapon—and Prior—who pointed out that the naturalistic fallacy. while this debate is noted. that Moore scholars have noted that there is debate about the role of the naturalistic fallacy in Moore’s ethical theory. seems to contradict my interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. did not intend the naturalistic . despite agreeing with him. That is. It is also the reason I reject Prior’s `characterization. both assume that the naturalistic fallacy is intended to refute naturalistic theories of ethics.

and in particular. That principle may be true all the same. under the topic of Hedonism. the reasons that Bentham gives for accepting that Moore.p 71 (emphasis in original) (all citations to Principia Ethica are to the revised edition. clarifies the proper role of the naturalistic fallacy while discussing Bentham’s commission of the naturalistic fallacy: Now. What I am maintaining is that the reasons which he actually gives for his ethical proposition are fallacious ones so far as they consist in a definition of right. § 14. The discovery of it does not at all refute Bentham’s contention that greatest happiness is the proper end of human action. even if the fallacy had been pointed out to him. Sidgwick does.11 Here. My claim rests on two different types of support—text and inference from Moore’s own practice. we shall consider whether it is so in succeeding chapters. Ch. or lack thereof. I. Moore considers these grounds in Chapter III. ¶4. 11 . I do not wish the importance I have assigned to this fallacy to be misunderstood. Principia Ethica. generally. I examine Moore’s argument. the role of the naturalistic fallacy in that argument below. Bentham might have maintained it. But regardless of the theory’s truth. as Prof. Whether it is true or false rests on other grounds. Moore. Moore is pointing out that fact that Bentham has committed the naturalistic fallacy is not the feature that makes his theory false. Cambridge 1993). as he undoubtedly intended it.95 fallacy to be a refutation of anything. if that be understood as an ethical proposition. himself.

the text indicates that Moore considers the role of the naturalistic fallacy to be to undermine the reasons for holding and promoting a theory. . and not to prove its falsity. it does not support my claim that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is anything other than to commit the general definist fallacy. though this passage is helpful in clarifying the proper role of the naturalistic fallacy. 71. when speaking of Bentham’s reasons that Bentham “did not perceive them to be fallacious” and that “if he had done so. 12 Principia Ethica. rather than a mistake that undermines our confidence in it would be a mistake. prove that to interpret the naturalistic fallacy in such a way as to make commission of the fallacy the false-making characteristic of the normative theory. he might be similarly concerned with reasons for accepting definitions of moral properties. Rather it is merely his diagnosis of where a philosopher has gone wrong in forging or defending his theory.96 theory are the proper target of the naturalistic fallacy. he would have been led to seek for other reasons in support of his Utilitarianism . This is why Moore writes. It does. It also give us hope that since Moore was so concerned with the reasons given for ethical views. . p. . . This text is the most direct support for my contention that the naturalistic fallacy is not in any way Moore’s argument that any particular ethical view is false. Unfortunately. however.”12 Plainly.

or laid down as an axiom. below. Julius Kovesi cites to this passage as proof that Moore thinks the error in Bentham’s reasoning lies in the fact that he presented an argument wherein he defined the good. That is. 1984). 228. pp.” Philosophy. I have seen it cited two times. Moore writes “it might be perfectly consistent for him to define right as conducive to the general happiness provided only (and note this proviso) he had already proved.”13 Hall treats Moore as though he had claimed that Bentham had committed the naturalistic fallacy in its definist configuration. 1-18. No. p. p. in addition to Ethics vol. (Apr. 113 16 Kovesi. 157-170 at 170. “The fallacy consists in the reasoning adduced to show what the good is. and accuses Moore of begging the question against Bentham.”16 This is most definitely not what Moore asserts. 59. 70. below. whereas it should be laid down what the good is ‘as an axiom’. it is possible that Moore was accusing Bentham of committing a definist fallacy. In fact.14 but I consider is a better explanation. 15 In my detailed explication of Moore’s analysis of Bentham. J. 17 Principia Ethica.”17 Moore thinks it is perfectly acceptable to try to prove what the good is. The first paper I have found to make appeal to the quote above is Everett Hall’s “The ‘Proof’ of Utility in Bentham and Mill.. at 15.15 The only other reference I have found to this passage commits a pretty grievous error.. Though I attempt to refute this charge. Arguably. Vol. 60. 1 (Oct 1949) pp. (Emphasis in original) 14 13 .97 Though this passage has been generally overlooked. and doing so. he accepts Frankena’s interpretation of the fallacy. “Principia Ethica" Re-Examined: The Ethics of a Proto-Logical Atomism. that general happiness was the good. No.

18 This is not to say that he thinks such proof is possible. Moore gives similarly deferential treatment to the theories of Mill and Spencer. 128. which Moore takes to be those things that instantiate goodness.98 laying it down as an axiom. and argues that each theory is without merit. Moore’s refutations of Mill’s hedonism and Spencer’s evolutionary ethics are based on other grounds. We see in his discussion of intuitionist hedonism that he takes direct proof of propositions about the good to be impossible. Kolvesi confuses the good. The upshot is that a key passage in Principia Ethica—one that effectively undermines some of the most potent criticisms asserted against Moore’s ethical philosophy and perhaps leaves a little hope for a non-definist view of the naturalistic fallacy—has been rarely cited and. Such claims are only open to ‘indirect proof. he does not think his normative theory is false on that ground. Hall accuses Moore of committing the definist fallacy. with goodness itself. p.’ Principia Ethica. he does not argue that they are false for being based on the fallacy. perhaps.18 As I argue below. the fallacy lies in making the inference from what things are good to a definition of goodness. and he does not take the fallacy to be in attempting to prove that a particular property is the good. . and Kolvesi takes Moore to reject a proposition that he explicitly endorses. Though he brutally assaults their arguments as artless commissions of the naturalistic fallacy. While Moore believes Bentham has committed the naturalistic fallacy. badly misinterpreted. is the key to avoiding the naturalistic fallacy for Bentham.

that it is quite wonderful how Mill failed to see it”19) for having committed the naturalistic fallacy. p 126. although Mill’s fallacies cannot prove it so. Principia Ethica. Again. It merely undermines our confidence in the arguments mustered for its support. Moore turns his attention to disproving the theory. p. If Moore took commission of the naturalistic fallacy to be a fatal flaw in a theory there would be no need for such arguments. the fallacy in this step is so obvious.”20 The remaining thirty-five pages of Moore’s chapter III are devoted to trying to show that Mill’s principle is false. at least with respect to arguments about what things are good. Moore does not claim that Mill has gotten the definition of goodness wrong. Moore identifies an instance of the naturalistic fallacy in Spencer’s identification 19 20 Principia Ethica. Moore takes Mill to task for committing the naturalistic fallacy. . for my purposes. we see that a theory’s resting upon the naturalistic fallacy does not demonstrate that the theory is false. Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary ethical theory gets similar treatment. 21 Nor for the apologies he gives for the sorry state of ethical argumentation. but the doctrine that pleasure alone is desirable may still be true. 118.21 Most importantly. This is the question which we have now to face. He recognizes that the sort of refutation that we see in logical proofs is not possible in the context of ethics. After several pages of accusing Mill of naïveté and artlessness.99 As is the case with Bentham’s views. Moore writes “So far I have been only occupied with refuting Mill’s naturalistic arguments for Hedonism. and giving him some good-natured ribbing (“Well.

wherein my positive account of the naturalistic fallacy is presented. nothing in the preceding material proves that Moore does not take the naturalistic fallacy to be a definist fallacy. Again.100 of increasing ethical sanction with being more evolved. at least. Spencer’s language is extremely loose. p. 100-101. Rather. Nor does he claim that the property identities these theorists assert are false on the ground that goodness is indefinable. Finally. It is clear that Moore. Surely. Again. to assert that would be to beg the question. Moore rejects the reasoning behind the theories as being fallacious.”22 but whether he has or has not committed the fallacy. but neither does it prove that he 22 Principia Ethica. does not use the naturalistic fallacy as a weapon against naturalists in the way that Frankena and Prior seem to assume. In other words. Moore is unsure whether Spencer has really committed the fallacy because “Mr. his theory must be further evaluated for its truth. commission of the fallacy is not sufficient to demonstrate that a theory is false. . and then turns his attention to arguing against the other merits of the theories. Moore does not claim that any theorist has committed the fallacy merely on the grounds that he has offered a definition of goodness. he has defined being more evolved as an end in itself. an indefinable property. In no case does he dismiss a theory as false on the ground that its proponent has committed the fallacy in formulating or defending the theory. This last point is demonstrated in the next section.

when he writes of a particular class of naturalistic theories: In other words they are all theories of the end or ideal. there can be no definition. Furthermore. A definist fallacy would not suffice. as. the adoption of which has been chiefly caused by the commission of what I . at first glance. The rest of this chapter develops a view that would. for example. § 2) The naturalistic fallacy: a close reading It is not entirely surprising that most interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy are unsatisfying. he would need a view of the naturalistic fallacy such that commission of the fallacy could undermine confidence in proffered simple identity statements. to demonstrate the same mistake. and they do not always appear.101 does. Moore would need proof that goodness is indefinable. In order to be a definist fallacy. but there could still be true identity statements that identify goodness with a simple property. in order to avoid begging the question. He would also need proof that it is not identical with any natural simple property. If Moore does not have a proof that goodness is not identical with a simple natural property—and I contend he does not—then in order to defend his view that goodness is non-natural. because definition is a matter if identifying the constituent parts of a property—if there are no parts. sometimes his descriptions are downright cryptic. Moore uses a number of examples to illustrate it.

Moore writes: 23 24 Principia Ethica. Ch. just before this passage. appears to mean that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to confuse two questions. but in a different order.24 Interpreting this is tough—Moore may be defining the naturalistic fallacy. a. Nonetheless. or he may be doing neither of these. The most likely candidates appear in the opening sections of Chapter I. pp 54-58.23 This statement. and instead merely suggesting an alternative error was committed by the naturalist. 89-90. In this section. Compare Principia Ethica. but these same questions appear again. pp. p 89. he may be offering an alternative way to think about the problem without suggesting it means anything other than what he had previously established. thirty or more pages before this passage. an interpretation consistent with each of Moore’s uses of the words “naturalistic fallacy” can be found.102 have called the naturalistic fallacy: they all confuse the first and second of the three possible questions which Ethics can ask. I. for all the world. . II. Goodness and yellow Moore’s most clear explanation of the naturalistic fallacy appears in the passage in which the naturalistic fallacy is first introduced. I offer such an interpretation. and Ch. Compounding the confusion is that Moore is not very clear about which two questions he is referring to.

“Everything is what it is. but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. The view Moore proposes to call the naturalistic fallacy is not the 25 26 Principia Ethica.” 27 Frankena. is what Moore has labeled the “naturalistic fallacy. But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties [belonging to all things which are good] they were actually defining good. And it is a fact. that these properties. in fact.103 It may be true that all things which are good are also something else. and not another thing. . p. This. he thinks.27 Frankena’s emphasis is on the act of attempting the definition.25 We saw in Chapter 3 that Baldwin uses this passage as evidence that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to deny the indefinability of goodness.” But this is not the only reasonable interpretation. 470-71. were simply not ‘other’. 62. This view I propose to call the ‘naturalistic fallacy’…. claiming that it means that nothing is identical with goodness26 and that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to assert of something other than goodness that it is identical with goodness. p. nor is it the one that most accurately represents Moore’s text. § 10. He takes this passage to be a mere demonstration of Butler’s maxim that appears as the motto on the cover page of Principia Ethica. that Ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good. just as it is true that all things which are yellow produce a certain kind of vibration in the light. And we also saw that Frankena relies on this passage (among others).

just as he might notice that every instance of yellow is accompanied by y-vibrations. the 28 At least in philosopher biology. They are merely properties that are coextensive. Consider. To commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make the inference from coextension to identity. From this (limited) coextension of goodness and pleasure. is not identity. one is defining goodness. and vice-versa. Rather. these are coextensive properties. As it turns out. Consider Moore’s example step by step. I take it that this deduction is Moore’s target. just a second of careful thought dispels the possibility that they are identical. even necessary coextension. But just a moment’s reflection makes it clear that they are not identical properties. not simply because he believes the conclusion is false. .28 Everything that has a kidney has a heart.104 belief that defining goodness is possible. or even that any particular identity statement is right. Moore calls it a fallacy because he takes the deduction itself to be invalid. After all. The same is true for yellowness and y-vibrations. those properties that are coextensive with goodness. The naturalist observes that every instance of goodness is also an instance of pleasure. or perhaps they share an even weaker relation. for example. the naturalist deduces that goodness is identical with pleasure. Moore writes that it is the belief that when one names the other properties. We know that such deductions are invalid because coextension. the properties being renate and being cordate.

Now Frankena is quite right that to make the move from this claim about the naturalist to the further claim that her definition is wrong is impermissible. to make such an argument would be to beg the question against the naturalist. we need only to look at the reason Moore might assert (2). This is . The proof that someone has committed the naturalistic fallacy requires one to deny the naturalist’s conclusion as one of your premises. Frankena thinks the reason Moore believes that goodness is not identical with pleasantness is that to believe such a thing is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. the y-vibrationality is only a disposition that yellow things have. 4) Therefore. goodness is not identical with pleasantness. Moore also acknowledges this in the passage discussing Bentham. Since (2) is the very conclusion that Frankena takes Moore to be reaching when he claims that someone who defines goodness as pleasantness is committing the naturalistic fallacy. he seems to have in mind a different Moorean argument. Moore would have begged the question against the naturalist if he argued as follows: 1) Goodness is coextensive with pleasantness 2) Goodness is not identical with pleasantness 3) If (1) and (2) then goodness is not identical with pleasantness.105 yellowness of an object only causes y-vibrations under certain conditions. To see this. When Frankena claims that Moore begs the question. above. That is.

there could be no such disconfirming instance.106 plainly question begging. 30 Indeed. in the cases where naturalists have claimed that some natural property is the good (where there is real coextension). to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer from the fact that every good thing also is pleasant that goodness is identical with pleasure. it would be. in this case. In general terms. At least if the properties were coextensive. there could be a possible disconfirming instance of pleasure. worse to infer the identity of goodness and pleasantness. it seems trivial to compound the trouble. in my discussion of Moore’s 29 Clearly. perhaps. it is the inference from the constant conjunction of one property with another to their identity. because all it would take to disprove the identity would be a single disconfirming instance of pleasure that was not good. the naturalist has started from the premise that all instances of goodness are instances of pleasure. This suggests that. Moore proceeds as though they derived that from the identity . But since the inference is bad even if the properties are necessarily coextensive. if the properties were merely contingently coextensive.30 I consider the ramifications of this below. because he has not started from the premise that goodness and pleasantness are coextensive.29 The mistake our naturalist has made is to believe that goodness and pleasantness are identical on the ground that he has always found them together. From this. This constant conjunction is a weaker relationship than coextension. this example is worse still for the naturalist. Instead. as Moore seems to describe it as a one way relation here. This is why it is so important to emphasize that this is not what Moore actually does. Actually.

. each of which is relatively easy to misinterpret alone.107 treatment of particular theorists. after having first committed the naturalistic fallacy by inferring the identity from the mere constant conjunction. but when read together. We may be able to say how [pleasure] is related to other things: that. support my interpretations over any others. that we are conscious of it. Here. We can. “I am pleased” The next place we see Moore invoking the naturalistic fallacy is several pages later. but define it we between goodness and the property in question. . that it causes desire. . it is in the mind.. etc. etc. in § 12. For the moment. we should progress on the theory that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer from either the coextension of two properties or the mere supposition that all instances of one property are also instances of another. . describe its relations to other things. that the properties are identical. Suppose a man says ‘I am pleased’ . there are two related passages. Symbolically: NF1) ∀x (Px ↔ Qx) → (P=Q) or NF2) ∀x (Px → Qx) → (P=Q) b. for example. I say.

That is. . that pleasure means the sensation of red. Well. it is easy to take Moore to be saying that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is. and it is definitely the interpretation that Frankena accepts. that would be the same fallacy which I have called the naturalistic fallacy. something a little more complex and interesting is going on here. It is not simply that someone is trying to define pleasure. she is identifying pleasure with other attendant experiences.31 At a first read. The fact that this is the error Moore has in mind becomes clearer as we read farther in the passage. we might generalize to the conclusion that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to give a definition of an indefinable property. § 12. And since he has identified pleasure as being indefinable. as I noted in my discussion of Baldwin. It is that they are attempting to do so by virtue of its relation to other natural properties or objects. This seems to be the assumption that Baldwin takes from this passage. like sensations of red. for instance. in this case. if anybody were to say. and were to proceed to deduce from that that pleasure is a colour. And if anybody tried to define pleasure for us as being any other natural object. pp 64-65.32 But. or with its causal relata.108 can not. like the desire it causes in us. to define pleasure. we should be entitled to laugh at him and to distrust his future statements about pleasure. 31 32 Principia Ethica.

His point is about the property itself. seems distinct.’ I meant that I was exactly the same thing as ‘pleased. But once again. in this passage. discern where he is discussing words versus the properties to which those words refer. one that at first blush. although it would be the same fallacy as I have called naturalistic with reference to Ethics. a little careful analysis shows that it is closely related to the mistake highlighted above. if for instance he 33 Moore phrases this in linguistic terms.109 Moore goes on. It is enough to understand that being pleased means to have the sensation of pleasure. we cannot meaningfully assert that we have that property. If I were to imagine that when I said ‘I am pleased. defining one by the other. When a man confuses two natural objects with one another. We may.’ I should not indeed call that a naturalistic fallacy. quoting off ‘pleased’ and ‘having the sensation of pleasure. But Moore’s point is that of course we can assert that we instantiate a property that is simple and indefinable. The reason of this is obvious enough. I take it that this is why he admits to making use/mention errors in his discussion of the naturalistic fallacy. .’ But this is a mistake.33 It seems to me that he is addressing concerns that if we cannot give a definition of a property. But those use/mention errors need not be fatal to the view. it is not the case that we cannot meaningfully assert that we are pleased. with a little sensitivity to the text. to note that while pleasure is indefinable. Moore wraps up this passage by introducing another mistake. He is not making a mere linguistic point. But the attempt to define such a property by its connection to other properties we might experience at the same time is an error.

and this specific mistake deserves a name because it is so common.35 The man in Moore’s example has concluded from the fact that he is pleased that he is identical with the property being pleased. himself. After all.34 There are two important things happening in this passage. then there is no reason to call the fallacy naturalistic. so I could not feel my weight upon it. in a sense. But if he confuses ‘good.110 confuses himself. with ‘pleased’ or with ‘pleasure’ which are others. not the word ‘pleased. . from the sentences immediately following the initial description of the confusion. is to confuse myself with something else . it is of a case that we might never expect to see actualized. The first is that Moore provides another example of the fallacy. . and thought that it was not my arm. it is hard to imagine anyone mistaking the ‘is’ of predication with the ‘is’ of identity when the identifier. its being made with regard to ‘good’ marks it as something quite specific. It seems that he has thought about the true Principia Ethica. Moore intends us to understand. 36 Again. It is hard to confuse myself with something else. This. who is one natural object. is the subject of the identity he asserts. that by ‘pleased’ offset in single quotes. with any natural object whatever. 35 34 . But it is clear.’ but the property to which that word refers. then there is a reason for calling that a naturalistic fallacy.36 It appears in this example that the hapless identifier is confusing the ‘is’ of predication with the ‘is’ of identity. I once woke up with my arm under my body. As I noted in Chapter 3. we have a use/mention problem here.’ which is not in the same sense a natural object. p 65. Though it is not impossible. and asleep.

Read in the context of the passage immediately preceding this one. But. This passage seems particularly amenable to this sort of reading. having made that mistake is the reason for the bad inference). our confused identifier instantiates both being pleased and being himself. Here. And on the basis of that he takes being himself and being pleased to be identical.111 sentence. p. again. it seems). that he is experiencing pleasure) and derived from it the identity statement “I am pleased” which means that he is identical with the property being pleased. Concluding from the fact that oranges are yellow that orange and yellow are the same property looks like it might be a problem caused by confusing the ‘is’ of predication with the ‘is’ of identity. also at work is the inference from co-instantiation to identity. preface to the second edition. “I am pleased” which means. it is clear that this is interpretation is to be preferred over the identity/predication problem. to him. 38 Principia Ethica.37 But such a reading would be a mistake.38 While confusing predication and identity might be at work here. in context it appears to be a case of confusing coextension with identity (a closely related problem. yellowness and sweetness also might lead to one accepting this interpretation. This is an even more dramatic error than inferring the identity of two properties from their uni-directional relation. he takes confusing the ‘is’ of predication with the ‘is’ of identity to be the source of the commission of the fallacy in this particular instance (in my terms. . the 37 Moore’s use/mention trouble on the following page in discussing oranges. Rather. where the error is plainly inferring the identity of properties that occur in the same object. that he has the property being pleased (or alternately. 20. though it is not what he intended. In this case. Moore noted in his preface to the second edition of Principia Ethica that this passage is amenable to such a reading.

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confused identifier seems to be making the inference from a single instance of the conjunction of two properties. Symbolically, the fallacy looks like this: NF3) ∃x (Px & Qx) → (P=Q) The second thing Moore does in this passage is to demonstrate to us that the naturalistic fallacy is a general purpose fallacy. That is, it is a mistake that can be made in many contexts, not merely in the context of ethics. This is important to keep in mind, because it can help keep up from accepting interpretations of the fallacy that will be applicable only to goodness. For example, Frankena claims that an intuitionist’s accusation that a naturalistic theorist has committed the naturalistic fallacy begs the question against the naturalist because it starts from the premise that no such definition is possible. That is, Frankena takes intuitionists to mean that the indefinability of goodness is an integral part of the naturalistic fallacy. But once we see that the naturalistic fallacy is supposed to be a completely general sort of inference error, we should no longer feel compelled to entertain interpretations like the one Frankena asserts of intuitionists. A philosopher might commit the naturalistic fallacy in offering a definition of a perfectly definable property. If, based on the fact that I have a receding hairline, I determined that definition of ‘forehead’ is that patch of hairless skin extending from ones eyebrows to the middle of the scalp, I will have committed the naturalistic fallacy, in form NF3. I think the blame for part of the confusion in this regard belongs squarely on Moore’s doorstep, because in illustrating the

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fallacy, he chooses only those properties he has determined to be indefinable. But in fact, the generic fallacy he highlights would apply equally to definable properties. Take renate and cordate, for example. These are definable properties, but to conclude, based on their coextension, that they were identical properties would be to commit the fallacy. It would be an invalid inference. It is likely that Moore only chooses indefinable properties because he wants to keep the analogy to goodness fairly close, and ultimately, he will argue that goodness is indefinable, but that is a different argument, not to be confused with the naturalistic fallacy.

3. Bentham

The next place we encounter the naturalistic fallacy is in Moore’s treatment of Bentham’s hedonism. Moore writes that Bentham’s theories about rightness, at least as they are interpreted by Sidgwick, commit the naturalistic fallacy.39 This material is fairly dense—perhaps the most difficult passage in Principia Ethica—and it is hard to derive an interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy from Moore’s statements about Bentham. But I think it is possible to show that my claim—that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer the identity

39

Principia Ethica, § 14, p. 69. Note that Sidgwick, himself, does not commit the naturalistic fallacy, and is unique in Moore’s mind for avoiding that error.

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of two properties from their coextension or some weaker relation—is at least consistent with Moore’s criticisms here. According to Moore, Sidgwick has claimed40 that Bentham takes the word ‘right’ to mean ‘conducive to general happiness.’ This definition of the word ‘right’ is permissible, says Moore, if it is asserting that ‘right’ refers to those actions that are good as a means to achieving some particular end (i.e., they are instrumentally good). Then, asserts Moore, Bentham could choose general happiness as the good, either by proof or axiomatic assertion. This would be a fine theory, and Bentham’s reasons for accepting it would be as good as his reasons for asserting that general happiness was the good. By ‘the good’ we mean the collection of those things that are morally good—that instantiate goodness. If general happiness were the good, this would mean that general happiness was the only thing that instantiated the property goodness. But, claims Moore, Bentham has not proved or asserted axiomatically what the good is. What he has done instead is to assert the definition of ‘right’ as conducive to general happiness, and then to leverage that definition into a definition of the property moral rightness. He takes the greatest happiness to be the right and proper end of human action. Moore writes: [Bentham’s] fundamental principle is . . . that the greatest happiness of all concerned is the right and proper end of human
40

In The Methods of Ethics (1874), Bk. 1, Chap. iii, § 1.

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action. He applies the word ‘right,’ therefore, to the end, as such, not only to the means which are conducive to it; and that being so, right can no longer be defined as ‘conducive to the general happiness,’ without involving the fallacy in question.41 There is simply not enough information here to determine where the mistake is. But if we tease the argument apart, it appears that Bentham may have committed the naturalistic fallacy as represented by NF2, above. Bentham wishes to defend the principle that ‘right’ means ‘conducive to general happiness. Moore says that this is a perfectly acceptable theory, provided Bentham meant by it that rightness is good as a means to the appropriate end, and provided that he arrived at that conclusion in a particular way. If Bentham had started from the principle that general happiness was the good, by which Moore means that general happiness alone is good (thus it is the end—that for which we ought to strive), and then inferred from this principle and the principle that right means good as a means to that end that rightness is conducive to the general good, Bentham would have committed no fallacy. In other terms, this is an acceptable argument: Permissible Benthamic argument 1) General happiness is the good (axiomatic or proved by other argument) 2) ‘Right’ denotes what is conducive to the end (to the good, that is)
41

Principia Ethica, p. 70.

Principia Ethica.116 3) Therefore right means conducive to the general happiness. p.”43 The inference from the identity of rightness and conduciveness to general happiness to general happiness being the right end is logically perfectly acceptable. if at all. 70. 70-71. means conducive to general happiness. this is not the argument Bentham makes.”42 Moore accuses Bentham of deriving the end of ethics from the definition of rightness. writes Moore. 42 43 Principia Ethica. he wants to prove (1) from the Benthamic Argument. “If right. This does not sound anything like the naturalistic fallacy as interpreted by me or any other critic we have considered. . That is. How he goes about it involves the naturalistic fallacy. The question is how did Bentham arrive at that identity? This is where the naturalistic fallacy occurs. I have cast the naturalistic fallacy as the inference of a definition of a moral property based on its co-instantiation with some other property. But. Moore says the mistake he makes is that “the definition of right as conducive to general happiness proves general happiness to be the right end—a perfectly invalid procedure. by definition. What Bentham appears to be doing is deriving the co-instantiation of properties based upon their identity. Bentham wants to show that the greatest happiness is the right and proper end of human action. then it is obvious that general happiness is the right end.

. thereby satisfying the antecedent of NF2. thus: Letting R symbolize rightness and H symbolize conduciveness to general happiness. He could generalize to all instances of rightness. I take this as the reason he is uncertain whether Bentham actually committed the naturalistic fallacy. thereby satisfying the antecedent of NF3. Since Bentham takes ‘right’ to mean ‘conducive to general happiness. and right as an end. Moore is not certain that Bentham makes this claim. . or he could fail to do so. however.45 44 “ . but the evidence is not clear. ∀x(Rx → Hx). He might proceed from particular instances of rightness he has identified as being conducive to the general happiness. 45 I take Moore to be saddling Bentham with the stronger claim. and still be on the road to the naturalistic fallacy.44 Bentham might not make this claim.” Principia Ethica. p. I am inclined to think that Bentham may really have been one of those who committed it. and attempt the derive the identity of rightness and conduciveness to general happiness from the more modest claim ∃x(Rx & Hx). 69.’ then every instance of rightness will be an instance of conduciveness to general happiness. .117 Moore takes Bentham’s claim that ‘right’ means ‘conducive to general happiness’ in two ways—right as a means to an end.

Bentham (might) derive it from particular instances of co-instantiation between rightness and conduciveness to general happiness. and infer their identity.’ the left side might actually be a bi-conditional. the fallacious Benthamic argument might start from the coextension of rightness and conduciveness to general happiness. This definition must come from somewhere. That Moore claims this is what Bentham does is enough for my purposes. To recap.’ If Bentham has so derived the definition. the inference to the identity of rightness and conduciveness to general happiness would be an instance of committing the naturalistic fallacy in one of its configurations: NF2: ∀x(Rx → Hx) → ∀x(Rx = Hx)46 NF3: ∃x(Rx & Hx) → ∀x(Rx = Hx). He derives this from the definition of rightness as conduciveness to general happiness. But that is not central to my argument. Bentham attempts to derive the principle that general happiness is the proper end of ethics. then he has committed the naturalistic fallacy. I am not convinced that the principle that the general happiness is the right end is deducible from the identity between rightness and conduciveness to general happiness.118 From either starting point. which he would believe existed given that he took ‘right’ to mean ‘good as a means to general happiness. This schematic might prove useful: Given the definition of ‘right’ in the sense of ‘good as a means. Now. 46 . That is.

Confusing two questions In the chapter entitled “Naturalistic Ethics” Moore examines several theories all of which are said to either commit the naturalistic fallacy or are accepted readily because of the commission of the naturalistic fallacy. in other words. He writes: “This discussion will be designed both (1) further to illustrate the fact that the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy.119 Particular instances of rightness that are conducive to general happiness Naturalistic Fallacy occurs here (Bentham would likely think they all were) ⇓ Rightness = Conduciveness to general happiness ⇓ General happiness is the proper end of ethics (the good) While this analysis of Bentham’s argument and his possible commission of the naturalistic fallacy is somewhat speculative. which (and not anything else) is what we . no other account of the naturalistic fallacy that I have seen is capable of accounting for any commission of the fallacy at all. that we are all aware of a certain simple quality. 4. or.

not only in instances of 47 Principia Ethica. Insofar as an argument with a necessarily false conclusion can be said to be fallacious. The fact that we have a shared conception of this simple property is evidence that the bad inference Moore has pointed out really is a fallacy. Once again. in that goodness can be instantiated in many things. but also based on the fact that we take the conclusion to be false. he aims to show us that the fallacy really involves a mistake by independently demonstrating that the naturalists’ definitions are false. Instead. The second point of his discussion—that many different things possess this property—is an attempt to show that the good (not goodness) is multifaceted. Moore hopes to convince us that the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy based. The order of operations is key here—failure to notice this is likely the reason that the naturalistic fallacy has been taken to be a definist fallacy. 90 . I suppose Moore is correct. I suppose if we did have such a shared conception and it is what we meant by uses of the word ‘good. we see that he does not make the claim that naturalists commit the naturalistic fallacy because they define goodness.120 mainly mean by the term ‘good’.’ then it would be a mistake of some sort to claim that what we meant was some other property. not on our recognition of the invalidity of the inference. and (2) to shew that not one but many different things possess this property.”47 Moore takes it as proof that the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy that we have a shared conception of goodness. p.

[T]he main reason why the single kind of fact they name has been held to define the sole good. We can call these theories naïve naturalistic theories. indeed. general happiness.121 pleasure or any other single thing. he arrived at his conclusion about 48 Principia Ethica. Discussing the naïve naturalistic theories. The naturalists Moore takes as his primary target in this and succeeding discussions are those that claim that goodness is instantiated in one and only one type of thing. or end.48 Reading this quote makes it quite clear what error Moore focused on in Bentham. the adoption of which has been chiefly caused by the commission of what I have called the naturalistic fallacy: they all confuse the first and second of the three possible questions which Ethics can ask. this fact which explains their contention that only a single kind of thing is good. Moore writes: They all hold that there is only one kind of fact. is Moore’s attempt to give yet another explanation of the naturalistic fallacy. . In other words they are all theories of the end or ideal. . wherein it consisted of only one thing. Bentham posited a theory of the ideal. It is. More important than either of these claims. . Moreover. . is that it has been held to define what is meant by good itself. 89-90. however. of which the existence has any value at all .

Symbolically. To be “chiefly caused” by commission of the naturalistic fallacy is to be deduced from an identity statement that was itself the result of commission of the naturalistic fallacy. deriving (4) from (1) or (2) and then deriving (3) from (4). rightness. as identical with some other property. fallaciously deduced. The three questions are (1) What is goodness (the property)? (2) What things are good in themselves (what is the . using P for being pleasant and G for being good. one which instantiates rightness. all confuse the first and second of three questions ethics asks. itself.122 the end based on defining a fundamental moral property. That definition was. Naïve naturalists compound the error. This becomes still more clear when we consider Moore’s claim that the naïve naturalists. 1) ∃x(Px & Gx) 2) ∀x(Px → Gx) 3) ∀x(Px ↔ Gx) 4) P=G goodness) Something is pleasant and good All pleasant things are good Pleasantness is the good (pleasure is the sole good) Being pleasant is being good (or pleasure is The naturalistic fallacy is the inference from (1) or (2) or (3) to (4). in committing the naturalistic fallacy.

“That a thing should be good. and he is not clear about which. I had been on the verge of abandoning it until re-reading this passage.123 good)? (3) What ought we to do?49 By virtue of committing the naturalistic fallacy. they believe themselves to have identified the good. nothing in this passage proves that NF1. but they are consistent with this passage. 90. means that it possesses this single property: and hence (it is thought) only what possesses this property is good.51 This passage also suggests that my interpretation of Moore’s critique of Bentham is right. 90. And by virtue of their definitions. naturalists believe themselves to have defined goodness when. it has been thought. is the naturalistic fallacy. 51 In fact. or NF3 is the correct interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. they merely noticed that something was both good and in possession of their favorite natural property. perhaps. p. 5. NF2.”50 Again. if any. I have found two distinct errors which can be taken to be instances of NF2 or NF3. Spencer’s Evolutionary Ethics Moore accuses Spencer of committing the naturalistic fallacy in developing his theory of evolutionary ethics. Moore accuses Spencer of making a number of different errors. . Moore also gives another explanation of 49 50 Principia Ethica. p. it is the first passage that fits well with NF1. Principia Ethica. In this section.

124 the naturalistic fallacy—one that appears to make it a definist fallacy after all. be true that what is more evolved is also higher and better. . Moore is unsure whether Spencer actually this identification because he uses the words ‘better’ and ‘more evolved’ inconsistently. he has inferred from the co-instantiation of being more evolved and being (morally) better that these are 52 Principia Ethica. The first error Moore accuses Spencer of committing is possibly identifying being more evolved with being better or higher. p. I argue that Moore’s words should not be taken strictly literally in this instance.’ and then informs us that he has proved them to gain ethical sanction in proportion. But Moore claims that Spencer is likely influenced by commission of the naturalistic fallacy. 101. and that my interpretations still hold. Moore writes: It may . without any warning that he as omitted the most essential step in the proof. He argues at length that certain kinds of conduct are ‘more evolved. But Mr. Spencer does not seem aware that to assert the one is in any case not the same thing as to assert the other. . .52 If this is an accurate description of Spencer’s approach. Given the surrounding context and previous explanations. we can infer that Spencer relies on one. Though we do not find an explicit definition of being better.

The fallacy. Spencer may have made the intermediate step of presuming that all instances of being better were instances of being more evolved. This model begins with observations of the moral status of particular acts and the other properties those acts instantiate: 1) These instances of natural property N are good. in this case. the claim that conduct is better in proportion to its being more evolved is a claim about the proper end of ethics. This is unclear to me.125 the very same properties. It is only when we view Spencer’s argument in light of a particular model of ethical reasoning that Moore’s claims that the theory rests on the naturalistic fallacy become intelligible. . he may be characterized as committing the fallacy I have labeled NF2. And this identity is the result of the naturalistic fallacy. Here. This would be analogous to claiming that pleasantness is the good based on the identity of the properties pleasantness and goodness. Once this identity is presumed. It is derived from a claim that being better is identical with being more evolved. but relies on a bad inference to the identity claim. he can claim that he has proved that conduct gains ethical sanction in proportion to its being more evolved. If so. Otherwise. better than instances that are less evolved) to the conclusion that being better simply is being more evolved. it would be NF3. 53 Which may or may not mean that they are more conducive to life. is in the inference from instances of conduct that are more evolved53 and better (presumably. The inference to the claim about the good is valid.

if instead of that permissible intuition. most naturalists make the further claim about the good 4) Since N is identical with goodness. he has committed the fallacy. N is the good.’54 Here. Moore claims that Spencer is not embracing the naturalistic identification of being better with being more evolved. so the reasons for adopting the theorist’s views on the good are bad ones. then the fallacy is committed: 3) N is identical with goodness. The inference from N=G to ∀x(N↔G) is valid. In order to prove his thesis that ‘Conduct is better in proportion as it is more evolved’ he relies upon the thesis that ‘Life is good or bad. But the derivation of the identity is not. there is no naturalistic fallacy. or does not. as Sidgwick does. Once the naturalist has taken this step in furtherance of his claim about the good. § 10.126 From these observations. But. p. 102 quoting Spencer. the naturalist first defines the moral property and then works back up to the claim about the good. Ch. II. Data of Ethics. bring about a surplus of agreeable feeling. according as it does. . If the naturalist then intuits that N is the good (or the end). general principles about the relation between the moral and natural (or metaphysical) properties may be derived: 2) All instances of N are good. Nonetheless. 54 Principia Ethica. The second error Moore accuses Spencer of committing is to argue in favor of his evolutionary ethical theory by appeal to hedonism.

127 but. of committing the naturalistic fallacy in his embrace of hedonism will depend on how it is that he comes to accept his thesis about the good. p 103. Principia Ethica. however. . he did so from inferring from particular instances of pleasantness being good to the identification of pleasantness and goodness. p. 55 56 Principia Ethica. based on the analysis in sub-section (4).56 If.105. . enjoyment.”55 Here. is an inexpugnable element of the conception. § 16. . that Moore takes most theories that identify the good with some natural property commit the naturalistic fallacy. then. Whether Spencer can be accused. we see Spencer explicitly taking a natural property to be the proper end of ethics. then he would have committed the naturalistic fallacy. Recall. Moore does not specifically accuse him of committing the fallacy here because Spencer’s loose use of language prevents us from knowing how he arrived at his hedonic thesis. above. and he avoids the naturalistic fallacy by arriving at his conclusion about the good by avoiding defining goodness as identical with a natural property. identifying goodness with pleasantness. quoting Spencer. p. possibly. DE. only Sidgwick seems not to have. happiness. We know. 100-101. Pleasure . That he does embrace such a view becomes evident when Spencer claims that “No school can avoid taking for the ultimate moral aim a desirable state of feeling called by whatever name— gratification.

however. he does not take pleasure to be the sole end. Their views about the One of the reasons Moore does not accuse Spencer of definitely having committed the naturalistic fallacy in embracing hedonism is that. This fallacy. and simply intuited a definition. Of course. 109. he asserts that being productive of more life is also an end. there would be no fallacy. defining goodness is necessary for committing the naturalistic fallacy. he might not claim pleasure is the good. it is a short step to the conclusion that pleasure is the sole good. might be a best proof that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make an inference error of the sort I have characterized in NF1-NF3.”59 I addressed this particular quotation in Chapter 2. In giving a capsule summary of his criticisms of naturalistic ethics. we would have little reason to believe their views about the good. p. he writes. This example. If this is the case. Here. the conclusion that laws of nature are all respectable follows. we see that Spencer’s claim might rest on the naturalistic fallacy. “consists in identifying the simple notion we mean by ‘good’ with some other notion. Moore writes that certain ethical views—naïve naturalisms—owe their influence to the naturalistic fallacy. For example. It is also presumed to be a law of nature. it would be unfair for Moore to accuse him of deriving that conclusion from a definition of goodness arrived at via the naturalistic fallacy. If he does not make this claim. that casts some doubt upon my interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy. A particular thing (so called ‘directional evolution’) is respected. 57 . The reasoning is exactly analogous to the cases of hedonism and being more evolved. I argued that “consists in” does not mean “is identical to. and an instance of the naturalistic fallacy).128 Once the identity is presumed. again. Then from this.58 There is a passage in Moore’s discussion of Spencer. though a mere side-note to Moore’s discussion of Spencer. in my discussion of Baldwin’s interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy. and so.” In short. if someone failed to recognize that goodness was indefinable. sometimes.57. but it is not sufficient for doing so. From this is deduced that being a law of nature is to be respected (clearly false. 59 Principia Ethica. 58 Moore claims Spencer has made another error in supposing that being a law of nature makes a thesis respectable.

but not goodness.129 good are based on a definition of good that (1) we have reason to believe is false (based on the open question argument) and (2) that. He does not recognize any other way to support a property identification for goodness. the only other discussions of the naturalistic fallacy appear in his discussion of metaphysical theories of ethics (pp. itself. the subjective aestheticist compounds his error by deriving that the beautiful is all and only that which produces such effects. No other interpretation I have found can claim this virtue. but then Moore could claim that she would have provided no reasons to believe the identification. Each of these instances is compatible with my view. With respect to Beauty. I take my interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy to be consistent with Moore’s claim that the fallacy consists is identifying goodness with some other property because my view is that the naturalistic fallacy is to make that identification as the result of a particular pattern of inference. I suggested that someone might intuit one. the fallacy appears to occur in the inference that since particular instances of beauty have particular subjective effects upon people. you can intuit the good. and it is also consistent with each additional instance of the naturalistic fallacy’s uses and explanations in Principia Ethica. 61 With the exception of Moore’s comments about Mill. 249). beauty is identical with such effects.60 I do not claim that my interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy is the only one consistent with the errors Moore accuses Spencer of making.61 Moore takes all naturalistic theories that make such an identification to do so on grounds of this particular argument form. having committed the fallacy. 60 . is the result of an invalid inference. Then. But it is consistent with it. This may provide a legitimate source of the criticism that Moore begs the question against the naturalist. In short. 165 and 169) and in his discussion of Beauty (p. in his chapter on the Ideal.

. But by looking at the further claim that naturalists fail to distinguish that proposition—I can only 62 Principia Ethica. The first passage is: Moreover. . the commission of the fallacy need not involve not recognizing the meaning of the proposition ‘This is good. we may criticize Moore on the same ground here.’ It could very well be that you commit the fallacy while clearly recognizing the meaning. On any interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy that could be derived from Principia Ethica.130 6. whether my own view or views I dismissed previously. It seems likely that the confusion is because of failing to express properly the difference between a proposition and the sentence that expresses it. p 113 . Hedonism and Mill The last Moorean claims about philosophers who have committed the naturalistic fallacy that I wish to examine come from his comments about hedonism and John Stuart Mill’s arguments in favor of hedonism. the very commission of the naturalistic fallacy involves that those who commit it should not recognize clearly the meaning of the proposition ‘This is good’—that they should not be able to distinguish this from other propositions which seem to resemble it . .62 Just as Moore criticized Spencer for having engaged in loose writing.

we come to the last significant discussion of the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica. (3) the definition that being good is identical with being desired. though looking like confusing the ‘is’ of predication with the ‘is’ of identity.131 assume he means the proposition that something is good. Therefore. Finally. say by claiming pleasure is identical with goodness. It is hard to spot this pattern. Earlier. I showed how this. but it is more difficult to spot. we may find a place for the naturalistic fallacy. Moore accuses Mill of having committed the naturalistic fallacy in his proof that the desired is the good. From this. then (2) asserts that what is desirable is what is desired. by which he means something has the property goodness—from others which seem to resemble it. His claim is that someone who commits the naturalistic fallacy. does so because he cannot distinguish between the propositions that pleasure is good (meaning pleasure has the property goodness) and pleasure is good (meaning pleasure is identical with goodness). (4) the desired is the good. we get. 1) Mill claims that good means desirable. in part because Moore assaults Mill for making the famously bad analogy between desirable and . can be captured by NF2. via the naturalistic fallacy. The argument pattern is the same here that we have seen in Bentham and in Spencer.

but is permissible for Mill to define good as desirable. 1969) pp. is that people do actually desire it. Mill makes the claim that what is desirable simply is what is desired. This is to infer from particular instances of things being desirable and being desired that the properties are identical—a 63 64 I do not reproduce this here. This is analogous to what Moore would have allowed for Bentham with respect to right. Robson.”66 If he has. the fallacy in this step is so obvious. Had he supposed that all good things were desirable. supra. 203-59. Collected Works.132 visible. that it is quit wonderful how Mill failed to see it. Vol. X. Principia Ethica. 118. in part because I am not convinced that Mill really makes this error. at p.”65 Moore seems to assert that Mill commits the naturalistic fallacy in this step. 65 Mill. At step (2). 118 and reprinted in John Stuart Mill. “[T]he sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable.63 Most of Moore’s demonstration that Mill commits the naturalistic fallacy is mixed up with his proof that it is a mistake to take step (2). if the definition is of good as a means to the end of ethics rather than good as an end. See text accompanying fn 41 and 42. J. p. Step (1) looks like it would be problematic. he would have an adequate first step toward the fallacious proof that goodness is identical with being desired.64 He may also have begun from mere observation of things that are both good and desirable. I take this to be an instance of the fallacy occurring within another instance of the fallacy.M. Moore accuses Mill of having argued from the fact what is desirable is actually desired to the claim that desirable means desired. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 66 Principia Ethica. “Well. Utilitarianism (1861). 234. p. ed. quoted by Moore. .

since Mill takes the only proof that a thing is desirable to be that it is desired. then we can substitute the property being desired for being desirable in the original proposition. In truth. . Moore could have left his criticism there. (∀x (Gx → Dx)). Mill can (3) infer the identity between goodness and being desired. By committing a second naturalistic fallacy.133 straightforward instance of NF3. 67 .68 If Mill’s identity claim between desirable and desired holds. Moore writes “The important step for Ethics is . 68 I suppose this nested naturalistic fallacy claim only holds if my claim about the naturalistic fallacy is true. the step which pretends to prove that ‘good’ means ‘desired. Alternately. it is clear that to be desirable in the sense of being worthy of desire is a very different thing than being desired. we might make the stronger claim that all things that are desirable are desired. . I am not sure what direction the arrow would go here—the implication might go either direction. Either way. yielding that good means being desired.’ Moore is adamant that this step be avoided. but finding an instance of the naturalistic fallacy as support for a premise in another argument that also relies upon the naturalistic fallacy is rather clever.67 To infer from this that they are identical would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy in its NF2 configuration. in NF2 form.

the interpretation presented is consistent with each of Moore’s various descriptions of the fallacy. to their identity. that Moore does not take accusations that a philosopher has committed the naturalistic fallacy to do anything more than undermine our confidence in her reasons for her conclusions about the proper end of ethics. affecting any property identification. not just definitions of goodness. and with each of his demonstrations that other theorists have committed it. the view accounts for his claims that even if we reject the definitions of good naturalists offer. When conjoined with the model of reasoning I highlighted. It is a general purpose fallacy. I have also offered an interpretation of Moore’s naturalistic fallacy that more closely fits the text of Principia Ethica than those interpretations I considered in Chapter 2. On this view to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to make an invalid inference from the co-instantiation of two properties. and then inferring from that identification that their chosen property is the sole good. My claim relies on a model of moral argumentation that Moore takes naturalists to make—one that involves proving (fallaciously) that goodness is identical with some natural property. we still need .134 § 3) Conclusion In this chapter. I argued that Moore’s critics make an error when they accuse Moore of using the naturalistic fallacy as proof that naturalistic theories are false. Most significantly. by text and with examples. I demonstrated.

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independent argumentation to prove that they are wrong about the proper end of ethics. The naturalistic fallacy, as I have described it, is well suited to play the role Moore assigned to it. It neither proves too much—that a theory is false for having committed it—nor too little. It is not, however, immune to criticism. While the view I have described is the most comprehensive view of the naturalistic fallacy, it may still be subject to claims of question begging. In particular, when naturalists do not explicitly assert that they are starting from any particular observations about good things, Moore presumes that they are. This is the starting point of each instance of the naturalistic fallacy. But whether this is a fair presumption is unclear. Can a coherent story can be told that avoids assuming that goodness is indefinable when we accuse naturalists of committing the naturalistic fallacy? This will be one subject of the next chapter.

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Chapter 5 Moore’s Proof that ‘Good’ Refers to a Simple, Non-natural Property1

I. Introduction I have devoted a significant portion of this dissertation to trying to show that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is not simply to define an indefinable property. Moreover, I have claimed Moore does not wield the naturalistic fallacy as a weapon, cutting down theories that do define goodness on grounds of having committed the fallacy. Even if he does, however, we might find that he was justified in doing so—that is, that he does not beg the question against the naturalists—if he had a reason to believe all naturalistic definitions were false. I believe that Moore had such a reason. Disambiguating the open question argument from the naturalistic fallacy shows us that Moore has an argument that is sufficiently robust to ground even the claims that Frankena attributes to him. Most commentators take the open question argument to be Moore’s proof that every naturalistic definition fails. Moore’s actual claim about goodness is that it is a simple and indefinable property. In Chapter 2, I provided an examination into what property it is that Moore claims is simple and indefinable.
1

Throughout this chapter, I use the words ‘denotation,’ ‘denoting,’ or ‘denote’ in the non-Millian sense of the words. By ‘x denotes y’ I mean the word ‘x’ refers to the property or object ‘y.’ In this regard, I use the words ‘denote’ and ‘connote’ in the reverse of the Millian fashion. This is to avoid having readers thinking of ‘connotation’ or ‘meaning in the head’ when I mean to draw attention to the referent, or meaning in the world.

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This was followed by an examination into what it means to be simple and indefinable. This chapter builds on that material, demonstrating that there are several different arguments supporting Moore’s claim, some of which are not easily refuted. I begin in section II with a close examination of Moore’s text, and several defective interpretations of it. In section III, I offer a reconstruction of Moore’s arguments that maintains high fidelity to the text. It should be noted at the outset that I do not find anything that fills the role the open question argument is usually held to perform. While I do offer an argument that might show that any definition of ‘good’ in natural terms fails, even those that purport to identify goodness with a simple natural property,2 I find that it was not Moore’s intention to show this using the open question argument. Interestingly, the words “open question” never even appear in the section wherein Moore presents his proof that goodness is simple and unanalyzable. The first use of this phrase is in the final sentence of § 14, and it is not taken to be a proof of the indefinability of goodness, but as an example of defective reasoning about Ethics.

2

So not true definitions, according to Moore. Recall that definitions enumerate the parts of complex properties, so a simple statement of property identity is not a definition.

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II. Literature review

A. Principia Ethica § 13 Moore’s entire proof that goodness is simple and indefinable is contained in § 13 of Principia Ethica. Since in the rest of this chapter I will rely heavily on the text, I include it, nearly in its entirety, interspersed with some commentary about what I perceive as the appropriate divisions and individual arguments. Moore begins by delineating the possibilities for what sort of property goodness might be: [I]f it is not the case that ‘good’ denotes something simple and indefinable, only two alternatives are possible: either it is a complex, a given whole, about the correct analysis of which there could be disagreement; or else it means nothing at all, and there is no such subject as Ethics.3 Goodness is simple (and hence, indefinable), or it is complex, or it has no meaning. By this third option, he means that there is no one thing that ‘good’ denotes. It might be that there are many things.4 It might be best to say that there
3

Principia Ethica, p 66. He makes the same point again as follows: “There are, in fact, only two serious alternatives to be considered, in order to establish the conclusion that good does denote a simple and indefinable notion. It might possibly denote a complex, as horse does; or it might have no meaning at all.” p. 67. The rest of the cited passages in this chapter are from § 13 of Principia Ethica, appearing on pp. 66-68, unless otherwise indicated. 4 Or (perhaps) none, though I do not know whether Moore would offer this as an option. In his early works, words that have no referent in the realm of Existence always have one in the realm of Being (more or less a Meinongian system). While this does not rule out Moore’s acceptance of

5 The rest of § 13 of Principia Ethica is devoted to showing that goodness is not complex and that goodness is not meaningless. it does not. The open question argument has been variously identified as performing both of these tasks. It is not strictly true. of the complex so defined. if there were no single thing that is the sole simple object of thought relevant to Ethics. It appears that words with no referent. To prevent confusion of my analysis of this argument with others’ treatments. whether it is itself good. whatever definition may be offered. there would be no such thing as Geology (let alone Metallurgy). This would explain his claim that if goodness had no meaning there is no such subject as Ethics. though as we shall see. then the discipline would rest on an error. I hesitate to attribute it to him. without seeing any textual support for the position. 5 This is a bit like saying that if ‘rock’ meant both rocks and ore. with significance. but the idea is clear enough. This looks like what we would expect from something called an ‘open question’ argument. be asked. . I will call this the Significant Question Argument. First.139 is no “concrete” meaning. it may always. Such a situation would undermine claims that the discipline was a science. The hypothesis that disagreement about the meaning of good is disagreement with regard to the correct analysis of a given whole. After all. may be most plainly seen to be incorrect by consideration of the fact that. let’s consider Moore’s proof that goodness is not complex.

But. I take it that only an open question can be asked with significance. at first sight. [I]t may easily be thought. that to be good may mean to be that which we desire to desire. on a little reflection. as the original question. now asking for exactly the same information about the desire to desire A. But it is also apparent that the meaning of this second question cannot be correctly analysed into .140 Moore proposes that if we can ask meaningfully. then the definition is wrong. and ask ourselves ‘Is it good to desire to desire A?’ it is apparent. below. The example he considers is the definition of goodness as that which we desire to desire. for which we formerly asked with regard to A itself. if we carry the investigation further. Moore presents something strangely different from what is suggested by this text when he gives us an example of such a complex definition and the operation of his argument to it. “with significance” whether the definiens of a complex definition of goodness is good (whether it has the property goodness—this seems to be a question about predication. in fact.’ our proposition may seem quite plausible. We will consider what it means to be a significant question. ‘Is A good?’—that we are. not identity). we are thinking that A is one of the things which we desire to desire. Thus if we apply this definition to a particular instance and say ‘When we think that A is good. that this question is itself as intelligible.

No. and instead treats the entirety of section 13 as presenting one argument that attempts to prove that goodness is not identical with any named or defined property. at p. 30. and Peter Railton in “Toward Fin de Siecle Ethics: Some Trends. (Cambridge 2001). 101. then the definition of goodness as that which we desire to desire is wrong. Vol.7 Taken this way. It takes the partial argument this footnote refers to and combines it with another partial argument that Moore takes as his evidence of a different proposition altogether. the passage seems to be a straightforward example of the significant question argument. & Railton.” The Philosophical Review. First there appears to be an argument that looks very much like the significant question argument.6 This passage. An enduring criticism of Moore’s argument is that it is “muddled” (Hutchinson. p. As muddled as Moore’s presentation of his argument appears. 7 6 . Bloomsbury’s Prophet. Moore launches into what appears to be another argument.141 ‘Is the desire to desire A one of the things which we desire to desire?’: we have not before our minds anything so complicated as the question ‘Do we desire to desire to desire to desire A?’ This passage has been recognized as the one that Virginia Woolf cited as making her head spin. pp 197-98. taking parts designed for distinct purposes and combining them into some new argument never explicitly made by Moore does not seem a sound strategy for clarifying the text. Moore’s Ethical Theory. Regan. which is proposed as an example of the significant question argument described in the previous passage. Gibbard. 29) and “accident-prone” (Darwall. Instead. But notably absent is a conclusion that indicates that the openness or significance of the question proves that the properties are distinct. This argument turns on the apparent complexity of the questions we Story recounted in T.E. Hutchinson takes this to be the standard interpretation. 115). 1 (January 1992). This standard interpretation ignores Moore’s verbal cues that suggest the multitude of arguments I have identified. p. seems to do two other things. The question “Is it good to desire to desire A’ appears to be an open question. Allan Gibbard. It is also close to that presented by Stephen Darwall. One might think that Moore is suggesting that if it is an open question. We shall see that this is the interpretation given by Brian Hutchinson in G.

Moore appears to claim that our ability to doubt whether it is true that some complex property is always good and that every instance of goodness is . There is yet a third argument in § 13. Here. the words substituted for ‘good’ do not mean the same as ‘good’. they refer to a different property. Moreover any one can easily convince himself by inspection that the predicate of this proposition—‘good’—is positively different from the notion of ‘desiring to desire’ which enters into its subject: ‘That we should desire to desire A is good’ is not merely equivalent to ‘That A should be good is good.’ It may indeed be true that what we desire to desire is always good. Call this the More Complicated Question Argument.142 are considering. This is evidence that the questions are distinct. even the converse may be true: but it is very doubtful whether this is the case. and the mere fact that we understand very well what is meant by doubting it. If so given the nature of language. also in support of the claim that goodness is not identical with any complex property. perhaps. shews clearly that we have two different notions before our mind. It appears that Moore is claiming that when we substitute for ‘good’ in “Is it good to desire to desire A?” the words that refer to the property suggested as a definition (the complex). That is. the resulting question is more complicated than the one we started with.

and as he has been consistently interpreted to do. be a separate argument to the same conclusion. arguments that goodness is not a complex property. Normativity. and What it is. Having presented at least three. He begins by describing a mistake some naturalists make. if we can doubt a statement that purports to tell us that the good is a complex property. for example. 15. But instead of arguing that the identification is always false. that goodness is identical to pleasantness). as we would expect. This is the mistake I have identified as the naturalistic fallacy. This may. indeed. In the lead up to this argument. Fred Feldman’s paper “The Open Question Argument: What it isn’t. It is the mistake of inferring from what appears to be a “universal ethical principle”—like “whatever is called good seems to be pleasant”—an identity—that ‘good’ and ‘pleasant’ refer to a single notion (that is. or rather. pp. Moore turns his attention to the possibility that it is no property. Call this the Argument From Doubt.” Philosophical Issues. In other words. that ‘good’ has no meaning. 2005. when considering that statement.143 also an instantiation of that complex property demonstrates that that property is not identical with goodness. Moore suggests that mere inspection can convince us that goodness and the complex property suggested as a definition are distinct. and possibly four.8 he says: 8 Consider. Feldman argues that the entire passage which Moore claims to be his argument that ‘good’ is not meaningless is really simply an . found in the first sentence of this passage. then we have. two different notions in mind. 22-43. Call this the Argument From Inspection.

And if he will try this experiment with each suggested definition in succession. like pleasantness. he may become expert enough to recognise that in every case he has before his mind a unique object. were he asked ‘Is this pleasant. with regard to the connection of which with any other object. what Moore does here is to remind us that when we consider whether any proposed definition ‘gets it right. It is. a distinct question may be asked.’ .’ we are considering the same property as definiendum. or desired.’ or ‘intrinsic worth. his state of mind is different from what it would be. an argument that when we consider any proposed definition (and I supposed Moore argument that no theory identifying goodness with a simple natural property. Whenever he thinks of ‘intrinsic value.’ or says that a thing ‘ought to exist.144 But whoever will attentively consider with himself what is actually before his mind when he asks the question ‘Is pleasure (or whatever it may be) after all good?’ can easily satisfy himself that he is not merely wondering whether pleasure is pleasant. Every one does in fact understand the question ‘Is this good?’ When he thinks of it.’ he has before his mind the unique object—the unique property of things—that I mean by ‘good. Instead. This is proof that we have a single thing in mind when we say ‘good. instead. even though he may not recognise in what respect it is distinct.’ This is most definitely not an argument that the identification of goodness and simple natural properties—like pleasantness—is a mistake. is true. or approved?’ It has a distinct meaning for him.

That is. If we have a unique property in mind when we use the word ‘good. but rather to see what is there. I explicate the overall argument that goodness is simple and indefinable and consider the five subsidiary arguments I have identified in support of the overarching argument. then it is a simple property.145 chooses simple properties as definiens to prevent the risk of confusion) and consider the property alleged to be identical with goodness. the property we are comparing it against is always the same property. I take it that this is the entire argument from § 13. Call this the Uniqueness Argument.9 and goodness (that property) is not a complex property. It is altogether possible that Moore took all of the subsidiary arguments for that claim to be different ways of expressing the same point. Before turning to that task. we have some particular property in mind when we use the word ‘good’ (in its moral sense). I do not hope to resolve this question. Simple properties are indefinable. with all its subsidiary arguments. . though. In section III. It is not clear whether Moore took himself to be making more than one subsidiary argument in his discussion of the claim that goodness is not complex. I consider a 9 Whether this inference is any good will be considered below. hence goodness is indefinable. or that they amount to the same argument by virtue of turning on the same features of language and metaphysics.’ from which we may infer that there is such a property. regardless of what was intended.

Some Problematic Interpretations of the Open Question Argument The first endemic problem in commentary on the open question argument is that philosophers are often not careful to distinguish it from the naturalistic fallacy. 1977) p. but that it is an open question whether water is H2O. 19. for example.10 That the naturalistic fallacy is commonly confused with the open question argument is proved by Baldwin. So here we have a perfectly good identity that appears to be disproved by the OQA. or take one to be a consequence of the other. but merely pointing to a kind of anti-naturalist argument. But it seems pretty clear that Moore does not ask whether it is a significant question whether the identity statement holds. But is this the OQA? The analog for ethics would be that it is not an open question whether goodness is identical with goodness but it is an open question whether goodness is identical with X. He notes that someone ignorant about the identity of water and H2O would agree that it is not an open question whether water is water. p. who writes in his discussion of the open question that “[i]t is notable that the section in which [Moore] advances it is the only part of the opening discussion in Principia Ethica of the naturalistic fallacy which does not come straight from The Elements of Ethics. The Nature of Morality. B. Gilbert.”11 Baldwin characterizes the section of Principia Ethica wherein Moore tries to prove that goodness is simple and indefinable as part of his discussion of the naturalistic fallacy. Harman does not claim to be explicating Moore. 11 Baldwin.146 number of alternative interpretations of Moore’s proof and compare them to the text as I have just suggested it be read. but rather whether an object that instantiates X also instantiates goodness. 87. both in Another is that many are not actually discussions of Moore’s open question argument. describes the OQA and claims that it is an invalid argument. but rather applications of something akin to the Moore’s open question argument applied against theories Moore did not explicitly consider. where X names a natural property. Gilbert Harman. 10 . I have shown that the open question argument is distinct from the naturalistic fallacy. In fairness. Harman. (Oxford.

including those purported definitions that suggest that goodness is identical with a simple natural property. and makes it a complete mystery why Moore would have written so much by way of explaining the naturalistic fallacy—more. critics make other mistakes in describing the open question argument. His discussion demonstrates an error common to those who take the naturalistic fallacy to be strictly a definist fallacy. to Prior’s discussion of the naturalistic fallacy.’ But this approach makes Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy trivial. This might explain why some take it to be a simple definist fallacy. Prior Before turning to Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable. 1. Interestingly. he makes this error even though at least . The next few subsections provide a cross-section of some of the mistakes typically made. If we view section 13 as proving that all natural definitions of goodness are false. we have to return. But Baldwin here asserts that Moore’s presentation of the open question argument (by which he means his proof that goodness is simple and indefinable) is part of his discussion of the naturalistic fallacy. In addition to conflating Moore’s two major arguments. in fact.147 argument structure and intended conclusion. then surely offering such a definition would be a mistake. This approach simply gives the attempt to define goodness the name ‘naturalistic fallacy. than he wrote in § 13. briefly.

the philosopher who has committed it fails to realize that ‘good’ and some other adjective. p 1. nothing could be more obvious. Recall. Prior takes Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable to be support for his claims about the naturalistic fallacy. 13 12 . He takes the argument to show that two adjectives may accurately describe the same object without denoting the same property in that object. say.13 Stated this way. Prior makes the same error as Baldwin. above. and in so doing. Prior does not frame his interpretation of Moore’s argument in terms of open questions.12 Despite adopting a position that looks very much like mine. ‘pleasant’ may be applicable to the same things and yet not denote the same property. he adopts a different role for the naturalistic fallacy. it is identical with goodness. they attribute the same property to them—and one focusing on the properties themselves—that the naturalistic fallacy is the assumption that because some property is necessarily coextensive with goodness. one highlighting the linguistic ramifications of the fallacy—that the naturalistic fallacy is the assumption that because the words ‘good’ and ‘pleasant’ necessarily describe the same objects. Why the open question See this dissertation. Chapter 2.148 one of his characterizations of the naturalistic fallacy is virtually identical to one of mine. Prior offers two interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy. and Prior. Prior claims that when the naturalistic fallacy is committed. That is. Most people take Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable to be the open question argument. NF1. Logic and the Basis of Ethics. adopts a mistaken view of the relation of the naturalistic fallacy to Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable.

it makes no sense at all for Moore to attempt to show this by reference to the property goodness—a property about which there is so much contention. it is unclear why he views the open question argument as support for the naturalistic fallacy. . The naturalistic fallacy. We need only to think about the coextension and identity relations to see that this is true. Given that Prior takes the naturalistic fallacy to be about the inference. not the definition of goodness. when taken in Prior’s property-referring form. the naturalistic fallacy is supposed to be a perfectly general fallacy. and is not simply limited to identifications of goodness. is similarly without need for support. If the point of the open question argument is merely to demonstrate that coextension and identity are different relations. That goodness is indefinable shows only that an argument that concludes that goodness is identical with another property has a false conclusion. The mere fact that ‘black’ and ‘clicky’ accurately describe the keyboard upon which I typed this sentence without referring to the same property of that keyboard proves this proposition. Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable goes no way toward supporting the claim that inferring the identity of properties based only on their coextension is an invalid maneuver.149 argument (or a variant of it) is needed as support for this proposition is unclear. or reflect on a couple of less controversial examples. Recall. but tells us nothing about the reasoning.

But then Prior goes wrong by claiming that Moore also applies 14 Prior. Prior is careful to point out that Moore thinks this approach shows that complex definitions fail. the quality of pleasantness is identical with the quality of goodness—then to say that what is pleasant is good. 2. however obvious its truth may appear to many people. looking at Prior’s version of Moore’s proof may be instructive. And if this is true. that is to say. for both statements are on this supposition merely ways of saying that what is pleasant is pleasant. or what is good is pleasant.”14 This is more of an observation than an argument. is to utter an empty tautology . then the proffered definition is wrong. p. Prior describes the basis of Moore’s proof that goodness is indefinable as follows: If the word ‘good’ and the word ‘pleasant’ apply to the same things.150 Nevertheless. or that what is good is pleasant. but one can be made based on what is said here. is to make a significant statement. . . a statement to the effect that what possesses the proffered properties is good is a significant statement. then to say that what is pleasant is good. But if the word ‘good’ and the word ‘pleasant’ not merely have the same application but the same connotation or ‘meaning’—if. . The idea is that if we take any proposed definition. but do not attribute the same quality to them.

In this case. Fred Feldman’s paper. it is not clear just what really is the open question argument. The openness of the question “is it good?” is a result of the meaningfulness of the assertion. as I have noted. 3. . Notably. Rather.15 His claim. In fact. the question “is it good?” would not be an open question. 15 16 Prior. the open question argument (or the significant question argument) is a mere part of Moore’s overall proof that goodness is simple and indefinable. is that the open question argument attempts to show that goodness is not identical with any simple or complex natural property. He also offers one more that is in the spirit of Principia Ethica. but certainly not to be found within it that does turn on an open question. If the claim that what was desirable to desire is good was a mere tautology.” It may. Prior’s argument is not exactly Moore’s open question argument. “The Open Question Argument: What it Isn’t. 22-43. Moreover. As I have shown. and What it is. 2005. it is one argument used in support of the claim that goodness is not identical with a complex property. the significant statement made can be viewed in the same light as an open question. none of these actually turns on the identification of any open questions. But it does not appear to be Moore’s entire proof. p. wherein Feldman finds no fewer than four unique arguments that might claim this title.151 this argument to simple definitions (definitions in terms of a simple property only).” in Philosophical Issues. Normativity. however. turn on the same intuitions about language at evidence in what I have called the significant question argument. above.16 Note that there is no question asked and nothing that is left “open. 15. Consider. then. pp. for example.

.” Ethics 113 (April 2003): 528–556. p. .E. 19 Nicholas Sturgeon. Hutchinson. with the exception of the significant question argument. but unlike Prior. Moore’s Ethical Theory (Cambridge 2001) pp 28-38. are non sequitors. he claims that Moore’s proof that ‘good’ is not meaningless is better read as a proof that ‘good’ is not the name of any simple natural property. 29. . . Hutchinson Like Prior. G.”19 He summarizes the open question test thusly: [Moore] assumes that [any proposed identification of goodness with a natural property] can be correct only if the two terms used in stating it are synonyms .152 2.17 Nonetheless.18 To note that there is a variety of arguments being offered but to dismiss all but the first and last as trivial seems almost worse than getting them wrong! 3. and all the arguments of § 13 preceding that passage. at 533. Substituting synonyms for 17 18 Brian Hutchinson. Sturgeon Nicholas Sturgeon advocates something akin to the standard interpretation of the open question argument in “Moore on Ethical Naturalism. Hutchinson treats § 13 of Principia Ethica as though it presented one unified argument that no natural definition (or identity statement. “Moore on Ethical Naturalism. he notes that reading the passage this way is to disregard Moore’s verbal cues. in the case of simple definitions) is true.

I contend that more is needed to reach that conclusion. not his argument that no natural definition is correct. 20 Sturgeon makes a couple of errors in his analysis of Moore’s argument. actually express the same thought. when we substitute into the very statement of these proposed definitions. But. treating the argument that goodness is indeed a property (that “good” is not meaningless) with the argument that goodness is not complex. Here is a proposed definition of good: 20 Ibid. The first is in thinking that the open question test is one single argument. it seems obvious that in thinking that what we desire to desire is good we are not merely thinking that what we desire to desire is what we desire to desire. and that in thinking that pleasure is good we are not merely thinking that pleasure is pleasant. The more significant error is that his explanation of the open question argument suffers from the defect of misinterpreting the substitution Moore engages in when he considers whether the sentences. the open question argument is Moore’s argument that goodness is simple and indefinable. as he cleverly notes. . differing only in the substitution of purported synonyms. He also combines two distinct arguments. My arguments to this effect are found in the final chapter of this work. As I have stated above.153 synonyms should not change the thought that a sentence expresses.

Ethical Theory: the Problems of Normative and Critical Ethics (Prentice Hall 1959). It is a predication of pleasantness to pleasure. But [2] is not an identity statement. After all. even with no substitution. an identity statement. 4. This is. P and Q. p. Richard B. It is little wonder that a predication and an identity statement do not express the same thought. Regardless of whether the argument turns on the substitution of synonyms in a sentence like [1].154 [1] Pleasure is good. Sturgeon believes that when we substitute the proposed definiens for ‘good’ we get: [2] Pleasure is pleasant. we ought to be careful to treat the original and the modified statements both as identity statements or both as predications.21 For any two terms. Brandt Richard Brandt describes a version of the open question argument. The sentence that should result from a substitution of the definiens for the definiendum is: [2'] Pleasure is pleasure. He claims that [1] is the statement of the definition. 164. Sturgeon is right that these two expressions do not express the same thought. 21 . [1] read as an identity statement does not mean the same as [1] read as a predication. of course. we may Brandt. that are purported to have the same meaning.

many people will incorrectly find that there is no significant question when 'bachelor' and 'unmarried male' are substituted for P and Q. This does not look much like the test Moore proposes in § 13. the test is one of coextensiveness. 24 Ordinary language users might find that whether Water is H2O is a significant question . the test applies to all definitions. 23 Brandt. p. even good ones. Brandt suggests a criticism that applies to his version and might attach to more ordinary versions of Moore's test too. . not just definitions of goodness. forgetting that divorcees and widowers are unmarried males. . that fail the test. Brandt generalizes the test in a way that it is not clear Moore would endorse. then P does not mean the same thing as Q.155 compose a question of the form: “Is everything P also Q?”22 This question asks whether everything that instantiates P also instantiates Q. but are not bachelors. While I find that this version of the argument has little in common with the arguments to be found in Moore’s text. If this question is intelligible or significant. 22 . Since the test is phrased perfectly generally. There are presumed failed analyses that will pass the test. Note that this does not ask of a single P-ish object whether it is Q-ish. then P and Q are not identical. it is worth noting that a successful version of the argument So on this version. 165. at least for certain cognizers.’ If it is intelligible to ask whether P and Q are coextensive.23 While most critics emphasize that the open question test fails because there are plenty of analyses.24 Brandt focuses on a different problem. P and Q could be reversed—‘is everything P also Q’ and ‘is everything Q also P. it asks whether every P-ish thing is Q-ish. For example. So on Brandt's version of the open question argument.

e.156 will have to ensure both that successful analyses pass the test. and unsuccessful ones fail. With some luck. The first point to notice about the presentation of § 13. what is usually called .. Moore sets out the options—‘good’ denotes a simple property. a complex property. Moore’s arguments explicated We have seen that the “standard interpretation” of the open question argument seems not to capture the full flavor of the argument Moore presented. III. It does not proceed by showing that every suggested definition is wrong and to conclude from this fact that no such definition is possible. above. i. It combines elements of what appear to be distinct arguments. is that Moore clearly intends his proof that goodness is simple and indefinable to be a multi-step proof. Instead. perhaps in an attempt to create a single argument that accomplishes all that Moore’s naturalistic fallacy has been interpreted to do. I believe a better interpretation of the proof that goodness is indefinable can be discerned. this new argument will be less susceptible to the traditionally asserted critiques. I hold that Moore’s proof is open to more nuanced interpretations than those. As I have pointed out. as has been contended. or no property. it is a meaningless word—and argues that the latter two are false. By hewing closer to the text.

Moore cannot engage in talk of properties . ‘good’ denotes something simple and indefinable. or. or it denotes something complex. and not admit of definition. The first premise presents the three possibilities Moore recognizes for the meaning of ‘good. having constituent parts and thereby be subject to analysis or definition.157 the ‘open question argument’ is Moore’s proof that ‘good’ does not denote a complex property. or it denotes nothing at all. ‘Good’ does not denote something complex. itself. 4. A property can be complex. indefinable property 1. one of the arguments to that conclusion. This is a valid argument.’ The proof is framed as about the meaning of the word ‘good’ rather than about the identity of the property goodness for the sake of clarity and consistency with Moorean convention. The overall argument may be reconstructed as follows: Proof that ‘good’ denotes a simple. ‘Good’ does not denote nothing at all. 2. if one of the possibilities under consideration is that there is no such property. or it can be simple. ‘Good’ denotes something simple and indefinable. It is particularly tricky to talk about the property. 3. Therefore. as is more likely the case.

or it is complex. See “Nature of Judgment. one that is clearly distinct from what has commonly been called the open question argument. 2. but. Therefore. noting their interactions when necessary. indefinable). We could. Premise three is supported by a different argument. in part because we have adopted conventions for talking about properties. goodness is simple (and hence. This is a limitation we do not share with Moore. easily enough. It is not the case that there is no such property. at least in the years immediately preceding his writing Principia Ethica. or there is no such property. recast this argument in terms of properties: 1. When it comes to properties. propositions are the bearers of meaning. 4. he took objects to be propositions as well. the objects of thought. I have called it the Uniqueness argument.” Mind (1899). I will treat them separately. That would satisfy the third disjunct of (1). he would accept a proposition containing only a property as an element. 26 Technically. and the Argument from Inspection. He tries throughout the text to distinguish between existent objects and non-existent universals. I turn now to the individual sub-arguments. the Argument from Doubt. But a word might refer to no particular property. and one way he does this is by referring to universals as the meanings of words off-set in single quotes.158 without or existence or being. including the years when most of it was worked out as The Elements of Ethics. Either goodness is simple (and hence indefinable). or no property unique to ethics. Goodness is not complex 3. or as several arguments to the same conclusion. the More Complicated Question Argument.26 So it is very difficult to talk of a property having no meaning. It is not clear whether Moore intended these to amount to one argument. and the bearers of meaning. 25 . The second premise is supported by the arguments I called the Significant Question Argument.25 He takes properties to be real things.

then good cannot itself be identical with any feeling. “Why then does a Moorean believe “good” is not complex? Just because no definition yet suggested in terms of another normative concept produces as plausible a picture of the moral universe as the picture which takes “good” as foundational. In that section. whether the feeling itself is good.”29 I reconstruct a version of this argument below. and if so. the significant question argument.159 A. 651–677 at 658. The first of these. so different in kind than natural properties. but to tentatively accept the simplicity of goodness. he says of the view that goodness is a feeling that “It will always remain pertinent to ask.” This is supported in an example he provides in § 26.” Ethics 113 (April 2003) pp. goodness is not a complex property. He asks. This is to explicitly reject the view that the open question argument proves that goodness is simple. This is a troubling way to describe the argument. Moore aims this argument at the 27 Don Regan claims that modern Mooreans should accept only that the open question argument shows that goodness is normative.” Don Regan. Arguments in Support of Premise (2)27 1. 28 At least I am troubled by it. claims that for any definition that identifies goodness with a complex property. 93 (§ 26 ¶ 3) . p. The Significant Question Argument I have identified a number of possible arguments in § 13 for the conclusion that ‘good’ does not denote a complex property. 29 Principia Ethica. anyway) are worth accepting. as it is not clear just what Moore means by “the complex so defined.”28 The usual interpretation is that Moore means “the complex suggested as a definition. I think Moore’s arguments for the simplicity of goodness (or my reconstructions. “How to be a Moorean. since it is always a significant question whether “the complex so defined” is itself good. pending development of a better view.

though. Premise (1) seems a fair embodiment of Moore’s view. . The question whether being something we desire to desire is good is significant. it is appears to turn on the idea that if the property being something we desire to desire is identical with goodness. then it would instantiate goodness. . there are hints that Moore means something else.30 2. If goodness is identical with being something we desire to desire. Therefore. . is not pertinent” to conform with Moore’s second example. But this is a doubtful proposition. We must further suppose that when a property self-instantiates. As we will see in a moment. 3. the premise might read “ . so I frame the argument in terms of the property being something we desire to desire. and the question of whether some complex property instantiates 30 Alternatively. it is not the case that goodness is identical with being something we desire to desire. then the question whether being something we desire to desire is good is not significant. As stated. it would instantiate itself. In other words.160 theory that goodness is identical with a complex property. If the question of whether a property self-instantiates is not significant. it is not a significant question whether it does so. • Significant Question Argument 1.

the argument we are trying to support is that the significance of the predication question demonstrates that the identity under consideration is false. then goodness is not identical with that complex property.161 goodness is a significant question. The fault with this argument lies in premise (1). The question whether F is G is a question of predication. the significant question argument concludes that goodness is not identical with being something we desire to desire. but there are some hints. From this.” Moore writes that the fact that we understand what it means to doubt whether what we desire to desire is good suggests that goodness and being that which we desire to desire are different properties. the question whether being something we desire to desire is good would be significant. Premise (2) asserts that it is a significant question whether the complex property in question—being something we desire to desire—is good. According to Hancock. but I rather doubt it. 32 Hancock. This seems right. I think that even if goodness were identical with being something we desire to desire. Twentieth Century Ethics (Columbia University Press 1974) p. not 31 After all. 30. Moore means by this that knowing what it means to doubt whether property F is identical with property G implies that the question whether F is G is significant (and vice versa31).32 This might be what Moore had in mind. Moore does not specify what it means to be a significant or a pertinent question. Roger Hancock argues that we might draw from the statements I have suggested as belonging to alternative arguments. In the passage I called the “argument from doubt. .

33 . or at the very least.: Harvard University Press. I know what it means to doubt whether goodness is identical with pleasantness. however. p. I expect that our doubts about the identity of two properties tell us nothing about whether one can instantiate the other. (Cambridge. whether one property can instantiate another is always a significant question. If F were identical to G. In fact. my lack of doubt about identity does not ensure that the instantiation question is not significant. definitions of geometric properties come to mind as paradigm cases. Mass. while whether the property being a circle instantiates being a closed plane curve every point of which is equidistant from a fixed point within the curve is a significant question. I do not doubt that Hesperus identical with Phosphorus. I do not doubt that being a circle is identical with being a closed plane curve every point of which is equidistant from a fixed point within the curve. In other words. To illustrate. I do not know what reliable inferences we can make about the predication of two properties that are not identical. let us consider the properties goodness and pleasantness.162 identity. without having done a survey of properties. it might not even make sense to ask whether F instantiated G. so it is not surprising that I have stumbled across the same counterexample. I am told that this example was first suggested as an objection to Moore’s requirements for successful analyses by Ralph Barton Perry in General Theory of Value. might be an exception.33 Goodness. turns on something other than our knowing what it means to doubt their identity. Once we recognize that transparency is hard to come by in a definition. and whether being Hesperus instantiates being Phosphorus is not a significant question. However. 131. 1926).

p. Moore takes goodness to be a property that things have in virtue of their intrinsic properties. Of course goodness is identical with goodness. happiness is not happy. Moore does not seem to think it is. But it is not. While this is true when the sentence expresses an identity. . we can see that this suggestion for the meaning of ‘significance’ fails.163 The suggestion under consideration would then make the question whether pleasantness instantiates goodness a significant question. this does seem like a significant question to me. an intrinsic property. not identity.34 We might expect from this that it is not an open question whether goodness is good. After all. Further. itself. But. And he cannot believe that goodness is self-instantiating. I do not know what it means to doubt whether goodness is identical with goodness. in fact. That seems fine. While he clearly takes it not to be significant. I think. Hancock. not identity. the standard interpretation is that he thinks it is insignificant because it is obviously true. Hancock suggests that this is because the denial of such a sentence is self contradictory. Moore’s language here is unfortunate. a mistake caused by commentators failing to recognize that he was asking questions of predication. But Moore is asking about predication here. 30. p. It is also simple and without parts. I think I know what it means to doubt it. 35 Roger Hancock suggests that Moore thinks sentences of the form “Whatever is P is P” are always tautologous and cannot be doubted. and tautologous. 30.36 This is.35 I contend that it is not clear from these passages what Moore thinks about this question. I just do not actually doubt it. it is not necessarily true when it expresses a mere predication. 36 Hancock. To deny this would be a contradiction. so it cannot have 34 Actually. alone. But if we consider the property goodness.

it suffers the defect of being question begging. . namely. because goodness cannot instantiate itself. on this theory of what it means to be significant. itself. Therefore. Moore needs an account of significance such that whether goodness is good is not significant and whether any complex property is good is significant. the significance of a question about whether a given complex property is good does seem to support the conclusion that the complex property and goodness are not identical. Goodness is not good. So. its simplicity. the second question will be insignificant too.164 any intrinsic properties by which to instantiate itself. I expect that on any account of significance that makes the first question insignificant. the significant question argument fails. It is unlikely that Moore can offer such an account because the first condition cannot be met. We ought not rely on a notion of significance that requires the insignificance of a question about the predication of goodness to turn on a feature of goodness we are trying to prove. Based on these considerations. Unfortunately. the question “is goodness good?” is not significant by virtue of having an obvious answer. whether goodness is good will be significant as well. And that on any account that makes the second question significant. I contend that no account of significance will do.

not whether a particular complex is good. 37 . 497. While the more complicated question argument is interesting in and of itself. but arguably meaningless. Is A (which instantiates P) good?’ and Is A instantiating P good. Moore asks us to consider a series of questions: (a) Is A good? Moore seems to apply the argument as being based on the fact that it is an open question whether the definiens is good and also whether an object or state of affairs that instantiates the definiens is good. This interpretation seems reasonable. It strikes me that Moore might be on to something here. It is not clear to me what it means to ask whether it is good that a state of affairs is good. because the analogous question about goodness is not tautologous. then I have the argument wrong. As in the previous argument. the complex property under consideration is being something we desire to desire. the fact that the very complicated questions are intelligible when the same would not be true if ‘good’ were inserted in place of the words denoting the complex property suggests that Moore can. but whether an object or state of affairs. in which it is asked. “Agency and the Open Question Argument. though it does not comport with the example he gives in sentences immediately following. that the argument in this passage is different. The More Complicated Question Argument The preceding argument was based on the very first sentence of Moore’s argument that goodness is not identical with any complex property. that instantiates that complex is good. This last one is particularly interesting. though I would be in good company.” Ethics vol.37 If those sentences are intended as an example of the significant question test. 113 (April 2003) p. A. Moore seems also to ask whether the state of affairs of the object instantiating the definiens is good. (in the sense of ‘making sense to ask). though. See. Using ‘A’ as a placeholder for a description of a state of affairs or an object. is property P good?. So. by asking the right question. get the result that questions involving only ‘good’ are not significant. This has been noted by Connie Rosati as well.165 2. It is not clear to me that particular moral judgments have any moral value themselves at all. I think.

(c) is a paraphrase of (d) that is easier for some people to understand. But. then (b) does not mean the same as (d). then ‘good’ does not mean ‘something we desire to desire. (d) is more complicated than (b). Therefore. • More Complicated Question Argument 1. . When we assert (b) we do not assert something as complicated as (d). 3.166 (b) Is it good to desire to desire A? (c) Is the desire to desire A one of the things which we desire to desire? (d) Do we desire to desire to desire to desire A? Moore points out first that (b) is an intelligible question.’ 38 A perfectly reasonable view. If (d) is more complicated than (b).38 (b) and (d) will mean the same thing if ‘good’ and ‘that which we desire to desire’ denote the same property. The theory under consideration is that ‘good’ means the same thing as ‘something we desire to desire.’ so we ought to be able to substitute for ‘good’ in (b) to arrive at (d). says Moore. 4. On a theory of meaning that preserves meaning when synonyms are substituted for each other. (b) does not mean the same as (d). (b) and (d) do not mean the same thing. It asks the same thing of the desire to desire A as (a) asks about A itself. 2. If (b) does not mean the same as (d).

Since Moore is a realist about meaning. one just seems simpler. like the overall argument that this one supports. On the other hand.40 This seems right. Doing so would undermine our faith in (2). above. 40 It is not clear here whether he means for us to consider the sentence that expresses the question or the question itself. since the premise this argument supports is also in terms of ‘good. When we consider the two questions. can be rephrased in terms of properties rather than words. but that proves very little. syntactically. . (d) is syntactically more complex than (b). but that would not be particularly helpful. When we consider (b). but it is far easier to treat it. The difference is that for a person well-versed in geometry. than ‘This is a closed plane curve every point of which is equidistant from a fixed point within the curve’ but these sentences mean the same thing. Therefore ‘good’ does not mean ‘something we desire to desire. Unfortunately. itself. Moore does not tell us why he believes (b) is more complicated than (d). ‘This is a circle’ is far less complicated. the meaning of the syntactically complex sentence about a circle does not seem any more complicated than the meaning of the second one. this is true also of the sentences about the circle. a committed naturalist who 39 This argument. Consider the sentence that conveys the definition of a circle. as Moore does. It has fewer relations to keep straight. as an argument about what the denotations. we might point to the words that make up the sentence. “we have not before our minds anything so complicated as” (d). we can draw the appropriate conclusions about the properties themselves.’39 In support of (1).’ I have phrased the argument in terms of the word ‘good’ rather than in terms of goodness.167 5.

but I suspect it is. Note an important feature of this argument: it does not work for simple properties offered as definitions of goodness. On the whole. this argument looks pretty good.168 offered the definition we are considering might stand in the same position as our geometer with respect to (b) and (d)—although (d) looks more complicated than (b) to Moore and to me. he sensibly attributes a compositional theory of meaning to Moore that accounts for the substitutivity of synonyms. But this is no In Fred Feldman’s version of this argument. to an expert naturalist. Premise (2) relies on the implicit claim that no two questions that differ in complexity mean the same thing. Premise (4) relies on the view that synonyms can be substituted for each other without a resulting change in the meaning of sentences in which they appear. I do not know whether this is true or not. Moore could not show that (b') and (d') did not have the same meaning. They are different questions. For example. I reserve judgment on this premise for the time being. if the definition under consideration was that goodness was pleasantness we would get: (b') Is it good that A is pleasant? (d') Is it pleasant that A is pleasant? Here. they might appear equally simple. I think we can construct one from its ashes that succeeds. Without the leverage from their differing levels of complexity. Feldman (2005) pp 3133. 41 .41 This seems correct. even if this argument fails. See. Ultimately. the argument would fail at (1) because (d') is no more complicated than (b').

Moore is pretty clearly not talking about the words ‘good’ and ‘desiring to desire. Moore writes: Moreover any one can easily convince himself by inspection that the predicate of this proposition—‘good’—is positively different from the notion of ‘desiring to desire’ which enters into its subject: ‘That we should desire to desire A is good’ is not merely equivalent to ‘That A should be good is good. But given the examples with which he follows.169 drawback of the argument. Moore does not present an argument in § 13 that goodness is not identical with any simple property. On the other hand. As I have outlined above. 3. which can make up the subject and predicate of the resulting proposition.’ but the properties to which they refer. but of sentences. . we do not think of words as being the subjects or predicates of propositions. it appears that he means the proposition expressed by an affirmative answer to (b). The Argument From Inspection The entire argument from inspection is contained in one sentence in Principia Ethica. Again discussing the suggestion that goodness means that which we desire to desire. Remember that this argument was only in support of the premise that ‘good’ does not denote a complex property.’ The proposition Moore is writing about is not specified.42 We 42 This is a picky point.

We can take Moore to mean either that we can tell by inspection of the properties that enter into the appropriate places in the structured proposition that the denotations of ‘good’ and ‘being something we desire to desire’ are different. If we had that kind of epistemic access to the properties themselves. If so. The first possibility ought to be rejected. then what I have called the argument from inspection may be two distinct arguments. Whether goodness was identical with any complex property would be immediately ascertainable. instead. and the other on inspection of the properties in the context of a whole sentence. Given the compositionality of meaning that seems to underlie some of these arguments. there would be no need for argumentation. . there may be little reason to think that it is any easier to see that the meanings of whole sentences are different than it is to see that the meaning of constituent parts of those sentences are different. One relies on direct inspection of the properties.43 We have. Recall (b): (b) Is it good to desire to desire A? The affirmative answer to the question posed might be: 43 In fact.170 can cure this defect in one of two ways. or that we can tell by inspection of the meanings of propositions that result from affirming (b) and substituting the definiens and the definiendum that ‘good’ and ‘being something we desire to desire’ are different. direct inspection of the individual properties is likely what allows us to discern a difference in the meanings of the sentences. to make use of the second route. It seems to me that the very point of Moore’s dialectical device— to substitute the properties in propositions and recognize that the resultant propositions have different meanings—is to provide a way to see that the properties are different when it is not apparent by direct inspection of the properties themselves.

Here. In the previous argument. but I am not convinced.’ This argument is slightly less satisfying than the More Complicated Question argument. From this we proceed exactly as in the More Complicated Question argument. we would expect that (e) and (f) have the same meaning. Therefore ‘good’ does not mean ‘something we desire to desire. • Argument From Inspection 1.171 (e) It is good to desire to desire A. we have inspection of (e) and (f). This is because we have so little support for (1). I am not convinced that we can discern a difference. then ‘good’ does not mean ‘something we desire to desire. If (e) does not mean the same as (f). But we can tell “by inspection” that they do not. 2. . we had the fact that one question was more complicated than the other to bolster our intuitions that (b) and (d) were distinct in meaning.44 If the definition under consideration is true. If we substitute ‘good’ for ‘to desire to desire’ we get: (f) It is good that A is good. I think the real puzzle here is how (f) is meaningful at all. Moore claims that we can see that one is not merely equivalent to the other. I expect that someone who really believed that goodness and being that which we desire to desire were the same property would 44 Again. (e) does not mean the same as (f).’ 3.

and the mere fact that we understand very well what is meant by doubting it. even the converse may be true: but it is very doubtful whether this is the case. p. . perhaps. To tell the difference between the propositions expressed by (e) and (f) we would need the same privileged epistemic access that I doubted above. 4. He writes: It may indeed be true that what we desire to desire is always good. 68. The Argument from Doubt The last argument I find in § 13 in support of the claim that ‘good’ does not denote a complex property is the “argument from doubt. § 13.45 I have framed the argument in terms of coextension because Moore seems to grant that it might be true that what has the complex property is always good.” Moore claims that the fact that we understand what is meant by doubting that goodness and that which we desire to desire are coextensive shows that we are thinking about distinct properties. ¶ 2. shews clearly that we have two different notions before our mind. 45 Principia Ethica.172 not see the difference even after close inspection.

Premise (2) is problematic. Moore certainly seems to doubt both propositions. Framing the question as I have takes care of both.46 We can construct a fairly simple argument from this. goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire. . 3. Therefore. But he doubts one more than the other. It does show that we doubt that they are identical because you cannot have identity without coextension. Instead of arguing from the presence of doubt to the non-identity of 46 It is not necessary to frame the argument this way. We doubt whether goodness is coextensive with being that which we desire to desire. Many people doubt that the properties are coextensive. they either doubt that all instances of goodness are instances of desiring to desire. or they doubt that all instances of desiring to desire are instances of goodness. 2. If (1) then goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire.173 but he doubts whether the relation goes the other way. • Argument From Doubt 1. It might be objected that I have mischaracterized the argument. Premise (1) is uncontroversial. He doubts whether every instance of goodness is an instance of something we desire to desire. That is. The fact that we doubt that two properties are coextensive does not prove that they are not identical.

to understand what it means to doubt whether two properties are coextensive is. the argument will be plagued by Frege problems. goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire. presumably. given the most likely explanation for (2'). I think it is somewhat worse. Moore argues from the fact that we understand what it means to doubt the coextension that the properties are not identical.174 goodness and the given complex property. this argument is no better than the first. Therefore. That is. An understanding of the relations identity and coextension seem to guarantee this. Many of us understand what it means to doubt that Hesperus is . and hence. this willingness to entertain the non-identity of properties does not demonstrate that they are not identical. We understand what it means to doubt whether goodness is coextensive with being that which we desire to desire. But. Presumably. If (1') then goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire. in that it really amounts to the traditional interpretation of the open-question argument. the possibility that they are not identical. and fails for the same reasons. Unfortunately. If so. we cannot understand what it means to doubt that two identical properties are coextensive. and in fact. as we know. The argument would go as follows: 1'. to be open to the possibility that one property can be instantiated without the other. 2'. 3'.

generally. I see no reason to limit the reasoning for premise (2'). Such a proposal amounts to amending premise (1'). I think this modification fails as well. the argument will fail. but rather. and that. But this does not show that Hesperus and Phosphorus are nonidentical. But Moore takes these to be the same property. Even a competent moral reasoner may understand what it means to doubt whether goodness is coextensive with. Then. Being Hesperus is identical with being Phosphorus. we cannot know what it means to doubt their coextension. removing ‘We’ and substituting ‘Competent moral reasoners’ in its place. 47 He takes ‘good’ and ‘intrinsic value’ to be names for the same property. Perhaps it may be objected that competent reasoners cannot know what it means to doubt that Hesperus is Phosphorus. a Moorean might object to the argument on grounds that the explanation offered for premise (2') fails. Without an account of goodness that explains why our understanding what it means to doubt its coextension with a given complex property has any bearing on whether the properties are identical. I do not see a plausible explanation forthcoming. the argument would conclude that goodness is not identical with intrinsic value. say. She might claim that there is no general principle about doubting that justifies the result here. So premise (2') is false. when we consider properties that are identical.175 Phosphorus. the argument only holds for goodness and proposed complex properties offered as definitions.47 Finally. . intrinsic value.

For example. But the required premise is both easy to supply and plausible. If the defective arguments could be supported.” the “argument from inspection. Three of the arguments—the “significant question argument. there is a minor difficulty that I mention only as an aside.” and the “argument from doubt”—suffered from defects that seem insurmountable. the “significant question” argument. then ‘good’ does not denote the property being that which we desire to desire. Two of the arguments. Of these. conclude that goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire. the arguments would need additional premises to bring us from the claim about the distinctness of the properties to the claim that the word ‘good’ does not denote some complex property. The “more complicated question” argument looked pretty good. seems to turn on anything that looks like an open question. we can construct four arguments using Moore’s text. In order to be support for the overall argument that ‘good’ neither denotes a complex property nor is meaningless.” .176 5. Conclusions regarding the arguments above The upshot of this discussion is that in support of the claim that ‘good’ does not denote a complex property. only one. the “significant question” argument and the “doubt” argument. we might try “If goodness is not identical with being that which we desire to desire.

to generalize the “more complicated question” argument. For example. I expect that the first option holds out the most hope. for instance. Where X is the definiens of any definition wherein ‘good’ is made to denote a complex property. support the premise that ‘good’ does not denote anything complex.177 A more significant problem for all of these arguments is that none of the arguments conclude that no complex property is identical with goodness. in its current form. that ‘good’ does not denote any complex property. Moore would need to represent each of these as general arguments. he could claim that after we perform the argument on a number of different complex properties. There appear to be several ways to resolve this problem. Unfortunately this hope is misplaced. or perhaps. (b''') Is A’s instantiating X a thing that instantiates goodness? . we would get: (b'') Is it good that A instantiates X? (d'') Is it X that A instantiates X?49 My intuitions about whether (d'') is more complicated a question than (b'') do not help in this situation. Of course this is 48 49 Or alternatively. I cannot motivate the first premise of the argument because I simply do not find (d'') to be more complicated. So. Consider. it does not. we begin to see that no complex property can be a satisfactory definition.48 Each one argued for the conclusion that a specific property was not identical. “(d''') Is A’s instantiating X a thing that instantiates X?” but this. or as inductive arguments. This is equivalent to. we might start with generalized versions of (b) and (d). though it looks more complicated that (b'') does not fare any better than (d'') when (b'') is reformulated to mirror (d''')’s structure. while the “more complicated question” argument might be sound.

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because by substituting ‘X’ for the name of a complex property, I have masked the syntactic complexity of (d''). And it turns out that my intuitions are tied to how complicated the question looks syntactically. But this actually highlights a real problem that afflicts this argument. The complexity of the expression used to refer to the complex property seems to make a difference to this argument.50,51 So, while this argument is convincing to me for certain properties, if generalized, it is less convincing. I have little faith in my ability to make judgments about the complexity of questions that are perfectly general. This might suggest favoring the Argument From Inspection but I am afflicted with a similar problem there. I am not confident in my assertions that statements of the appropriate generalized forms have different meanings. Moore, himself, seems to favor the third strategy I suggested for solving the problem. We should apply the argument to a number of different complex properties. After multiple applications, we will see that no definition wherein

In retrospect, I can think of at least one complex property with a simple-sounding name, and it is such that competent geometers might find (d'') more complicated. It is the property Being prismatic. I suggest the following analysis of this property: x is prismatic iff x is a triangular prism, or x is a rectangular prism, or x is a pentagonal prism. Even a non-disjunctive analysis would be quite complicated—being a three dimensional object having a polygonal cross section, etc. The point is that properties with simple names might be extremely complex, and such properties are the ones to look at to judge whether the More Complicated Question argument and the Argument from Inspection fail. 51 The property named ‘plaid’ is a complex property consisting of having several colors and some sort of recurring geometric pattern, etc. If being plaid were offered as a definition of goodness, we might find the question “is x plaid?” no more complicated than “is x good?”

50

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‘good’ denotes a complex property will be true.52 I find this suggestion unsettling. It amounts to yet another argument with a premise I find dubious. We might construct the following argument on Moore’s behalf. • Moore’s Generalized Conclusion argument 1. We can apply the More Complicated Question argument against a number of proposed complex definitions. (Go ahead. Try it. We have seen it work with being that which we desire to desire. We can apply it also, with good results, to the properties being in conformance with the collective will, being such that at least 4 out of 5 people surveyed would approve, being what Jesus would do, etc.) 2. If (1), then we can see that no complex definition will survive the More Complicated Question argument. 3. If we can see that no complex definition will survive the More Complicated Question argument, then ‘good’ does not denote any complex property. 4. Therefore ‘good’ does not denote any complex property. I see no reason to accept (2) or (3). And this concern is not limited to the More Complicated Question argument. For any argument we have considered so far, the Generalized Conclusion argument seems to fail. Of course, this is rather unfair of me. Inductive arguments of many sorts, even ones we have no real
52

See Principia Ethica, the first sentence of § 13, ¶ 2.

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doubts about, when reframed as deductive arguments suffer from the defect we see in (2). Consider, for example, the argument that the sun will rise tomorrow morning: S1. The sun has risen every morning in historical memory. S2. If (1), then the sun will rise tomorrow. S3. Therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow. I am quite confident of the conclusion, but not because I find the argument convincing. In fact, I think (S2) is false. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. However, since the conditions underlying the former dawns still obtain, and will obtain (in all likelihood) tomorrow, the conclusion is justified. And even without knowing about those conditions, the inductive argument would be pretty good. Moore likely intends some sort of induction here. We are supposed to see that the consequent of (2) is true, but not for any deductively valid reason. The expectation is that we will simply become aware of the fact that there is something about complex definitions that make them fail the More Complicated Question argument. I have suggested that the most likely reason, that our intuitions about the complexity of the question are based on the syntax of the question, is unsatisfactory. But perhaps there are other reasons.

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6. Final thoughts and the Revised General Significant Question Argument

Before leaving arguments in support of the claim that ‘good’ does not denote any complex property, I consider the comments of one of Moore’s critics, and I offer a version of the significant question argument that has a better chance of succeeding than the one I presented above. Roger Hancock considers what I have called the Argument From Doubt in his book Twentieth Century Ethics.53 His explanation of the argument fails in two instructive ways. First, he fails to distinguish this argument from the significant question argument. Instead, he treats it as an explanation of what Moore means by ‘a significant question.’ Hancock thinks the question “Is F good?” is significant if the claim “F is not good” is never self-contradictory. The idea here is that for any complex property F, it can always be asked with significance, whether F is good because “F is not good” is never self-contradictory.54 Unfortunately, as I mentioned in footnote 35, this suggestion for what it means to be a significant question fails. Moore would not accept it because he thinks the question whether goodness is good is not a significant question, but I contend, he would reject the claim that “Goodness is not good” is self-contradictory.

Cited above. This, in turn, is based on the claim that “Whatever is F is F” is a tautology. And this claim is false, at least with regard to predication.
54

53

182 Hancock’s second error is that he fails to distinguish between the following statements: ‘That we should desire to desire A is good’ and ‘Whatever is F is good. He 55 56 Principia Ethica.’ where F is substituted for ‘that which we should desire to desire.’”55 Hancock generalizes these as (g) Whatever is F is good and (h) Whatever is F is F.’ In fact. One reason to think Moore did not intend this particular argument is that nowhere in his discussion of the arguments in § 13 does he use the word ‘tautology’ or ‘tautologous.57 Why Hancock does not treat this as a distinct argument is unclear to me. . I find it surprising that his commentators attribute to him this claim or ones like it. the word does not appear in the entirety of Chapters I and II. (g) and (h) do not mean the same thing because (h) cannot be doubted and (g) is doubtable. p. (h) is not doubtable because the denial of (h) is self-contradictory.56 His argument is that Moore claims that if ‘good’ were synonymous with some non-ethical expression. then (g) and (h) would mean the same thing.’ Hancock makes this error on his way to his conclusion about what it means to be a significant question. 57 Alternatively. Hancock. pp 67-68. 30. because (h) expresses a tautology. Moore asserts: “‘That we should desire to desire A is good’ is not merely equivalent to ‘That A should be good is good. F.

Instead. The question whether it is good that a state of affairs is good is not equivalent to the question whether it is good that a state of affairs is F. This is because it is a category mistake to ask whether it is good that a state of affairs is good. It ought to be easy to see that one asks about the goodness of A and one asks about the goodness of the state of affairs of A having property F. (g) asserts that something that instantiates F is good. The mistake is in not recognizing that Moore’s statement asserts that something other than what (g) asserts. I highlight this mistake because it demonstrates a possibility for a Significant Question-style argument that does not suffer from the defects we identified in the original. where F is a complex property. Why do I say that it is a category mistake? This is not the same claim as my contention that goodness is not good. but not to facts about what acts or states of affairs are or are not good. that his argument does not faithfully recreate Moore’s. Moral value attaches to acts and states of affairs. this is the claim that moral value simply does not attach to moral facts. itself. though.183 seems to have all he needs to motivate an argument against the definition of ‘good’ as F. but not to the . Moral value might attach to my believing a certain moral proposition. But it is not such a mistake to ask whether it is good that a state of affairs is F. Moore’s statement asserts that it is good that something (A) instantiates F. Notice. where F is a complex property.

the proposition that charitable giving is good might instantiate the property being a justified belief in Bill. These would be two different normative properties— epistemic properties—that can rightly be predicated of moral propositions. whether it is good that A is good) is not a significant question. permissible.58 In short. the possibility of multivalued logics. 59 58 . but the proposition itself is not morally wrong.59 I cannot say with any degree of certainty that this is what Moore had in mind. What I am objecting to is second-order moral properties. For example. the proposition that it is good that it is good that A is neither true nor false. nor any other moral property. This proposition may be true or false. Neither is it morally right.184 proposition (or the underlying fact) itself—it might be morally obligatory to believe that torture is wrong. As a result. But it is an explanation that utilizes the example sentences he gave without the modifications that others. the question whether it is good that it is good that A (alternatively.’ I do not admit. for purposes of this discussion. have introduced. Consider the proposition that it is morally wrong to pay taxes in support of war-mongering governments. It also has the benefit of being useful for creating a version of the Significant Question argument that succeeds without being question begging. Either ‘true’ or ‘false. Other normative properties might attach to moral propositions. Or a moral proposition might be self-evident. therefore. like Hancock. I have. been arguing that what it means to be a significant question is that the question can be answered by a statement that has a truth value.

to that question will be either true or false. as I have argued. moral value does not attach to moral propositions. Consequently. Now we are in a position to construct a version of the Significant Question argument that is general and not obviously unsound. If I assert that it is good that we desire to desire A. for any complex property. Note that since the feature of goodness that I am exploiting in this argument is not one we are trying to prove. (i) is significant. that goodness is unique in not being able to be truthfully predicated of a state of affairs being good. the question whether it is good that A instantiates that complex property is always significant. Note also. Therefore. (j) is not significant. This is because moral values can and do attach to propositions about complex properties. I am asserting something true or false. An answer. This is because. the resulting argument will not be subject to claims of question begging. including complex psychological properties. I know of no complex property that shares this feature. . yes or no.185 Consider the following questions: (i) Is it good that A is a thing we desire to desire? (j) Is it good that A is a thing that is good? I contend that (i) is a significant question.

Therefore. ‘good’ does not denote any complex property. . then ‘good’ does not denote any complex property. at least about the sort of definitions that are acceptable. If (1) and (2). of course. applicable to any definition that attempts to define goodness in terms of a complex (non-simple) property. The unique feature of goodness that I have pointed out does not require any particular metaphysical commitments. This argument has a conclusion written in terms of the word ‘good. For any complex property F. We may not ask with significance ‘Is it good that A is good?’ 3. where such a modification would 60 Preservation of meaning through substitution of synonymous terms.60 This argument is also sufficient to show that many simple properties are not identical with goodness as well simply by removing the word ‘complex’ from (1). we may ask with significance ‘Is it good that A is F?’ 2.’ as required by the premise of the overarching argument that this argument is intended to support. premise (3) is supported by considerations of meaning discussed above. And finally. There are instances. Finally. it does not turn on an account of significance that requires us to accept that goodness is simple.186 • Revised General Significant Question Argument 1. 4. It is also a general conclusion. (3) and (4).

as it generally undermines any motivation for construing the naturalistic fallacy in the way I find most consistent with the text. we might doubt (1) on grounds that there might be a complex property about which the question whether it is good that A instantiates the property is not significant. This leaves the possibility that ‘good’ is meaningless. Even without that modification. and perhaps on particular instances of the More Complicated Question argument. if successful. or that it is simple and indefinable. I think the claim that ‘good’ does not denote any complex property is well supported. Based on this argument. A revised version of my Revised General Significant Question Argument might suffice to show that most simple properties are not identical with goodness. I am completely at a loss to think of one. I do not pursue this argument further at this time. That is. because (1) and (2) would be contradictory. Premise (3) of Moore’s § 13 argument is that ‘good’ is not meaningless. primarily. . and until this situation changes. but I do not take this to be Moore’s purpose in § 13. the argument I offered on Moore’s behalf shows a good bit more than he intended. While I suppose this may be true. and maybe as much as most commentators think he intended.’ the argument would fail. If ‘good’ were substituted for ‘F.187 prove problematic. I am inclined to accept (1).

. . The question “Is S P?” is significant. . 61 . Argument in Support of Premise (3) Here. .” Principia Ethica. I very briefly describe three bad approaches to the argument before presenting the one that best comports with the text. 62 Hancock. in support of his version of the open question argument. Moore is attacking the view that ethical words are synonymous with non-ethical expressions. Moore is more economical and offers only one argument. This argument.188 B. he may become expert enough to recognise that in every case he has before his mind a unique object. not treating the argument as supporting the view that ‘good’ is not meaningless. . Hancock uses the first two sentences of the passage in which Moore makes his argument61 to argue for a view of significance. And his argument is that when we ask “Are F’s good?” we can recognize on reflection that there are two distinct things before our mind . 31. if S and P designate two distinct things . . p. that is. p. a distinct question may be asked. with regard to the connection of which with any other object. 68. . All three approaches share a common error—that of not treating the argument as what it claims to be. And if he will try this experiment with each suggested definition in succession. like the ones already discussed. has been fairly well misconstrued. then.”62 Reproduced here: “But whoever will attentively consider with himself what is actually before his mind when he asks the question ‘Is pleasure (or whatever it may be) after all good?’ can easily satisfy himself that he is not merely wondering whether pleasure is pleasant. . He writes “.

This is certainly not what Moore has done here. since we can doubt that ‘good’ and ‘P’ where P refers to any (natural) property. p. Moore. goodness and P are not identical.189 It is understandable how Hancock might take this passage to make this argument. 1990 (London). . like the other Moorean argument—by which he means the traditional interpretation of the open question argument64—hinges on the failure of “reflective substitutivity” of proposed definitions.”63 He claims that this argument. arguing instead that there are only two arguments. He never ever asserted that the proof shows that we can distinguish in thought between the meaning of 63 64 Baldwin. He writes that Moore’s argument is really “that because we can distinguish in thought between the meaning of ‘good’ and that of any putative non-ethical analysis.. But doing so requires ignoring the second sentence which makes it fairly explicit that Moore is focusing on recognizing that the thing we are comparing against many different properties is the same property in each case.E. In other words. G. both having equal claim to the title “open question argument” and both to the conclusion that no definition of ‘good’ is correct. Thomas Baldwin claims that Moore’s argument that ‘good’ is not meaningless really shows something else altogether. which is evidenced by our ability to doubt their identity. all such analyses must be incorrect. Instead of emphasizing the distinction between goodness and any other property under consideration. Routledge. T. 89 Baldwin ignores the division of arguments I have advocated. Moore is emphasizing the sameness of the property we referred to by ‘good’ in each case.

simple or complex. natural property. It can be asked of any property. repeatedly considering the question ‘Is P after all good?’. And this. Feldman takes the argument to be an attempt to refute the view that goodness is identical with some simple. natural or non-natural. But he does two things that clarify his true purpose.65 Perhaps this is because Moore offers only “Is pleasure .190 ‘good’ and that of any putative non-ethical or natural analysis. fails to see the point of the argument. we may see that the word on the right side of the sentence— ‘good’—always refers to the same property. . after a while. p. Finally. being desired. 35. who does a very good job of distinguishing the various arguments in § 13. after all good?” and alludes to other questions of the same form about pleasantness. and we are less likely to get bogged down in considering the 65 Feldman. . in case after case. We will consider whether he is right in a moment. Rather than taking it to show that ‘good’ is not meaningless. Fred Feldman. proves that ‘good’ is not meaningless. What he did assert is that if we keep at it. natural properties. . First. and being approved as an examples of the sort of question one should consider. I take it that the example questions were all about simple definitions of goodness because they are easier to ponder. supposes Moore. he writes that the question we consider is “Is pleasure (or whatever it may be) after all good?” The phrase “or whatever it may be” does not imply that the question can only be asked of simple.

p.67 I have already described the idea behind the argument in my comments about Hancock. It is recognizing that we are asking. 68. goodness. that introductory commentary demonstrates the real point of the passage. I suspect Feldman had a different axe to grind. every time.191 question so that we can focus on the appropriate thing—that ‘good’ means the same thing in each question. . All that remains is to present the argument. In this case. after a bit of introductory commentary .” and then launches into the argument. Baldwin. Feldman does not describe the material where Moore tells us the point of this passage. Prof. 67 66 . And this is because the point of asking the question is not answering it. . whether the property under consideration instantiates the same property. Moore writes “And the same consideration (our ability to doubt whether those things that instantiate the property offered as a definition instantiate goodness—WP) is sufficient to dismiss the hypothesis that ‘good’ has no meaning whatsoever.”66 The very point of the argument that follows is to show that ‘good’ is not meaningless. It goes toward his overall thesis that commentators have done a miserable job of presenting the open question argument. He presents an argument that is not Moore’s but is an interesting argument nonetheless. It is not to show that proposed simple definitions fail. Consider the following questions: (k) Is pleasure after all good? (l) Is desire after all good? (m) Is being approved after all good? Principia Ethica. Instead he writes “In any case. The second clue Moore provides is in the first sentence of the paragraph from which the example comes. . and Feldman.

we do not have to consider questions based on attempted definitions of goodness. (k) – (n) ask the same unique question of each property. . in fact. 3. If (1) then ‘good’ denotes the same property in every context. 4. 5. And the only way this would be the case is if ‘good’ meant a single thing. (2) is somewhat stronger than Moore’s claim. ‘good’ is not meaningless. That is. Premise (2) is a stretch. we “may become expert enough” to recognize that ‘good’ denotes the same property in each question. Premise (1) is supported by our basic intuitions about what we are asking when we entertain questions like (k) through (n). Moore writes that when we ask enough of these questions. Therefore. but we could instead ask whether particular states of affairs were good and still achieve Moore’s desired conclusion.192 (n) Is being that which we desire to desire after all good? Uniqueness Argument 1. The idea is simply that we always have the same idea in mind when we ask such questions. 2. So. Therefore ‘good’ denotes the same property in every context. If (3) then ‘good’ is not meaningless. I phrased each of these questions as questions about properties.

68 There might be a sub-argument in here. problems with Hancock’s notion of significance suggest an account of that results in a very robust argument. The second is that goodness is not “meaningless. . The first is that goodness is not a complex property. The primary argument shows that you always have a unique property in mind when you wonder whether pleasure is good. the Revised General Significant Question Argument.’ It merely shows that there is some one thing to which ‘good’ refers in each of these moral uses. The sub-argument notes that everyone understands the question “is X good?” And their state of mind is different when they ask that question than it would be when they asked “is X pleasant?” or “is X desired?” But this seems to invite us to do something like the Argument From Inspection but to the conclusion that ‘Good’ is not meaningless. These are not all sound. there is no explicit argument for that proposition in this section. Conclusion I have argued that rather than being one unified argument that goodness is not identical with any non-natural property. Moore’s open question argument really consists of two arguments. It does not prove that goodness is not identical with any simple natural property. I resist this impulse because it is not clear to me that distinctness of state of mind yields distinctness of meaning.193 This is a modest argument. I believe this argument poses a significant challenge to definitional naturalists. In fact. This argument rules out nothing as a definition of ‘good. and further whether this implies that ‘good’ has a meaning at all.” The first argument is supported by a number of distinct sub-arguments.68 Note what this argument does not do. especially when we consider versions of the argument with general conclusions (as opposed to arguments that particular complex definitions fail). IV. However.

If this is the case.194 Chapter 6 Conclusions I. The second is that goodness is not “meaningless. Concluding remarks about the relation between the open question argument and the naturalistic fallacy In the previous chapter. I argued that rather than being one unified argument that goodness is not identical with any non-natural property.” It appears that at least one of the sub-arguments that can be reconstructed from Moore’s writing is sound and may prove significantly more than Moore intended. This claim is supported by at least five subarguments.” This claim amounts to the claim that there is a unique property which goes by the name “goodness. most of which turn on our intuitions about language and meaning. My notion of what it means to be significant is not what most commentators attribute to Moore. . it may be sufficient to show that goodness is not identical with any simple property that can be referred to by any natural property referring name.1 Rather than merely proving that goodness is not identical with any complex property. Moore’s open question argument actually consists of two arguments. The first is that goodness is not a complex property. then Frankena’s question begging claim can be 1 Though it is not clear that it is exactly what he had in mind.

being incapable of (analytic) definition is a consequence of being simple. His complaint with the argument he reconstructs on When I refer to the open question argument in this section. While I strenuously object to this conception of the naturalistic fallacy. Prior correctly believes that Moore takes the open question argument2 to show that goodness is both simple and incapable of definition. Hence. seems to show that goodness is indefinable without invoking the naturalistic fallacy. for Moore. I believe that even if we construe the naturalistic fallacy as Frankena urges.195 dispensed with because Moore will have shown that goodness is indefinable. The version of the open question argument I called the “Revised General Significant Question Argument. My interpretation of Moore’s open question argument has consequences for Prior’s argument as well. Recall that Frankena claimed the naturalistic fallacy was question begging because when conceived as a definist fallacy.” while turning on a conception of significance that I am not sure Moore shared. but rather on some other features of language. 2 . despite the fact that the arguments in that section do not turn on the “openness” of any particular question or questions. it seems to presuppose that goodness is indefinable. if Moore can show that goodness is indeed indefinable by a method that does not invoke the naturalistic fallacy. Moore can avoid the criticism that he has begged the question. I am referring to the entire argument of Section 13 in Principia Ethica. he will have avoided begging the question. such as the presumptive complexity of questions containing property names. As I pointed out in Chapter 4. This is a reasonable claim because. Prior invokes something akin to the traditional interpretation of the open question argument.

and an individual understands the expressions. and Prior’s version as well. For example. to succeed. mean the same thing. language would have to be transparent. and as a result. though. by virtue understanding the names ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ that each referred to the planet Venus. if I had such privileged epistemic access to astronomical objects. In other words. The central problem for the view is that it turns on a feature of language that is simply untrue. When we consider analyses such as water is H2O.3 then she will know that any two sentences (or questions) which differ only in the substitution for ML2 for ML1 (or vice versa) have the same meaning. 3 . ML1 and ML2. In order for the standard version of the open question argument. As I have phrased this transparency thesis. Whereas ordinary language is referentially opaque. the argument requires denying referential opacity—a feature of language that contemporary philosophers by and large accept. we find that it is possible to create questions that at least some people would take to be open ones. moral language is transparent. That is.196 Moore’s behalf is well founded. the privileged epistemic access implies that understanding an expression means knowing its referent and recognizing that it is the same as that of any of that expression’s synonyms. that the fact that the open question argument seems to fail in these contexts is irrelevant because moral language is unique— that we have privileged epistemic access to moral properties. or a brother is a male sibling. We might argue. if two expressions of moral language. although his point can be made clearer. the sort of transparency that does not exist with non-moral properties and objects does not plague our moral language. I would not make the ‘Hesperus/Phosphorus’ error because I would know.

they do not name the same property. Moore cannot accept this. most people would find the question. 4 Prior. If the openness of this question is an indication that ‘goodness’ and ‘intrinsic value’ are not names for the same property. That is. . the transparency problem plagues even moral language. This is a point recognized by Prior. attempting to put Ethics on similar footing to other sciences. First. p.197 This response does not succeed.4 So. But if we perform the open question argument on these words. Consider the words ‘goodness’ and ‘intrinsic value. and less decisively. 3. “x is intrinsically valuable. which do refer to the same property. This suggests that we do not have special epistemic access to moral properties that would defeat the lack of transparency concerns. Second and more significantly. Two problems suggest themselves. Prior’s criticisms are well-founded. Carving out a special epistemic niche for moral properties and special status to moral language would run counter to this project. Moore would not want to claim that moral language is unique in this way. Moore might be loathe to accept the principle underlying this response. then presumably. He was. they would ‘fail’ the test. but is it good?” an open question. after all.’ Moore takes these words to be synonyms that each refer to the property moral goodness. if the open question argument is given its standard interpretation. in part by employing rigorous thought and process to moral reasoning.

Moore is concerned to limit this kind of definition (definition as identification with a simple property) of goodness as well. his thesis that goodness is a non-natural property would be false if it turned out that a successful property identification between goodness and some simple natural property could be made. one which might be the only one available. and it is identical to the property being the color that when mixed with blue yields green. The . The point of the open question argument really seems to be to show that goodness is simple. we can see that Prior’s objection fails.198 Once we place the open question in its proper context. does not provide adequate support for any such identity claim. The open question argument is Moore’s proof that goodness is simple and indefinable. while incapable of analytic definition. the property yellowness is simple. After all. Moore did not take this to be the point of the argument. This is where Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy become important. For example. Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy do not show that any such property identification is incorrect. only that a particular form of argument. But a simple property. And although one of the arguments I reconstructed on Moore’s behalf seems to have as a consequence that goodness is not identical with any natural property. And it is the reason I devote two chapters to justifying an alternative to the traditional definist interpretation. and properly disambiguate the many arguments contained within it. is nonetheless still susceptible to successful property identifications.

and Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy show that identifying goodness with any simple natural property is epistemically problematic. in his discussion of the open question argument. That the naturalistic fallacy is commonly confused with the open question argument is proved by Baldwin.”5 I have shown that the open question argument is distinct from the naturalistic fallacy.199 picture that emerges on my view of the open question argument and the naturalistic fallacy is very unlike that conceived by Prior. the way that philosophers who commit the naturalistic fallacy proceed to define goodness is to recognize that goodness and a given natural property are instantiated in the same objects or states of affairs. Recall that for Moore. . 87. that “It is notable that the section in which he advances it is the only part of the opening discussion in Principia Ethica of the naturalistic fallacy which does not come straight from The Elements of Ethics. and hence indefinable. who writes. The open question argument is Moore’s proof that goodness is simple. p. This might explain why some take it to be a simple definist fallacy. and 5 Baldwin. I reverse the concepts. But Baldwin here asserts that Moore’s presentation of the open question argument (by which he means his proof that goodness is simple and indefinable) is part of his discussion of the naturalistic fallacy. Rather than taking the open question argument to be the proof that it is a fallacy to try to define goodness.

6 Principia Ethica. But he does not suggest it as a method for arriving at property identities or definitions. “It may always be true notwithstanding. p 126. This suggests a question: May we arrive at a property identification. So analytical definitions are inapplicable. and doing so by intuition. Moore’s complaint with this approach is that it gives you no reason to accept the identity of goodness and the natural property in question. by virtue of the success of the open question argument (in one or more of its variations). Recall also that Moore recognizes that we might engage in reasoning about the good without defining goodness at all. for instance. that is.6 Moore writes that his own intuition arrives at a different result. given that we may not share much commonality in our intuitions. that does not commit the naturalistic fallacy? I suggested in Chapter 3 that we might avoid the naturalistic fallacy by relying on intuition to arrive at our definition. § 45. .” This proposition—that pleasure is the good— is held as “an object of intuition” by Sidgwick. This might not be particularly satisfying either. Moore has no objection to identifying the good with natural properties. and simple definitions are of dubious value by virtue of the commission of the naturalistic fallacy by philosophers who offer such definitions.200 to infer from this that they are identical. This was the tactic employed by Sidgwick. Consider his discussion of Sidgwick’s view that “pleasure alone is good as an end. a definition in terms of a simple property.

p 58.”7 Moore is left trying to offer reasons “capable of determining the intellect” rather than to offer conclusive refutation or even indubitable intuitions in opposition to Sidgwick’s intuitively derived thesis. If intuition is not a reliable way to arrive at the coextension between goodness and some natural (or metaphysical) property. 3. 9 Symbolized as ∀F(Fx Fy) x=y. cannot be true by definition. Intuition seems inadequate.” Principia Ethica. 2. ¡   . it seems to me.8 This sort of argument would not suffer the defect of an inference from co-instantiation of goodness and a natural property to identity of those properties. it could only be contingently so. . Note also that Moore claims that. . . § 6.201 neither intuition can prove whether it is true or not . If it is true at all.9 An example follows: 1. 7 Ibid. 8 This. then Sidgwick’s claim. does not give sufficient reason to accept an identity. Instead. Goodness has no property that pleasantness does not have. “propositions about the good are all of them synthetic and never analytic. even necessary coextension. it turns on the Identity of Indiscernibles. Coextension. Inferring from a relationship weaker than coextension surely will not do. Is there another way to support such a property identification? One obvious one would be to mount a Leibniz’s Law style argument in favor of the identity of goodness with a given property. If this is so. Goodness has every property that pleasantness has. then it is surely inadequate as a route to certainty with respect the identity of goodness and a natural (or metaphysical) property. a proposition about the good. If (1) and (2) then goodness has exactly the same properties as pleasantness. might exhaust the possibilities.

whether the principle is true at all. if each has exactly the same properties.12 if my claims about Moore’s real intentions with that argument are correct. we might think.. Vol. goodness has exactly the same properties as pleasantness. then goodness is identical with pleasantness. they really are simply one single object. 5.10 (5) is an instance of the principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. 242 (Apr. they really are one and the same property. because it does not involve any inference from the coinstantiation or coextension of goodness and pleasantness. If goodness has exactly the same properties as pleasantness. they would clearly not be identical. 10 11 (1) and (2) might not be obviously true. Max Black has argued that a universe containing only two exactly similar objects would prove the Identity of Indiscernibles false because while the two objects would be indiscernible.” Mind. 61. then. This principle states that for any two objects. the principle is applied to properties. 153-164 at 156-161. Therefore. In this argument. If two properties have exactly the same properties. New Series. since it identifies goodness with a simple property there can be no complaint that the argument’s conclusion is barred by the open question argument. “The Identity of Indiscernibles. in fact. Therefore goodness is identical with pleasantness. The only unobvious premise in this argument is premise (5). 12 The revised general significant question argument.11 While this argument runs afoul of one of the arguments I offered as a possible reconstruction of Moore’s open question argument.202 4. 1952). There are some reasons to doubt whether this principle is applicable to individual properties and. . that is. 6. And it does not present a problem for the naturalistic fallacy. if they share all of their properties. No. pp. but their meaning is obvious enough for our discussion.

) The Philosophy of G. 101. to turn the argument on its head and rely on the non-identity of discernibles principle. The danger becomes apparent when we consider another property that goodness has that pleasantness does not. J. Moore would just reject premises (1) and/or (2). First. Moore.” The Philosophical Review. This is.14 They believe that even if the 13 One must be careful when utilizing this strategy. . then that would show that goodness and pleasantness are not identical.E. 1 (January 1992). Vol. For example. No. the enduring lesson of the open question argument. and hence. Allan Gibbard. being believed by Moore to be non-natural. If such an example could be found. then goodness would have the property Being instantiated by instances of blood donation. This would show that (2) is false. We need only think of the Lois Lane. W. pp 116-117.203 Of course. 14 Stephen Darwall. He would deny both (1) and (2) but not on grounds that there is a counterexample. the argument is would be unsound. but not good. One easy way to show that (1) or (2) is false is to provide a counterexample. namely. This is. See. Superman/Clark Kent arguments to remind ourselves of this. “Toward Fin de Siecle Ethics: Some Trends. in essence. and Peter Railton. Frankena “Obligation and Value in the Ethics of G. Note that Frankena arrived at this conclusion fifty years earlier in his contribution to P. goodness is a normative property and pleasantness is not. A. but pleasantness would not have this property. If Moore could offer an example of a state of affairs or an object that was pleasant. or vice versa. That is. It is well established that this sort of property causes trouble for arguments utilizing the non-identity of discernibles principle.13 Moore would be more inclined to take a different approach to refuting this argument. then one property would have a property that the other did not possess. E. Gibbard and Railton. if donating blood was good. but not pleasant. Moore would not accept this argument. but rather on the ground that goodness simply has a quality that no natural property can possess. Schilpp (ed. according to Darwall.

15 They. treat the open question argument as part and parcel with Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy. 102. Connie Rosati. too.17 Sturgeon argues that Moore has begged the question by assuming that no natural properties have the normativity associated with goodness.16 Since goodness is supposed to be unique in this respect. ‘Good’ is certainly co-referential with ‘good. so again (2) is false. then Moore’s argument goes no way toward proving that goodness is non-natural. I expect that this is how Moore would reply. Note that Frankena also argues that the fact that goodness can be defined in terms of “ought” means that it is not a simple property. but this does not prove that yellowness is not simple. this does not prove that goodness is non-natural. A definition in terms of “ought” would be a conceptual analysis—it tells us a way to think about the property goodness—but it is not a definition in the Moorean sense. but it does expose him to yet another claim of question begging.15 Moore has shown that goodness is irreducibly normative. See Logic and the Basis of Ethics (1949) p. I believe this is a mistake. “Moore on Naturalism. Without an argument that natural properties do not have normative force. 16 See also.” Ethics 113 (April 2003): 490–527 at 495. 5. Frankena seems to be offering the wrong kind of definition.’ and if ‘good’ happens to refer to a natural property. p.” in Schilpp. And Prior reached the same conclusion in 1949. Moore is Moore. “Agency and the Open Question Argument. I can give a definition of yellowness in terms of greenness. Moorean definition requires an enumeration of the component properties that make up the definiendum.204 argument is ultimately unsuccessful in exposing a fallacy. . Nicholas Sturgeon has pointed out that even if we grant that the open question argument successfully shows that ‘good’ refers to a different property than any natural term does (a proposition that Sturgeon is not willing to accept).” Ethics 113 (April 2003): 528–556 at 536. 17 Nicholas Sturgeon. we might conclude that goodness does not share all of its properties with any natural property.

On Moore’s scheme. For instance. we never see an instance of identifying the properties that goodness has. Moore asserts that goodness is the property that is the proper subject matter of Ethics and that it is that property whose instantiation in a state of affairs gives us a reason to act in such a way as to bring about that state of affairs. They tell us things about how goodness is related to our philosophizing. in fact. There are. Sturgeon’s argument only forecloses claiming that (2) is false on the ground that no natural property is normative. it would have parts.18 Finally. or about its causal relation to our motivations. certain features asserted of goodness. and be susceptible to the sort of analytic definition Moore claims is impossible. In all of Principia Ethica. 18 . This is not quite true. 19 Assuming for purposes of this example only that we are motivated to do that which we ought to do. If the property had intrinsic properties which we could enumerate. So. however. Moore might object to the argument on the ground that he does not accept the method as a way to define goodness.19 but they do not tell us about the nature of the property itself. Moore could easily make such an argument for any particular natural property.205 foreclosed from arguing against the Identity of Indiscernibles argument on the grounds set forth in the preceding paragraph. the sort of enumeration of properties required to motivate this Identity of Indiscernibles argument is ruled out as a consequence of the open question argument. this is a consequence of the simplicity of goodness. These are relational properties of goodness. But these are not intrinsic properties of goodness.

they tell us how yellowness is related to other things. It merely means that it cannot be supported by a well-justified. committing the naturalistic fallacy does not guarantee that the proffered view is false. We can assert of yellowness that it is the color of lemons and sunflowers. If my interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy is correct. we are discussing reductive naturalists here. the simple property yellowness. and in so doing.206 The same is true for natural properties. yields green paint. these are rather potent reasons to reject this sort of approach to defending a property identity for goodness. These properties are not intrinsic properties of yellowness. those who attempt to define goodness in terms of natural properties. This suggests that the only way open to naturalists20 who wish to define goodness is to proceed from the coinstantiation of goodness and their preferred natural property. again. II. they are not necessary to yellowness. commit the naturalistic fallacy. to distinguish Moore's claims about the naturalistic fallacy Again. Consider. deductive argument. do not uniquely identify that property. but rather. or that paint instantiating this color. More importantly. 20 . In all. Overall Conclusions The purpose of this dissertation was to offer an interpretation of what it means to commit the naturalistic fallacy that is maximally consistent with Moore's text and examples. when mixed with blue paint. and hence.

and considered some implications of his view. I found that the naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument are complementary. Prior and Frankena. and to correct mistaken interpretations of the open question argument.207 from the open question argument. My first chapter provided justification for this dissertation. I also explained what a successful definition might look like for Moore. Goodness is a simple property. and hence it is indefinable. In Chapter 2. and interpretations provided by Moore. I identified Moore’s discussion of the naturalistic fallacy as the most celebrated yet least wellunderstood portion of the text. arguments. I noted that Principia Ethica has had an enduring legacy. In Chapter 3. I examined rival interpretations of the naturalistic fallacy provided by Baldwin. and so began my examination of his moral philosophy with this concept. But this still leaves the possibility that goodness is identical with a simple natural or metaphysical property. though there is little agreement on what Moore claimed or how he attempted to support his claims. In pursuing these goals. even if it does not conclusively refute such definitions. . meaning it has no constituent parts. Moore uses the open question argument to show that goodness is not identical with any complex natural or metaphysical property. I explained the rudiments of Moore’s view on the nature of goodness. His claim that philosophers who attempt to define goodness commit the naturalistic fallacy undermines support for any such identification. rather than redundant.

Prior finds that the naturalistic fallacy is not well suited to this task. there was no bad inference being made. that is. Each relied on taking a particular bit of Moorean text out of context. which together. Finally. What Prior did. make some significant strides (yet. was to conflate the naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument. I argued that Moore . Where the interpretations were consistent with the text. but ultimately attributes too much to Moore’s claims about the naturalistic fallacy as well. Foreshadowing Prior. Baldwin offers three possible interpretations. However. none of which were particularly appealing. One of Prior’s interpretations—that to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer from the necessary coextension of goodness and some natural property that they are identical—seems to me to be a correct statement of one version of the naturalistic fallacy. Naturally. Prior attributes far too much to Moore. fall short as we have seen) toward proving non-naturalism. and finds that such an argument cannot be sustained without assuming non-naturalism from the start. Frankena takes the most methodical approach of Moore’s critics.208 himself. claiming that the naturalistic fallacy is Moore’s entire argument that all forms of naturalism are false. Prior offered two interpretations similar to the view I defend. they did not offer a fallacy. we saw. Frankena takes the naturalistic fallacy to be Moore’s argument against all forms of naturalism. we looked at Frankena’s influential views on the naturalistic fallacy. finding that none of them maintains high fidelity to the text of Principia Ethica.

I found that in each case. As we have seen above. it is not wellsuited to play the role that many of Moore’s commentators assigned to it. and the contours of that role are shaped by the open question argument. because committing the fallacy does not entail the falsity of the view. Where Moore does deploy an argument that can rightfully be called an open . Rather than proving that all naturalistic definitions of goodness are wrong. I offered a close read of Moore’s statements wherein he describes the naturalistic fallacy and of his examples of philosophers who commit the naturalistic fallacy. In Chapter 4. it does have a role. that the properties are identical. to commit the naturalistic fallacy is to infer from either the coextension (necessary or otherwise) of two properties or the mere supposition that all instances of one property are also instances of another. and concluding in this chapter. but rather to show that any attempt to define goodness is based on a bad inference. My interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy suggests that while it is a common enough error.209 need not provide an argument that naturalism is false before he accuses a philosopher of committing the naturalistic fallacy. I offered a reading of Moore’s open question argument that emphasizes fidelity to the text (despite the fact that I retain the ill-deserved name) and rejects the traditional interpretation. I find that the argument really only demonstrates that no complex definition is correct. In Chapter 5. The naturalistic fallacy was not intended to refute any theory.

. is likely to commit the naturalistic fallacy. we are now in position to deploy the naturalistic fallacy against the naturalist. There will always be some reason to doubt the inference from the co-instantiation of goodness and the proffered natural property to their identity. It seems likely that one of the arguments that is effective against complex definitions will be effective against some simple ones as well. but it is not clear that this was Moore’s intention. it fails. some of which are fairly robust. i.e. in support of the proposition that goodness is a simple property. 21 In sections 14 and 26. with an array of arguments. then. Nevertheless. and for the usual reasons cited.. but it suggests that no version can cite as support for its definition a robust deductively valid argument. Any naturalist who offers a simple definition of goodness. We are left. thereby undermining support for her position. a property identity in terms of a simple property.210 question argument21 against a simple definition. This does not disprove all versions of reductive naturalism.

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