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The Subject-Matter of Ethics

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1 The Subject-Matter of Ethics
G.E. Moore

2 Ethics Ethics concerns the study of what is right and wrong human conduct. Ethics attempts to discern how we ought to behave in different circumstances. The terms that are associated with ethics are “virtue”, “vice”, “duty”, “right,” “ought” “good” and “bad”.

3 The Central Question in Ethics
Moore argues that the central question in ethics is “What is good conduct?” We need to distinguish the different kinds of human behavior and we need to be able to select those that are good. To be able to discern good behavior, we need to know what is meant by the term good.

4 The Central Question in Ethics
What is Good? What is the meaning of Good? Not what things are good but how is good to be defined. “…how ‘good’ is to be defined is the most fundamental question in Ethics.”

5 Definitions 1) Verbal definition. 2) How the word is used.
3) What the word represents or stand for in reality, i.e., the nature of the idea or object.

6 What is the Nature of Good
Moore argues that the nature of good is simply good. Good is good.

7 Propositions about Good
Propositions about good are always synthetic and never analytic. Analytic Propositions are propositions in which the predicate is part of the subject and nothing new is expressed. Synthetic propositions are propositions in which the predicates is not part of the subject and thus it adds something new to the subject. Propositions about the good always add something new, meaning that good presents something basic and simple and cannot be analyzed further.

8 Good is a simple notion Moore argues that the term ‘good’ refers to a unique object in the world that cannot be reduced to anything else. He compares it to the idea that is referred to by the word “yellow”. The sensation of yellow is basic and simple, and the word refers to this sensation. The sensation cannot be defined by any other words or sensations.

9 Complex vs. Simple Ideas
Complex ides can be reduced and explained by analyzing their parts. For instance, the idea of of a chimaera is a complex entity that can be explained through its various parts.

10 Simple ideas Simple ideas do not have parts and thus cannot be defined by reference to its parts.

11 Good Moore argues that the idea of good is NOT definable.
“I say that it is not composed of any parts that we can substitute for it in or minds when we are thinking of it.”

12 Naturalistic Fallacy Confusing two natural properties that happen to coincide in time and place and that refer to the same object as being one and the same property.

13 Naturalistic Fallacy For instance, certain light vibrations and the idea of yellow are simultaneously predicated of the same object. Moreover, the light vibrations when they come into contact with our eyes cause in us the sensation of yellow. However, this does not mean that yellow IS the light vibrations. Yellow is one natural thing and the light vibrations are another natural thing.

14 Naturalistic Fallacy Good is an adjective and it is predicated of things or acts. However, other adjectives can also be predicated of the same things. Moreover, it might be that these two ideas are conjoined and participate in the same objects. Yet this does not mean that they are one and the same property.

15 Yellow and Light Vibration
Even though we know that a certain light vibration accompany and causes our perception of the color yellow, to infer that the meaning of yellow is the light vibrations is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. For it remains true that yellow is NOT the same as the light vibrations that cause it, and we cannot reduce the basic and simple idea of yellow to the physical events that cause the sensation.

16 Good Philosophers commit the naturalistic fallacy when they claim that good is pleasure or that good is that which we desire.

17 Pleasure Pleasure, too, is a simple concept and idea, and it is indefinable. However, I can predicate pleasure of things, for instance, “I am pleased”. This simply means that I feel pleasure but it does not mean that pleasure and me are the same thing. Similarly, we can say that pleasure is good and not mean that pleasure and good are the same thing.

18 Naturalistic Fallacy “Orange is yellow”
But it would be a fallacy to define orange as yellow. “Orange is sweet and yellow” It would be a fallacy to define yellow as sweet. Yellow is yellow and it is not definable.

19 Argument Three logically possible hypotheses: 1) Good is complex and definable (analyzable) 2) Good has no meaning 3) Good is simple and indefinable (unanalyzable).

20 Hypothesis 1 If good were complex and definable, then we should be able to substitute the definition for the term good in all cases and questions about the goodness of that new phrase should appear redundant or absurd.

21 For instance Triangle is a closed figure with three sides.
A is a triangle A is a closed figure with three sides. A = my new necklace My new necklace is a closed figure with three sides. Does the question: Is the new necklace that is a closed figure with three sides a triangle? Make sense? No it does not. It is an absurd question or a closed question.

22 Open Question Argument
Good is what we desire to desire A is Good A is something we desire to desire. A = playing games Playing games is something we desire to desire. Does the question: Is it good to desire to desire playing games? make sense? Yes. Thus this show that the meaning of good is not totally grasped by the notion of desire to desire. Thus it is an open question

23 Moore “Thus, if we apply this definition to the particular instance and say, ‘When we think that A is good, we are thinking that A is one of things we desire to desire,’ our proposition may seem quite plausible. But, if we carry the investigation further, and ask ourselves ‘Is it good to desire to desire A?’ it is apparent, on a little reflection, that the question is itself intelligible, as the original question ‘Is A good?’ – that we are, in fact, now asking for the same information about the desire to desire A, for which we formerly asked with regard to A itself.”

24 Hypothesis 2 Moore argues that a similar open question argument can be used to reject the view that good has no meaning. First he argues that everyone understands the question “Is this good?” Second, he argues that it is obvious to anyone who reflects on it that the questions “Is this pleasurable?” or “Is this desirable?” or “Is this approvable?” and “Is this good?” all have distinct meanings.

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