Philosophy / Topic: G.E. Moore: The Indefinability Of Good.

Topic: G.E. Moore: The Indefinability Of Good.

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Autor:  anton  16 October 2010
Tags:  Indefinability
Words: 968   |   Pages: 4
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Topic: G.E. Moore: The Indefinability of Good.

In all the ethical philosophy we have been taught until this point, it has been commonly accepted that Ethics was indefinitely an examination of human conduct and how we react to each situation that arises. G. E. Moore, a philosopher from Cambridge University, begins his discussion of ethics otherwise, rejecting this concept and instead offering up his own concept that states that ethics is "the general enquiry into what is good."

Many philosophers are to quick to accept the definition of Ethics as a study of what is good or bad in human conduct when Moore points out that Ethics is much more than that of human conduct, going on to include many other realms of thought. In order to explain this, Moore asks the question, "What is good?" He goes on to give examples of different things in life that he deems "good," such as books or pleasure, but decides that these answers to the question are not the solution he is looking for. He wants to find out what is good in another, more meaningful sense.

He does this again by asking another question, "What is the definition of В‘good'?" As he says, "this is an enquiry which belongs only to Ethics." In asking this question, Moore comes to the conclusion that the definition of good is in its most simple form, the most essential point in the definition of Ethics. He explains that there is no way to put a verbal or written definition to the word because it is in its most simple form. There are no simpler groupings of words which could make someone who does not understand or have any idea to its concept, understand what is meant by В‘good'.

When explaining the concept of a tree, there are many distinct characteristics that make up a tree that a blind man who has never seen one before could understand based on other simpler concepts he already understands. But once that tree's description has been broken down to its simplest characteristics, it is impossible to explain those characteristics without having some kind of higher understanding of the words. This is to say that these simple characteristics cannot be defined with words or on paper thus being indefinable.

Since he concludes that the word В‘good' is indefinable, there is a need to make a distinction about the good, or something which has goodness or is good and the definition of В‘good' itself. Moore says that the difference is in the fact that В‘good' is a simple notion that cannot be broken down, and the good is complex and made up of many simple notions that include goodness.

He goes on to explain that many philosophers make falsely define the word В‘good' by using other qualities or simple notions to describe it. He says that these assumptions of what В‘good' are, are false because they only attempt to explain the word superficially and not it's true meaning. He uses an example of the word В‘yellow', where the color is impossible to define because anyone who has never experienced it before could not understand what it means to actually see В‘yellow' just from hearing a definition of the word. He says that most philosophers, in their explanation of В‘good', explain it like one would with В‘yellow': a certain vibration in the light spectrum that causes the eye to see what it sees. He says that just as people define the color yellow in these terms, philosophers often make the same mistake in their explanation of ethics by trying to define what is В‘good'. He calls this the "naturalistic fallacy".

In my own interpretation of what Moore is saying, I relate this notion to dreams. In daily life we all have conversations about people or places we have never met or been to before. Sometimes we go home and dream about these people or places, though they have no face or picture to match with a name. In our dreams we put imaginary faces and pictures to these names and places based on our understanding of them from things we have learned. Almost never do these pictures we assign in our dreams match the pictures of real life. Days go by, or even years, and one day we meet the person in our dreams or visit the place we invented in our minds and we come to a realization that there was no way that we could ever have put a definition to such a simple notion until it was realized by the actual experience of it. This seems to be the only way I can conceptualize what Moore is saying about the defining of simple notions such as the word В‘good'.

After the explanation of the "naturalistic fallacy" that Moore gives, he gets into it in more depth using descriptive illustrations of the topic to further explain this concept. In his examples, he makes it known that this "naturalistic fallacy" is too widely unrealized in most works of philosophy. He argues that philosophers cannot ever actually build a solid philosophical theory or argument regarding ethics unless they first understand this concept since everything is based off of a false pretense that one can define the word В‘good'. Then he goes on to explain the futility of arguing against this fallacy which goes into good depth (but isn't really necessary to explain for the purpose of this paper).

All in all, I completely agree with G.E. Moore's assessment that the term В‘good' is indefinable and that philosophers too often try to define the term making the basis for their whole theories false.

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