Moore, George Edward

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Moore, George Edward

George Edward Moore, 1873–1958, English philosopher, b. Upper Norwood. He was educated at Cambridge, where he was a fellow (1898–1904) and then a lecturer (1911–25) in the department of moral sciences. He was professor of philosophy from 1925 until his retirement in 1939 as professor emeritus. He edited (1921–47) the journal Mind and was also visiting professor at various universities in the United States from 1940 to 1944. Moore's earliest writings were strongly influenced by the idealism of F. H. Bradley and the transcendental epistemology of Immanuel Kant, and ranged from idealism to realism. After 1903, however, with the publication of Principia Ethica and "The Refutation of Idealism," he became more interested in critical epistemology, i.e., in distinguishing between acts of consciousness and their possible objects, and between the ways in which we can be said to know and the things we can know. In Principia Ethica he argued that to define the concept of the good in terms of other concepts would involve the "naturalistic fallacy" —i.e., the fallacy of identifying the good with some physical or psychological quality such as pleasure or self-realization. The book was influential among members of the Bloomsbury group. Along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein he was concerned with the philosophical problems caused by the imprecisions of ordinary language, but he did not consider linguistic analysis the main interest of philosophy. He was also concerned with the distinction between a "sense datum" and a material thing, although he never defined the distinction to his own satisfaction. He defended common sense as a limited but not inadmissible criterion for certainty. Although Moore's philosophy provides no systematic doctrine, and indeed progresses toward fragmented and inconclusive investigations (he himself admitted he had not been "a good answerer of philosophical questions" ), he provided closely reasoned investigations of questions important to modern philosophy, and added to an atmosphere of inquiry by his capacity to deal freshly with problems, always placing truth before consistency or the desire for an answer. His other writings include Ethics (1912), Philosophical Studies (1922), Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953), and Commonplace Book, 1919–53 (ed. by Casimir Lewey, 1962). Moore's autobiography and "A Reply to My Critics" appear in The Philosophy of G. E. Moore (ed. by P. A. Schilpp, 3d ed. 1968).

See A. Ambrose, ed., G. E. Moore: Essays in Retrospect (1970); A. J. Ayer, Russell and Moore: The Analytical Heritage (1971).

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