An Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics

By Scott M. James | Go to book overview

8
Moore’s Naturalistic Fallacy

If I am asked, “What is good?” my answer is that good is good, and that is
the end of the matter
.

(G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica)

I noted in chapter 7 that one of the implications of Hume’s Law was the autonomy of moral theory. If no moral conclusion (i.e., a claim about what ought to be the case) follows deductively from purely descriptive claims (i.e., claims about what is the case), then every moral claim must rest on some other moral claim – assuming it is not self-supporting. This seems to imply that moral theory must always look “within itself” for justification. Hume had his own ways of spelling this out (and it wasn’t good news for those hoping to ground a “science of morals”). In the twentieth century G.E. Moore developed a different set of arguments designed to reveal explicitly why morality was autonomous. And in Moore’s sights was Herbert Spencer. Moore left little doubt as to what his opinion of the Social Darwinist project was. He accepted Darwin’s ideas insofar as they applied to fields outside moral theory, but he strongly rejected any effort to use Darwin’s ideas to justify a system of morality. In fact, Moore’s argument went further. If successful, the argument promised to show that no attempt to identify moral properties with naturalistic properties could possibly succeed. The gap between (natural) facts and values is not merely hard to bridge; it’s unbridgeable.

Of course an argument that purports to establish a claim like that immediately arouses philosophers’ suspicions, and in the next chapter we’ll consider the possibility that maybe Moore bit off more than he could chew. In the meantime, we’ll take apart Moore’s argument to see how it works. To get the ball rolling, I’m going to repeat the strategy I employed in the previous chapter: I’m going to start with an analogy.

-143-

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