A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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b) The resurgence of the concept of value

1) The confusion between good and value

However, if we read the Principia Ethica carefully, we realize that there is a concept that Moore has substituted for good, over and over again, as if they were absolutely equivalent, the concept of value.
This can firstly be observed in the preface of the book: I have tried to shew exactly what it is that we ask about a thing, when we ask whether it ought to exist for its own sake, is good in itself or has intrinsic value 1.

Moore identifies two concepts here: “good in itself” and “intrinsic value”. It can be noted that he does not even bother to justify this identity. This is crucial: Why does Moore, who always tries to justify each of his ideas and thoroughly examine the meaning of the words he employs, to the extent of making incessant (and sometimes laborious) distinctions, make this identification without providing any explanation? This phenomenon may be observed in many other sections, as we shall see further.

The only plausible reason seems to be the following one, which is in two parts.

First of all, this identity between good and value is not synthetic due to the fact that every synthetic identity requires a justification. If I assert that there is a relation between two different concepts (like “dwarf” and “rich”), I must justify this connection. However, if it is an analytic identity, which is purely tautological, if the word is replaced by a synonym, then this substitution can be performed immediately, casually, without any hesitation.

Secondly, if Moore allows himself to make such a substitution, it is because it is obvious for him. Where does this evidence come from? There are two solutions, which may both be true.

This identity may be validated by common sense, and found in standard English, in the early 20th century: “good” and “value” are used interchangeably. Moore accepts this English tradition, anchored in ordinary speech, without any critical examination.

He actually expresses interest in this ordinary language as he specifies that he has used the word “good” according to its usual meaning: My business is solely with that object or idea, which I hold, rightly or wrongly, that the word [Good] is generally used to stand for. What I want to discover is the nature of that object or idea 2.

This identity may also be explained by the fact that moral philosophy has, throughout its history, made this type of identification, claiming that values and the concept of good are one and the same. As soon as it emerges, the problem of values becomes the question of the “ultimate good” or “summum bonum”, or “ariston agathon”.

1. Ibid., preface
2. Ibid., chap. 1, §6