A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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3) The enigma of chapter VI

Towards the end of the book, an enigmatic passage catches our attention. Moore defines good as an objective predicate of value and then as an unanalysable predicate of value: It appears, at first sight, to be a strange coincidence, that there should be two different objective predicates of value, good and beautiful, which are nevertheless so related to one another that whatever is beautiful is also good.
But, if our definition be correct, the strangeness disappears; since it leaves only one unanalyzable predicate of value, namely good, while beautiful, though not identical with, is to be defined by reference to this, being thus, at the same time, different from and necessarily connected with it
1.

What leads us to stop here is that Moore seems for the first time to be interested in the problem of the relationship between the concepts of "value" and "good". He is content to say that one is a predicate of the other. In the end, this is of little help. For to be a predicate of something is to be linked to it by the verb "to be". But Moore gives us no indication of the nature of this link. Here again, the link can be synthetic or analytic (in a tautology like "a cat is a cat", the predicate "a cat" is linked to the subject "a cat").

So here, Moore is telling us nothing other than that there is a certain relationship between value and good. A relationship of synonymy, of genus to species, etc.? Moore does not say. Nevertheless, here Moore is explicitly posing the relationship between the concepts of good and value for the first time. But we have to be content with a non-answer.


4) The clarifications in the preface to the second edition

The preface to the second edition is of particular interest in that, a few years after the publication of his work, Moore took a critical look at it, and his remarkable intellectual probity led him to reject several of his own ideas.

For the first time, he defines the relationship between value and good. It is a relation of kind to species: It may, I think, also be expressed by saying that good is an intrinsic kind of value. When people talk of a thing's possessing 'intrinsic value', part of what they mean is, I think, always that it possesses a kind of value which has this property [being good] 2.

Let us be clear: value is the broadest class, which contains within itself, like a genus, the narrower class of good. Let us take a telling image: good is to value what a Granny Smith is to an apple, or what a waltz is to music.

Moore insists: Good and some other predicates [...] share with it the peculiarity that to ascribe them to things is to ascribe a kind of value to these things [...]. In saying this of Good, I am, therefore, I think, ascribing to it a very peculiar position among predicates 3.

We can see that value is at last beginning to appear in the light, and that Moore decides to examine it. However, this reflection ends immediately, since he only states what its link is with the concept of good, and never thinks about it in order to decide what it is in itself. It is extraordinary that Moore should write a hundred pages looking for a definition of the good (only to conclude that there is none), and devote absolutely no line to value, considered in itself. So we know that the good is a kind of value, which does not get us any further, since we do not know what value is in Moore's thinking.

Above all, it is hard to see how Moore can maintain that the good is a simple notion which, unlike complex notions, contains no other notion. For if the good is a kind of value, it must at least contain within itself the notion of which it is one of the kinds: that of value. To take our example again, what would a Granny Smith be if it did not contain within itself the notion of an apple? What is a waltz if it has nothing to do with music?

This invalidates Moore's main thesis, which is the subject of chapter 1 of the Principia Ethica. Moore, however, does not seem to see this. On the other hand, as if he had foreseen the problem, he puts forward an argument that could constitute an interesting defence.

In fact, he concedes that we can find synonyms for "good" and that they can be substituted. He even explicitly states that the concept of value is one of these synonyms (this realisation is a definite step forward). On the other hand, he remains firm on the following position: good can never be replaced by another concept that would analyse it. So he distinguishes between expressing the meaning of a term using other terms that contain an analysis of that meaning, and expressing the meaning of a term using other terms.

Only the second case is possible for "good" according to Moore: It may possibly be true that Good is unanalyzable, and therefore cannot be expressed by other words, which contain an analysis of it. But it is certainly not true that it cannot be expressed by other words, at all. [...] In English, we [use] other words or phrases as synonyms for 'good', in this sense. It is obvious, for instance, that the word 'desirable' is sometimes so used; and so also is the phrase 'intrinsically valuable', which I myself use for it later. It is therefore simply false that Good is different from any predicate which we express by words or phrases other than 'good' 4.

1. Ibid., chap. 6, §121
2. Ibid., Preface to the second edition, 4
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 3