George Edward Moore

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George Edward Moore

The English philosopher George Edward Moore (1873-1958) was one of the originators of conceptual and linguistic analysis, the dominant trend in modern English philosophy.

Born on Nov. 4, 1873, in Upper Norwood, a suburb of London, G. E. Moore was the fifth of eight children in a cultivated family. After initial tutoring at home by his father, Moore was sent to a nearby day school, Dulwich College. There he pursued classical studies and music and formed the basis for his fine prose style. Excellence in these studies won him a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1892.

At Cambridge, Moore discovered philosophy and a wide circle of friends, Bertrand Russell introducing him to both. After completing his degree with a first, Moore won the annual fellowship prize with an essay on Immanuel Kant's ethics. The 6 years of leisure provided by the fellowship enabled Moore to break away from the idealism of J. M. E. McTaggart and F. H. Bradley and to begin to work out his own philosophical views. At the end of this period his first mature work, Principia Ethica (1903), was finished.

After a period of independent scholarship, supported by a comfortable inheritance, Moore was invited back to Cambridge in 1911 as a lecturer in psychology. In 1925 he became professor of philosophy there and held this post until his retirement in 1939. The extraordinary impact Moore had upon his students may be gathered from J. M. Keynes's delightful account in Two Memoirs (1949). After 1929 Moore attended Ludwig Wittgenstein's lectures and Wittgenstein attended Moore's; between them the two philosophers fundamentally altered the character of English philosophy.

Moore's work is essentially one of analysis and criticism. He has aptly characterized his interest in philosophy as follows: "I do not think that the world or the sciences would ever have suggested to me any philosophical problems. What has suggested philosophical problems to me is things which other philosophers have said about the world or the sciences." He is thus a philosopher's philosopher. He taught his pupils patient and painstaking analysis of concepts, of claims, and, in particular, of their linguistic expression. Moore had a passion for clarity and propriety of usage; he also insisted on the rights of common sense, not as the ultimate norm but as one important basis for criticism, not to be lightly dismissed.

After retirement Moore lectured widely in the United States until 1944. He died on Oct. 24, 1958, in Cambridge, England. His principal works include Philosophical Studies (1922), Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953), and Philosophical Papers (1959).

Further Reading

Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of G. E. Moore (1942; 2d ed. 1952), contains a brief but charming "Autobiography" by Moore, numerous critical essays on his philosophy together with a long "Reply to My Critics," and a detailed bibliography. A major systematic presentation and critique of Moore's work is Alan R. White, G. E. Moore: A Critical Exposition (1958), which also includes a bibliography of Moore's work after 1942.

Additional Sources

Levy, Paul, Moore: G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980, 1979. □

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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).