(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Moore, G. E. 1873-1958

(Full name George Edward Moore) English philosopher and editor.

With Bertrand Russell, Moore is considered one of the two most important English philosophers of the first half of the twentieth century. Moore, Russell, and Austrian-born Ludwig Wittgenstein constituted the influential trio of analytical and phenomenological philosophers residing at Cambridge's Trinity College. From their respective academic positions, the philosophers formulated the tenets of New Realism, derived in part from German phenomenologist Alexius Meinong's theory of objects, which postulated the difference between objectives and objects. Moore also concerned himself with moral philosophy, as evidenced by his major work Principia Ethica. In this work Moore expressed that, in attempting to define the concept of good, an individual commits the "naturalistic fallacy," which is the assumption that good is capable of being defined inasmuch as definitions require their objects to comprise parts, but good abjures definition because of its simple nature. The work is also notable for its impact on the Bloomsbury Group, which included Moore, Clive Bell, Desmond MacCarthy, John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, and E. M. Forster.

Biographical Information

Moore was born in Upper Norwood, an affluent suburb of London, the fifth of eight children. In 1892 he was awarded an academic scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met classmate Bertrand Russell. The two men were to share ideas and inspire each other throughout their respective careers. Moore completed his degree and earned a fellowship prize for his essay on Immanuel Kant's views on ethics. The prize enabled him to spend the next six years reading philosophy and formulating the ideas that became Principia Ethica. A sizeable inheritance afforded Moore the opportunity to spend the next several years refining his philosophy. In 1911 Cambridge installed him as a professor of psychology. In 1925 he was made Professor of Philosophy, a position he held until his retirement in 1939. Moore took over as editor of the philosophical journal Mind in 1921. After his retirement and through the duration of World War II, Moore lectured in the United States.

Major Works

Moore's essay "Refutation of Idealism" appeared in a 1903 issue of Mind. This essay is credited as the opening salvo of the British New Realism, a branch of philosophy with which Bertrand Russell was closely aligned. New Realism responded to the metaphysical idealism advocated by F. H. Bradley and George Berkeley, which maintained that, as Berkeley wrote, "To be is to be perceived," meaning an object's existence depends upon its being perceived. Berkeley used the fact that objects persist in their being even when creatures are not present to perceive them to postulate the existence of God, a supreme being who perceives all objects at all times, thus ensuring their continued existence. Moore's argument, echoing that of Meinong. was that common sense (i.e. objectivity) provided proof positive that objects exist whether or not a being is present to perceive them. In other words, New Realism distinguishes between the act of awareness and the object of awareness. Supporting this argument, in his essay "A Defense of Common Sense," Moore employed "two distinct elements, one which I call consciousness, and the other which I call the object of consciousness." In this essay Moore proposed that there is no basis for the belief that physical reality relies on mental reality; nor is there an inherent causality between physical reality and mental perception. In "A Defense of Common Sense" Moore also argued that the true function of philosophy lay in its analysis of reality, not its definition of it. For example, when it is said that the sky is blue, the veracity of the comment cannot be denied because common sense tells the listener that the statement is true. Philosophy exists to analyze such true statements because listeners' understanding that a statement is true does not necessarily imply that they understand the speaker's full meaning. In Principia Ethica Moore continued to emphasize reason over idealism, but allowed that individuals should enjoy every experience through the cultivation of friendships and a thorough appreciation of the arts: "By far the most valuable things, which we know or can imagine, are certain states of consciousness, which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects," which became the credo of The Bloomsbury Group.