Sunday 7 July 2024

Why G.E Moore was wrong

 Idealism is the notion that everything, deep down, is spiritual.  This is because stuff is stuff we can know about- i.e. it is what knowledge is about- but it generally turns out that the 'letter' of knowledge concerning stuff is different from the 'spirit' which may involve abstractions of a nomothetic, not ideographic, sort.

One might say 'knowledge is rigid. It features 'akreibia'. That which is of the essence, escapes its net. By contrast the Spirit has a 'mysterious economy' whereby it achieves Wisdom and Liberation from Delusion.

Bertrand Russell and G.E Moore thought they could get rid of idealism by giving precise 'extensions' to 'intensions'. This is because they, for some bizarre reason, thought Knowledge must be 'complete'- i.e. everything true could be known to be true. There was no need for mystical insight or intuition or some special psychological disposition or phenomenological training. 

Just as the Indian Civil Service was doing a great job running India, so too Cambridge dons would create a 'steel-frame' to administer Knowledge such that it would come to coincide with Wisdom. An algorithmic Akreibia would build up into a complete Economia. Humanity would make rapid progress, by purely rational methods, in the Natural, Social, Mathematical and Moral Sciences. 

Russell & Whitehead produced Principia Mathematica which failed immediately because of the 'intensional fallacy' only curable by a theory of types more ramified than aught that can exist. Epistemic objects don't obey Leibniz's law of identity. G.E Moore's Principia Ethica- which he claimed to be the 'Prolegomena to any future Ethics that can possibly pretend to be scientific'- failed more dismally for the same reason.

It appears to me that in Ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which its history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer.

You can't if the question concerns epistemic objects. This is because they change as the knowledge base changes. Sure, if you assume there is some 'complete' rational Knowledge system somewhere out there, they you can say 'once we have that Holy Grail, then all sorts of questions would be easy to answer.' But this is a tautology. Once we know the answer, we know the answer.  


I have tried in this book to distinguish clearly two kinds of question, which moral philosophers have always professed to[p. viii] answer, but which, as I have tried to shew, they have almost always confused both with one another and with other questions. These two questions may be expressed, the first in the form: What kind of things ought to exist for their own sakes?

Gods? Platonic forms? All God's creatures- it is a crime to kill a cockroach. Also girls are being very mean in that they are refusing to give more of my spermatozoa a chance to fertilise one of their eggs.  

the second in the form: What kind of actions ought we to perform?

If you have an answer to the first question, the second is automatically answered. You should be doing stuff to ensure things which ought to exist for their own sake can do continue to do so or  come to do so. 

Speaking 'imperatively', we often answer both questions simultaneously- e.g. 'don't bother to mail the check to the insurance company. Just burn the house down already.' The meaning is 'it is good to have fire insurance even if you have taken all proper precautions to make your house fire-proof. Having an insurance policy is something good in itself. Kindly ensure your insurance premiums are being paid regularly.'

Here, everything depends on the knowledge base. Questions don't matter in the slightest. They add no value because there is neither 'epistemic' nor 'metaphysical' analyticity here- i.e. there is no 'truth by virtue of meaning'. There is merely a structural causal model of a 'common knowledge' type.

But from a clear insight into the nature of these two questions, there appears to me to follow a second most important result: namely, what is the nature of the evidence, by which alone any ethical proposition can be proved or disproved, confirmed or rendered doubtful.

The answer is- a 'witness'- e.g. an angel of the Lord or a 'voice from Heaven' or an epiphany or a Damascene conversion experience or a guy known to be smart and good who confirms you are doing the right thing.  

Once we recognise the exact meaning of the two questions, I think it also becomes plain exactly what kind of reasons are relevant as arguments for or against any particular answer to them.

No. The fact is I may have all sorts of 'witnesses' confirming I should stop eating and drinking so much but if I don't actually do as I believe I ought to do, then, it follows, whatever ethical or empirical argument or witness I have access to is not, in my case, 'prescriptive'. There is no normative tie to action. It may be that I will finally give up my gluttonous habits if the current Miss Teen Tamil Nadu turns to me with tears in her eyes and says "I too was a fat elderly man. Then I gave up beer and pizza. Look at me now! You too can do it! I want you, and not some chit of a girl, to be my successor. By the Grace of Lord Murugan, I am certain you can do it!'  

It becomes plain that, for answers to the first question, no relevant evidence whatever can be adduced: from no other truth, except themselves alone, can it be inferred that they are either true or false.

No. It is plain that evidence relevant to me won't be relevant to you. But to say there is no 'natural' (i.e. non-arbitrary), or 'canonical', or 'interpersonal' or 'objective' criteria here is to say nothing at all. The fact is, we can't all simultaneously wear the same pair of underpants. Even if everybody, past a certain age, should wear underpants coz bathrobes can get undone when you open the door to the Pizza guy, it does not follow that they have to agree as to what type of underpants they should wear. 

As for the second question, it becomes equally plain, that any answer to it is capable of proof or disproof—that, indeed, so many different considerations are relevant to its truth or falsehood, as to make the attainment of probability very difficult, and the attainment of certainty impossible.

So what? Nothing 'epistemic' is certain- neither the 'intension', nor the 'extension'. This is true in Math & Medicine & Marketing and making Miaow Miaow noises.  

Nevertheless the kind of evidence, which is both necessary and alone relevant to such proof and disproof, is capable of exact[p. ix] definition.

In which case the relevant 'extension' is well defined. In Arithmetic, we can have a 'true complete' theory provided we exclude division. In other words, by the time your kid is discovering fractions, his epistemic system has outgrown Moore's puerile world view. 

Such evidence must contain propositions of two kinds and of two kinds only: it must consist, in the first place, of truths with regard to the results of the action in question—of causal truths

which are inaccessible to us. We don't know all possible states of the world or their probability. All we can gain evidence of is correlation, not causality. Epistemic systems may feature 'structural causal models' but they are not unique, not 'natural' (i.e. non arbitrary) nor are they complete, certain, etc.  

—but it must also contain ethical truths of our first or self-evident class.

A thing may be self-evident but still 'defeasible'. It is self-evident that I have shit for brains. But that doesn't mean I can't defeat any argument made by a Philosophy professor- because they are stupider, or have to pretend to be.  

Many truths of both kinds are necessary to the proof that any action ought to be done; and any other kind of evidence is wholly irrelevant.

No. Spiritual evidence is the only thing that is relevant. Ethics is about changing your ethos. It becomes better when it becomes more 'spiritual' and less materialistic. No doubt, views of spirituality may differ but, for all we know, there is some higher type of spirituality such that as Meister Eckhart says, Mary comes to see that actually it was Martha who took the better path. 

Anal-tickle philosophy failed because epistemic 'intensions' don't have well defined extensions and don't obey Leibniz's laws of identity, continuity, etc. Idealism or Platonism or Intuitionism of various sorts we will always have with us. Such things may make us better at Math or better as people. Russell & Moore could do neither. Shame, but there it is. 

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