less than 1 minute read


The Good In Metaethics

Especially during the first half of the twentieth century, for philosophers in the Anglo-American "tradition," metaethics (an analysis of the distinctive language of moral discourse) tended to replace direct ethical and metaphysical argument. Thus in his Principia Ethica (1903), G. E. Moore argued for the indefinability of the term good and against attempts to construe "good" naturalistically. Moore pointed out in his famous "open question test" that one might significantly ask whether, say, pleasure is good, but not whether "good is good" (thus arguing that goodness could not be defined as or identified with such natural qualities as pleasure). The next-generation Oxford moral philosopher R. M. Hare (1919–2002) explained Moore's results by claiming that that ascribing "goodness" to an object is not describing it at all but performing a different type of linguistic act, one of "commending." Still, a third highly influential British metaethicist, Philippa Foot, advanced a form of naturalism with affinities to Aristotle. Foot was especially critical of an apparent consequence of Hare's "non-descriptive" account: that one could call literally anything good as long as one was performing an act of commending it.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Glucagon to HabitatGood - Moral Versus Nonmoral Good, Intrinsic And Merely Instrumental Good, Teleological Versus Consequentialist Views Of The Good