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Philosophy 302: Ethics
G. E. Moore, "The Objectivity of Moral Judgments"

Abstract:  Ethical emotivism and consensus gentium as a basis for ethics leads to contradictions.  Moral judgments cannot neither be based on popular appeal nor feelings.

1. The emotive theory of ethics bases rightness and wrongness on emotions. Explain Moore's characterization of the theory.

2. Explain how the two steps Moore describes indicate that the emotive theory of ethics is inconsistent: (1) his argument from emotivism and (2) his argument from moral progress.

3. Explain how personal feelings as to moral approval and disapproval in different persons might not be contradictory.

4. Explain Moore's argument against relativism based on the meanings of the words "right" and "wrong."

5. Why is ethics not sociologically based according to Moore? I.e., why is not ethics based on measures of social approval?

6. What is Moore's argument that ethics is not based upon what most people think?


1. The emotive theory of ethics bases rightness and wrongness on emotions. Explain Moore's characterization of the theory.

Moore states that some people believe that when they use the terms "right" and "wrong" they are stating their feelings toward the actions at issue. 

 Since different persons have different feelings as to the rightness or wrongness of actions, the conclusion is often supposed that the same action is both right and wrong.

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2. Explain how the two steps Moore describes indicate that the emotive theory of ethics is inconsistent: (1) his argument from emotivism and (2) his argument from moral progress.

The first step points out that if I have a certain feeling, a judgment about an action is true of false based on my feelings of right or wrong.  The second step notes when two persons disagree in attitude or feelings, the same action is both right and wrong.

If we look at different stages of society or different societies, classes of actions are sometimes considered right and sometimes wrong depending on the society.  Without an objective sense of "right" there is no consistent meaning to the word.

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3. Explain how personal feelings as to moral approval and disapproval in different persons might not be contradictory.

If each person is only stating his or her own feelings then there is no contradiction. One person is not denying what the other is asserting; there is just a difference of opinion.

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4. Explain Moore's argument against relativism based on the meanings of the words "right" and "wrong."

Each person cannot define "right" by that person's feelings because then the word would have no consistent meaning nor a consistent use. The same action would be both right and wrong. Hence, the rightness and wrongness of actions cannot be based on feelings.

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5. Why is ethics not sociologically based according to Moore? I.e., why is not ethics based on measures of social approval?

If right and wrong is based on the approval of a specific society, then, since different societies differ as to what is right and wrong, the words would have no consistent use from society to society.  The same action could be considered right in one society and wrong in the other.

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6. What is Moore's argument that ethics is not based upon what most people think?

Moore says that it may well be true that moral judgments developed from feelings. However, it is a fallacy to suppose that because of this origin, moral judgments are judgments about feelings.

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Recommended Sources

G. E. Moore.:  Overview description of Moore's life and philosophy with links. 

"The Nature of Moral Philosophy" by G. E. MooreCenter for the Study of Great Philosophical Problems. Moore's well-known paper originally published in his Philosophical Studies.

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