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Principia Ethica

G. E. Moore, original 1903 (Dover Publications: Aug 2004), 256 pages.

It took us thousands of years of struggling with science and ethics before we thought to combine the two. While scientific ethics has advanced only gradually, the science of ethics burst into existence in 1903 with the publication of G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, which did for the study of morality what Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica did for mathematics — clarify old confusions and define terms that are still with us today. Practically overnight, ethicists turned into meta-ethicists, studying their own terms to establish theoretical ground on which to stand before trying to build any prescriptive edifices. Moore begins by clearing up some of the most widely spread confusions plaguing moral philosophy, such as the naturalistic fallacy of Bentham, Spencer, and others who insisted on a precise, concrete definition of good. According to Moore, we have to settle for an intuitive assessment of goodness, and his arguments are powerfully compelling. Proceeding to define terms and territory that have lasted a century, he revolutionized philosophy and single-handedly altered the course of ethical studies for generations. While Principia Ethica isn’t the easiest book to read (a dictionary of philosophy comes in handy for most of us), it is well worth careful study by anyone interested in the difference between right and wrong. ~ Rob Lightner at

Table of Contents

    • Editor’s introduction
    • Preface to the Second Edition    1
    • Preface to the First Edition    33
    • Table of Contents to the First Edition    39
    • Ch. I    The Subject-Matter of Ethics    53
    • Ch. II    Naturalistic Ethics    89
    • Ch. III    Hedonism    111
    • Ch. IV    Metaphysical Ethics    161
    • Ch. V    Ethics in Relation to Conduct    192
    • Ch. VI    The Ideal    232
    • Index to the First Edition    274
    • The Conception of Intrinsic Value    280
    • Free Will    299
    • Appendix: ‘Principia Ethica’ and ‘The Elements of Ethics’    312