THE IDEAL by G.E. Moore

“Those idealistic philosophers, whose views agree most closely with those here advocated, in that they deny pleasure to the sole good and regard what is completely good as having some complexity, have usually represented a purely spiritual state of existence as the Ideal. Regarding matter as essentially imperfect, if not positively evil, they have concluded that the total absence of all material properties is necessary to a state of perfection. Now, according to what has been said, this view would be correct so far as it asserts that any great good must be mental, and so far as it asserts that a purely material existence, by itself, can have little or no value. The superiority of the spiritual over the material has, in a sense, been amply vindicated. But it does not follow, from this superiority, that a perfect state of things must be one, from which all material properties are rigidly excluded: on the contrary, if our conclusions are correct, it would seem to be the case that a state of things, in which they are included, must be vastly better than any conceivable state in which they were absent. In order to see that this is so, the chief thing necessary to be considered is exactly what it is which we declare to be good when we declare that the appreciation of beauty in Art and Nature is so. (…) I have tried to shew, and I think it is too evident to be disputed, that such appreciation is an organic unity, a complex whole; and that, in its most undoubted instances, part of what is included in this whole is a cognition of material qualities, and particularly of a vast variety of what are called secondary qualities. If, then, it is this whole, which we know to be good, and not another thing, then we know that material qualities, even though they be perfectly worthless in themselves, are yet essential constituents of what is far from worthless. What we know to be valuable is the apprehension of just these qualities, and not of any others; and, if we propose to subtract them from it, then what we have left is not that which we know to have value, but something else. (…) It must, then, be admitted on pain of self-contradiction that a world, from which material qualities were wholly banished, would be a world which lacked many, if not all, of those things, which we know most certainly to be great goods. (…) We are entitled to assert that material qualities are a necessary constituent of the Ideal; that, though something utterly unknown might be better than any world containing either them or any other good we know, yet we have no reason to suppose that anything whatever would be better than a state of things in which they were included. To deny and exclude matter, is to deny and exclude the best we know. That a thing may retain its value, while losing some of its qualities, is utterly untrue. (…) What I contend is that nothing, which we know to be good and which contains no material qualities, has such great value that we can declare it, by itself, to be superior to the whole which would be formed by the addition to it of an appreciation of material qualities. That a purely spiritual good may be the best of single things, I am not much concerned to dispute, although, in what has been said with regard to the nature of personal affection, I have given reasons for doubting it.”


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