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Should we pass the buck?


My topic is the relation between the right and the good. I introduce it by relating some aspects of the debate between various British intuitionists in the first half of the present century.

In Principia Ethica (1903) G. E. Moore claimed that to be right is to be productive of the greatest good. He wrote ‘This use of “right”, as denoting what is good as a means, whether or not it be also good as an end, is indeed the use to which I shall confine the word’ (p. 18). By the time he wrote his Ethics (1912, e.g. p. 6) he seems to have weakened his position, and offers conduciveness to the good not as a definition of ‘right’ but as an account of the one and only property that makes acts right. Even if it be the only right-making property, conduciveness to the good will not be identical with the right-ness that it makes.

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Ewing A. C. (1947) The Definition of Good (London: Macmillan).
Joseph H. W. B. (1931) Some Problems in Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Moore G. E. (1903) Principia Ethica (Cambridge University Press).
Moore G. E. (1912) Ethics (Cambridge University Press).
Ross Sir W. D. (1930) The Right and the Good (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Ross Sir W. D. (1939) Foundations of Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Scanlon T. M. (1999) What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press).
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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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