Philosophy G. E. Moore
Brian Hutchinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0222


G. E. Moore (b. 1873–d. 1958) is credited, along with Bertrand Russell, for doing the most in the early 20th century to weaken the hold of idealism on English language philosophy and for advancing the method of analysis, which through its many permutations can be considered still to be the prevailing way of doing philosophy in English. He was also known for his tireless defense of “common sense” as a source of knowledge about the world against many different kinds of philosophical attacks against it. His making much of the fact that philosophers often make a point of criticizing our common understanding of the world without any good reason to do so makes him, along with Ludwig Wittgenstein (b. 1889–d. 1951), with whom he was in close personal and philosophical contact, a searching critic of philosophy. He did not, however, follow Wittgenstein in advocating a therapeutic philosophical approach, as he found that, despite their confusions, philosophers did raise genuine questions. Philosophers such as A. J. Ayer (b. 1919–d. 1989) found that the analytic method Moore did so much to foster revealed the genuine philosophical core of questions while eliminating their “metaphysical” dross. A much-discussed question of Moore scholarship concerns his strategy of pointing philosophers to, or even of “proving” to them, various things that, in his opinion, they know, and their denial of which he considers to send their philosophy off track. How is he proposing to proceed, given that the most salient feature of their theorizing is their resistance to the very things he would point out or prove to them? This question arises in one or another form in all the areas of his greatest contributions: ethics, where, except for a momentary wobble, he defended a robust objectivism; epistemology, where his defense of a sense data theory of perception sits uneasily with his view that we have certain knowledge of the existence of mind-independent material objects; metaphysics, where his defense of universals bolsters the act-object theory of consciousness he advocated against idealist theories; and metaphilosophy, whose issues he usually broached in discussions of more specific topics. His disarming philosophical approach to issues appears to have stemmed from his unassuming, even innocent, character, for which he was much admired. Despite being shocked by the peculiar things many philosophers said, he trusted that they would accept the truth about an issue if only it were sufficiently clarified. At times he risks tedium in the pursuit of clarity, but at other times, the clarity he achieves gives his writing an austere beauty.

General Overviews

Baldwin 1990, dealing with all aspects of Moore’s work and tracing its development from the idealist views he came so forcefully to reject, can profitably be read by advanced undergraduates and professional philosophers alike. Klemke 1969 and Klemke 2000, two books demanding close attention, deal thoughtfully and at length with, respectively, Moore’s epistemology and his metaphysics. The combination of breadth and concision in the discussion of Moore’s metaphysical thought in O’Connor 1982 makes it a good place for graduate students to begin an in-depth study of Moore. Displaying an impressive fingertip knowledge of Moore’s many papers, White 1958 will be most helpful to readers with prior knowledge of English language philosophy in the first half of the 20th century. Careful readers with some knowledge of Moore’s opinions on different topics will find Nelson 1967, the dense entry on Moore from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, to be helpful in tying them together.

  • Baldwin, Thomas. G. E. Moore. New York: Routledge, 1990.

    This largest of books devoted to the entirety of Moore’s philosophy begins by examining his early flirtation with idealism, moves to his defense of “pure” realism, and ends with his acceptance of a less “pure” form of realism. Can profitably be dipped into.

  • Klemke, Elmer D. The Epistemology of G. E. Moore. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

    Sifts through Moore’s writings on method, knowledge, and perception to show the variety of views he held or considered while adhering to the same general line on them. Sections can profitably be read independently of each other. For advanced readers.

  • Klemke, Elmer D. A Defense of Realism: Reflections on the Metaphysics of G. E. Moore. Amherst, NY: Humanity, 2000.

    Examines what the author takes to be best in Moore’s metaphysics. Argues that Moore’s analytical work almost always serves a classical understanding of metaphysics. Little interest in the history of Moore’s views or with what others have said about them. For advanced readers.

  • Nelson, John O. “G. E. Moore.” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 5. Edited by Paul Edwards, 372–381. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

    Dense discussion tying together Moore’s views on method, metaphysics, general epistemology, perception, and value that takes greater note of the discontinuities between Moore’s pre- and post-1903 thought than the continuities. Notes that Moore became more resigned to the difficulty of philosophy in his later years.

  • O’Connor, David. The Metaphysics of G. E. Moore. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-7749-5

    Argues that Moore’s philosophical defense of common sense precludes neither a materialistic analysis of mind nor a phenomenalistic analysis of physical objects; it does, however, require a realist theory of universals.

  • White, Alan R. G. E. Moore: A Critical Exposition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958.

    Lucid introduction to Moore’s thought, published shortly after his death. Follows Moore’s own division of topics in Schilpp 1968 (cited under Anthologies) into method, ethics, and perception. Concentrates on method, the topic about which Moore explicitly said the least.

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