Let's take the open question argument to basically be that if we tried to provide a reductive definition of (e.g.) goodness in non-non-naturalistic terms (so naturalistic terms), we can always nevertheless ask/doubt whether said (non-non-)naturalistic definition of goodness was such that upon its criteria being satisfied we could say both that those criteria were satisfied and that that's what goodness amounts to (in a sort of biconditional relation).

I have heard it said that G.E. Moore, who came up with this argument, eventually rejected the open question argument. I can't find a citation for such anywhere. So where (in what text) and on what basis did Moore reject the argument, if he even did?

Note: I don't think the open question argument, as charitably understood as possible, makes much room for non-naturalism since we can always press on how we got extensionality without knowing what criteria constitute the intensionality of a moral predicate.

  • Why do you say non-non-naturalism, and how are you distinguishing this from naturalism? Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 1:23
  • @MoziburUllah because that's the standard term and the one used by Moore. Basically, can we define morals in terms of natural properties (those available for us to discover via empirical methods)? If yes, you're a naturalist. If not, and you think morals can't be reduced to natural properties, but rather moral properties are sui generis, or unique unto themselves, then you're a non-naturalist. Non-naturalists tend to say we can somehow access said properties through a faculty of ethical intuition. Moore says the open question argument yields that non-naturalism is our only option, but he later Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 15:21
  • @MoziburUllah apparently later rejected it. No one has been able to explain why yet. No one has given me a citation for his REJECTION, not his first proposal of the argument Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 15:21
  • I looked up the discussion on Moore's open question at the SEP not having come across it before; and the discussion there is in terms non-naturalism; I was simply wondering why you chose to use the term 'non-non-naturalism' for 'naturalism'; is there a distinction or not - or is it just a play with words? Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 2:37
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    If no-one can find a citation, perhaps he didn't reject it; after all, he was certainly well known for it, its one of the leading articles on the SEP about Moore; it would be striking if Einstein came up with relativity, only later to reject it? Do you have a citation where this possibility is discussed? I mean of Moore, and not Einstein? Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 2:47

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I'm not quite sure where the vitriol regarding your lack of reference might be coming from, but Moore did later reject almost everything in Principia Ethica, which presumably included the Open Question Argument. He wrote 'I now see that this book as it stands is full of mistakes and confusions' (from G. E. Moore: Early Philosophical Writings).

In the abandoned preface to the second edition of Principia Ethica, Moore expressed a concern that the Open Question Argument might be nothing but tautology ('good' is 'good' and nothing else), but he concluded that it was still useful to point out this tautology in order to avoid the naturalistic fallacy.

Not a rejection specifically of the Open Question Argument, but 'full of mistakes and confusions' is certainly quite damning, so could well be what you're thinking of.

Moore's thinking in later life certainly took a turn for the slightly more pragmatic and so common sense concepts like a naturalistic good would be far more acceptable to him.

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