The Journal of Ethics 24 (1):91-117 (2020)

Jean-Paul Vessel
New Mexico State University
§13 of Principia Ethica contains G. E. Moore’s most famous open question arguments. Several of Moore’s contemporaries defended various forms of metaethical nonnaturalism—a doctrine Moore himself endorsed—by appeal to OQAs. Some contemporary cognitivists embrace the force of Moore’s OQAs against metaethical naturalism. And those who posit noncognitivist meaning components of ethical terms have traditionally used OQAs to fuel their own emotivist, prescriptivist, and expressivist metaethical programs. Despite this influence, Moore’s OQAs have been ridiculed in recent decades. Their deployment has been labeled “accident prone,” “simple to dismiss,” and just plain invalid. Critics accuse Moore of begging the question. Others argue that his OQAs founder upon the paradox of analysis. And still others argue that Moore’s open question argumentation is incompatible with the Kripke–Putnam causal theory of reference and thus it “simply fails; it is bankrupt”. I aim to show that there is something of continuing value in Moore’s open question efforts. I present and criticize Nicholas Sturgeon’s influential interpretation of Moore’s OQAs as a means to motivate and explicate my own interpretation of Moore’s thoughts in §13 of Principia Ethica. I then articulate the role that OQAs are intended to play in Moore’s overall argumentative strategies to undermine metaethical naturalism and thereby provide some theoretical support for metaethical nonnaturalism. Finally, I attend to the most prominent objections to Moore’s theorizing and attempt to evaluate the extent to which Moore’s efforts are successful. My hope is to display both the promising portions of Moore’s metaethical argumentation in Principia Ethica as well as its limitations.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10892-019-09311-4
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,645
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic.Rudolf Carnap - 1947 - Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press.
Reason, Truth and History.Hilary Putnam - 1981 - Cambridge University Press.
Language, Truth, and Logic.Alfred Jules Ayer - 1936 - London: V. Gollancz.
The Language of Morals.Richard Mervyn Hare - 1952 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Judgement and Justification.William G. Lycan - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.

View all 65 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Moore’s Open Question Phenomenon Explained—Naturalistically.Jean-Paul Vessel - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (2):241-256.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
74 ( #148,898 of 2,462,264 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
11 ( #64,998 of 2,462,264 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes