1. Background of the Study

This research work was motivated by some of the intricate issues raised by Absolute idealism (Metaphysical monism) to interpret with certainty and objectivity existent reality. Some of these issues are summarized as follows:

  • All realities are internally related (doctrine of internal relations)
  • The objective truths (for example, of logic mathematics, ethics, etc) are to be accounted for in terms of the operations of the subjective cognitive or psychological faculties (psychologism).
  • Objective knowledge is of the universal.
  • There exist universal minds to which others are subsumed.
  • Phenomenological and external realities are copies of original that exist in the world of forms.
  • Mental entities exist independent of the knower
  • Thoughts in our minds are dim reflections of the universals (objective reality)
  • Universal are timeless
  • The ideas, forms, universal is the truth maker not external (physical) facts.

I was basically not comfortable with the meta-monistic interpretation of reality by the absolute idealist such as Plato, in that my understanding of the universe as a growing child in a plantation, was that of pluralism (realism). According to my grand father who is now one hundred and twenty years old, and one of the greatest artists and custodian of the Idoma culture and tradition, “every thing that is, exist discreetly, distinctly and uniquely on their own as such we have individual humans, trees, animals and other things”1. I have always held this metaphysical pluralistic understanding of the universe, until I entered the university to study philosophy as an undergraduate when we were thought about Plato’s Absolute  idealistic conception of reality, which actually contradicts my pluralistic (realist) understanding of reality.

Subsequently, in trying to restate my footings on my earlier held realist conception of reality, then I came across the works of George Edward Moore, an outstanding British analytic philosopher with the following titles, Refutation of idealism and A Defense of common sense (realism). These works of his especially A Defense of commonsense is an influential essay by philosopher G.E. Moore written in 1925. It is an attempt by Moore to refute skepticism and Absolute idealism (metaphysical monism) that was in vogue during his time at Cambridge University. Moore, argued that at least some of our beliefs about the world are absolutely certain and these beliefs are “common sense”2.

It is pertinent to note that George Edward Moore was born on November 4, 1873, he was one of the seven children of Daniel and Henrietta Moore.  G.E. Moore was raised in the upper Norwood district of South London. His early education came through his parents who taught him how to read and write.  Beyond his professional career, Moore had a successful family life.  At the age of 43 he got married to Dorothy Ely, who had been his student. They had two sons: Nicholas and Timothy. He eventually died in Cambridge on October 24, 1958. He is buried in St. Giles’ Churchyard.

Moore’s earlier epistemological position as an undergraduate in Cambridge was that of an idealist because according to him, “he had indeed at Dulwich read Plato’s Protagoras, but was certainly not then very keenly excited by any of the philosophical question which that dialogue raises”3. Later on, Moore became interested in the analysis of certain philosophical statements which he had made in conversation with notables such as Henry Sidgwick, James Ward, and J.M.E. Mctaggart, who became his teachers, and Bertrand Russell then a student two years ahead of Moore at Cambridge University.

Furthermore, Moore studied moral science, a division of philosophy in the British University system. In 1896, Moore took first-class honors in both classic and moral science. After this, he attempted to win a prize-fellowship, as Mctaggart and Russell had done before him. He succeeded in 1898, on his second attempt, and remained at Cambridge as a fellow of Trinity College until 1904. Continuing through this time as a fellow, Moore began to act as a professional philosopher, by participating in the extant philosophical societies (such as the Aristotelian society and the moral science club) and publishing his works. Many of his best known works such as Principia Ethica, Proof of an External world, Refutation of idealism, defence of common sense. The Nature of Judgement to mention a few, were written during this period and it was during this period that Moore instigated the momentous break from the then dominant British philosophy of Absolute idealism that would prove to be the first step toward the rise of analytic philosophy.

Equally, Moore became a stalwart defender of what he referred to as common sense realism which he exposed in his classic work titled A Defence of common sense.But before then, Moore  was greatly influenced by the works of the British idealist philosopher Francis Bradley such as Appearance and  reality (1893), Essays of Truth and reality (1914), The principles of logic (1922), and Ethical (1876). Moore was basically influenced by Bradley’s metaphysical conception of reality when he (Bradley) argued that:

Our everyday conception of the world as well as those more refined ones common among my philosophical predecessors contains hidden contradictions which appear fatal, when we try to think out their consequences.4

In particular, Bradley rejected on these grounds the view that reality can be understood as consisting of many objects existing independently of each other (Pluralism) and of our experience of them (realism). As such, his view combined substance monism (the claim that reality is one; that there are no real separate things) – with metaphysical idealism (the claim that reality consist solely of ideas or experience).

        Consequently, a substantial part of Moore’s early work was devoted to a critical discussion on Kant’s moral philosophy. Although, Moore endorses the kind of idealism advanced by Bradley but not in its general form but was very critical of Kant’s conception of practical reason. He argues that Kant’s use of this conception blurs the distinction between the psychological faculty of making judgments and inferences, from Judgement themselves. Hence, according to Moore, Kant’s moral philosophy founded on apriori principle of practical reason is untenable.

         Consequently, he later dismissed the theses of all forms of idealism such as Platonism, Kantianism, and Bradleianism, etc. Hence he asserts:

That to be true means to be thought in a certain way is therefore, certainly false. Yet this assertion plays the most central part in Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ of  philosophy, and renders worthless the whole mass of modern literature, to which that revolution has given rise, and which is called Epistemology.5

The distinction Moore is trying to make here is between thought and what is objective and real which runs through his critique of idealism. An early context in which he elaborates the distinction between thought and what is objective and real, and discussion on meanings is inherent in his work tilted, The Nature of judgment (1899). Moore begins here, by attributing to Bradley a quasi-empiricist view of meaning as abstracted from total content of judgment. This is a mistake according to Moore. He holds that meanings, which he calls ‘concepts’, are entirely non-psychological. They come in form of propositions, which are the objects of thoughts and, as such, are to be sharply distinguished from mental contents or representations. As such, truth for Moore is not a matter of correspondence but of identity/ identically (sameness), hence he asserts that:

It seems plain that a truth differs in no respect from the reality to which it was supposed merely to correspond: e.g. the truth that exist differs in no respect from the corresponding reality (my existence) so far, indeed from truth being defined by reference to reality, reality can only be defined by reference to truth.6

Moore, in his uncompromising realism concerning propositions and concepts, made it clear that they are possible objects of thought and stands distinctly outside one’s thought, hence he writes; “that for it is indifferent to their nature whether anybody thinks them or not”.7

          Basically, Moore’s realist conception of cognition or better still, Moore’s epistemological conception of reality (direct realism) is hinged on his doctrine of identity theory of truth, and the basic tenets of this theory are as follow:

  • The world is formed of concepts
  • Synthesis of concepts equals to proposition.
  • Existence implies great body of propositions.
  • Perception is about existential propositions.
  • True propositions imply class of existent that has existence as its constituents.
  • Propositions are bearers of truth.
  • Propositions are immutable (unchanging).
  • Propositions are not of word but synthesis of concepts.
  • There must necessarily be empirical objects for truth to exist or being established.
  • Propositions play the role of objects in an occurant act of consciousness.
  • All concepts (object) exist as distinct cognition (realities).

Consequently, embracing the philosophical tool called “paradox of analysis”8 invented by Socrates and inherited by Moore, Moore tried to establish in his various works such as; the Nature of judgment, Truth, principia Ethica, Refutation of idealism, A Defense of commonsense, and proof of an external world, that external objects and the external world exist independent of a subjective mind that perceives or cognizes them, and that our perception, apprehension or cognition of them is direct unmediated. As such, he attempted at establishing a direct-existential-propositional-realist-commonsensical account of cognition (reality).

Furthermore, it is a truism that the world we find ourselves today (Modern, contemporary or monumental world), is geared towards the search for absolute truth, certainty, universality and objectivity in knowledge. It is further understood that, the human quest for absolute truth, certainty and objectivity in knowledge of say logic, mathematics, ethics, to mention a few. can best be accounted for in terms of the operations of subjective, cognitive or psychological faculties (psychologism). However, it is pertinent to note that psychologism was a consequence of the “doctrine of internal relations”9. As such, absolute idealism which is a brand of metaphysical monism, is in line with the doctrine of internal relations which states that “every object exists and is what it is at least partly in virtue of the relations it bears to other things more precisely, to all other things”10. On this view, every thing that exist does so only in virtue of its relations to everything else, so, it is misleading to say of any one thing, for example, my bottle of coke, that exists simpliciter. The only thing that exist simpliciter is the whole-the entire network of necessarily related objects. So this meta-monistic world view (weltanschauung) implies that the objects of true knowledge must be stable and abiding, fixed, capable of being grasped in clear and scientific definition, which is of the universal. Hence true knowledge is knowledge of the universal.

This raises a question: if true knowledge is knowledge of universal, does it not follow that true knowledge is of the abstract and unreal? Plato’s doctrine of ideas or forms helps to answer this question. Plato stated that, “The universal concept is not an abstract form devoid of objective content or reference, but to each true universal concept there corresponds an objective reality”11. So, when Plato speaks of ideas or forms he is referring to the objective essences, and it is to these objective essence that Plato speaks of Absolute Good or the idea of the Good, he is referring to an objective essence, which is the source of goodness in all the particular things that are truly good and that these objective essence, the idea, have transcendental existence of their own, apart from sensible things (objects). This also poses another question; does Plato mean we have two or more world of sense experiences? So, as earlier stated, issues of these nature raised by absolute idealism necessitated the birth of this research. 

1.2    Statement of the Problem

It is worth noting that, two facts makes it difficult to separate Moore’s contributions to epistemology from his contributions to metaphysics. Firstly, his main contributions to metaphysics were in the ontology of cognition, which is often treated as a branch of epistemology. Secondly, his main contributions to epistemology were motivated by what he called the ‘commonsense’ or ‘ordinary’ view of the world, and this is properly a metaphysical conception, a world view or weltanschauung. Since Moore’s direct realism is hinged on his identity theory of truth, made manifest in his propositional realism it raises some problems such as; how do humans critically thinks? Is it propositionally or pictorially (representationally) or both? Are proposition actually identical with reality as they exist simpliciter? What is the possibility of having a direct realist epistemological account of cognition since human sense-experiences could some times be distorted or blurred?

1.3    Thesis of the Study

Sequel to the statement of problem, this research therefore seeks to critically examine Moore’s epistemology and to attempt to unearth the loop-holes associated with Moore’s commonsense realism (Direct Realism) and to emphasis the need to naturalize the ontological account of cognition in relation to a given consensual-contextual language domain.

1.4    Purpose of Study

This research work is aimed at exposing and critically examining Moore’s epistemology with a view to uncovering the strengths and weaknesses of Moore’s epistemological account of cognition and attempt at establishing a case for a direct realist account of cognition.

1.5    Scope of  Study

This research work is limited to George Edward Moore’s epistemology. The materials for this study are therefore, in the main, George Edward Moore’s works and other texts (materials) relevant to the purpose of this research work.

1.6    Significance of the Study

This work will add to the previously existing works on epistemology, thereby expanding the frontiers of knowledge in the sense that academics and scholars would be motivated to delve into Moore’s epistemology, so as to, develop a more resounding epistemological account for the ontology of cognition.

Also, this research work will help in exposing the weaknesses and strengths in Moore’s epistemological and metaphysical conception of cognition thereby making recommendations that will basically guide our epistemological account of reality (cognition), so as to, better appreciate that which we claim to know and can possibly know.