Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement

Papers

Should we pass the buck?

Jonathan Dancy

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.

Jonathan Dancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading.