Metaethics and Maximus

“[G.E.] Moore is as it were the frame of the picture. A great deal has happaned since he wrote, and when we read him again it is startling to see how many of his beliefs are philosophically unstable now. Moore believed that good was a supersensible reality, that it was a mysterious quality, unrepresentable and indefinable, that it was an object of knowledge and (implicitly) that to be able to see it was in some sense to have it.  He thought of the good upon analogy of the beautiful; and he was, in spite of himself, a ‘naturalist’ in that he took goodness to be a real constituent of the world.  We know how severely and in what respects Moore was corrected by his successors. Moore was quite right (it was said) to separate the question ‘What does “good” mean?’ from the question ‘What things are good?’ though he was wrong to answer the second question as well as the first. He was right to say that good was indefinable because of judgments of value depend upon the will and choice of the individual. Moore was wrong (his critics continue) to use the quasi-aesthetic imagery of vision in conceiving of the good.  Such a view, conceiving the good on the analogy of the beautiful, would seem to make possible a contemplative attitude on the part of the moral agent, whereas the point about this person is that he is essentially and inescapably an agent. The image whereby to understand morality, it is argued, is not the image of vision, but the image of movement. Goodness and beauty are not analogous but sharply constrasting ideas. Good must be thought of, not as part of the world, but as a moveable label affixed to the world; for only so can the agent be pictured as responsible and free. And indeed this truth Moore himself half aprpehended when he separated the denotation from the cnotation of ‘good.’ The concept of ‘good’ is not the name of an esoteric object, it is the tool of every rational man. Goodness is not an object of insight or knowledge, it is a function of the will. Thus runs the correction of Moore and let me say with anticipation that on almost every point I agree with Moore and not with his critics.”

Iris Murdoch,  The Sovereignty of the Good, Routledge 1970, 2001, pp. 3-4

16 Responses to Metaethics and Maximus

  1. Joseph says:

    FYI, you were nominated for an Eastern Christian Blog Award (

    I’m happy to have you added as 1) One of you is a neighbor (I live in Fort Worth) 2) The other is an Aggie.

  2. I took a short recess from the blog for two reasons. First it was Lent and second I am currently engaged in a serious academic and professional maatter, of which I cannot speak of at this moment. When pascha comes, I will resume posting and replying.

  3. Brad in KY says:

    My hunch is that the blog is moribund because the Orthodox are still in the midst of Lent. There’s one week of Lent remaining and then Holy Week after that. At least I hope that’s the reason why nothing’s happening around here.

  4. whorisky says:

    Is this blog moribund?

  5. AH says:


    303-834-8467 is the new #…lost your # in the move, give me a call.


  6. jacob says:

    Photios Jones:

    Family plans are likely going to prevent me from attending Vespers at St. John tomorrow night. But since you live in the metroplex, there will be other opportunities. I know my a friend from St. Barbara OCA in Fort Worth would like to meet/talk with you, too, so maybe we can make it a threesome in the future if (as it appears) I don’t see you tomorrow.

  7. Jacob,

    One of the best places to read about ADS and its implications is in my paper on Gregory of Nyssa.

    The Platonic view of simplicity has to take on a whole other meaning to be compatible with Christian doctrine, in which I think I gave a sufficient answer to from an Orthodox stand-point…or at least the parameters that it is NOT.

    This is why Orthodoxy doesn’t sit and theologize about a common notion of deity as the Catholics, Jews, and Muslims were doing in Spain in the Middle Ages. They could all point to the philosophical simplicity as their common notion, whereas [true] Orthodoxy cannot. And I say “true” here, because there is no doubt there have been some Orthodox that have tried or have thought so. Orthodoxy has seen and witnessed its own pedigrees of usurpers and gnostics as well. From Origen to the present.


  8. jacob says:

    Yes, 6 pm. I plan on being there. I may want to talk to you about this whole “absolute divine simplicity” thing; I’m just coming to its discussion in GHD in the part about Origen and now Athanasius and Arius. I know ADS is a bone of contention between you guys and the Catholic theologians/bloggers.

    You can see my picture(s) (but I recently cut my hair really short, and may have a very short white beard) in my 4/7/07 and 3/18/07 posts on my blog (accessed by the link with my name) so you can pick me out from the crowd. Or I could just wear a nametag with a big image of the triangle logo of GHD!

  9. photios says:


    It is at 6pm correct? I’ll do what I can to try and be there.


  10. jacob says:



    Are you going to be at the Pan-Orthodox Vespers Sunday 3/23 at St. John the Baptist in Euless? I may be there, and if so, would like to meet you. Email me at waterandspirit at yahoo dot com and/or reply here to confirm. Thanks!

  11. Perry,

    How do I contact you?
    What is your email address or phone number?

    Ken Hendrickson

  12. Leigh Ann says:

    Thanks for the advice. I have an undergrad in elementary education, but thanks to my husband I have read some weightier things. He has the Pelikan series so I will start there. It is a blessing to have a husband that I can talk things through with if I get bogged down.
    Thanks again for the suggestions and your willingness to be of assistance.

  13. Leigh Ann

    Thanks for the kind comments. Some of this needs to be diagnosis in so far as I’d need to know how much you already know. Generally as far as church history I’d recommend starting with Pelikan’s series, particularlythe first three volumes, but that might be a lot for some people, both in quantity as well as depth. Pelkina does a fine job of tracing themes, but he doesn’t do people, After that, a good reading of patristic monographs, scholarly works devoted to some issue or one particular thinker I find to be best. It also helps to do them in historical order, Ireneaus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, etc. It also helps to stick with major peer reviewed publishers, which are usually associated with some major university.Oxford is king. A number of monographs are listed in the “Reading” section of this blog. I add to the list as I am able.

    As far as Platonism, thats a toughy as I find that just reading Plato is better than reading about him. Usually most people read his early to middle period dialogs, which are fine, but there are answers that Plato gives there that he later rejects. The man lives to be 82 so his thought matures. It is important therefore to start with the early dialogs and move thru say the Republic on to a few of his major later dialogs-Theatatus, Sophist, Parmenides, Cratylus and the Laws.

    Aristotle on the other hand, I’d recommend reading about. His works are not dialogs and therefore usually more difficult for people to access. I’d recommend starting with Ackrill’ little book from Oxford, Aristotle the Philosopher. If you want to move up from there, I’d go to the Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. From there, I’d read some of his major texts like the Physics, Metaphysics, Nichomachean Ethics, On the Soul, The Categories and On Interpretation.

    For middle and late Platonism I’d read Wallis’ little book Neoplatonism. From there I’d pick up the Cambride Companion to Plotinus. The Cambride History of Hellenistic Philosophy while very large has very good treatments of Platonism as well as Stoicism. Long’s bok on Epictetus will give you a nice overview of Stoicism.

    I am glad you found my comments motivating and helpful. Perhaps they will bear good fruoit in you and you will remember me on the day of judgment. If you have any specific questions beyond this or some other topic I can help with, feel free to ask.

  14. Nick says:

    Hi all, I am writting this prior to reading the post. I just have to say that the moment I read the title I had a great laugh and said to myself, Perry had to write this post. Where else are you going to get ‘metaethics’ and ‘Maximus’ in the same sentence (spotting this incongruity might just be an indication of my boring humor). As someone who is coming to appreciate both of these concepts (of course the latter is a glorified saint not a concept) and Perry’s way with words I thought it was funny.

  15. Leigh Ann says:

    Hello, I just found you from Molly’s blog. I was reading your comments at Complegalitarian and you said that you could give Molly some recommendations for basic works on Platonism, Stoicism and Aristotelianism. I was wondering if you would give me the same recommendations. Your comments were convicting as to how I should be training my mind as a layperson. I appreciate your imput over there and the clear answers to things I had been thinking about concerning the conversation. I must admit that too often I am swayed by the rhetoric. But, providentially, my husband is here to help me think through things. He has suggested before that I read some more church history but to my shame I have been to lazy in the persuit. Reading conversations like this has helped to turn a light switch on in my head as to why he would suggest such a thing.
    Sorry this is long. Thank you for any recommendations. And if you have not the time, I understand that as well. I will look up the Pelikan anyway.
    Leigh Ann

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