There’s a story that I heard from my father many years ago,
which I’m tempted to share with PEA Soupers. G. E. Moore was a Cambridge
friend and contemporary of my great-grandfather Ralph L. Wedgwood (1874-1956),
and so when my grandfather John H. Wedgwood (1907-1989) was born, Moore agreed
to be his godfather.
According to the story, my grandfather, then a small boy, had the following conversation with Moore, while Moore was visiting my great-grandparents’ house for a couple of
Small boy: What are you doing, Mr Moore?
Moore (earnestly): I’m writing a book, about the meaning of the word ‘good’.
Small boy: You mean, like when we say that something’s “gone for good”?
Moore (taken aback): Oh! I hadn’t thought of that!
The trouble with this story is that I really
doubt that it’s true.
The story is too neat. It has too obvious a philosophical point:
that Moore’s account of the word ‘good’, as standing for a simple unanalysable non-natural
property of goodness, fails miserably to explain many perfectly ordinary uses
of the term. Moreover, when my grandfather was around the age that the story
makes him sound (roughly, 1914-1918), Moore had already written both Principia Ethica (1903) and Ethics (1912), and was not planning a
third book on the meaning of ‘good’.
If the story is not true, who invented it? Not Moore,
because he had absolutely no sense of humour. Not my grandfather, because he
knew absolutely nothing about philosophy. It is most likely to have been my
great-grandfather, who had been a brilliant philosophy undergraduate at
Cambridge, knew Moore’s philosophy well, and had by all accounts a markedly mischievous sense of humour.
My father says that he cannot now remember which family
member told him this story. We’ll probably never know the truth about where
this story comes from.