I will now begin. My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will
adopt the explanation of that term which Prof. Moore has given in his
book “Principia Ethica”. He says: “Ethics is the general enquiry into
what is good”. Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly
wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the
most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. And to make
you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of
Ethics I will put before you a number of more or less synonymous expres-
sions each of which could be substituted for the above definition, and
by enumerating them I want to produce the same sort of effect which
Gallstone produced when he took a number of photos of different faces
on the same photographic plate in order to get the picture of the
typical features they all had in common. And as by showing to you such a
collective photo I could make you see what is the typical — say —
chinese face; so if you look through the row of synonyms which I will put
before you, you will, I hope, be able to see the characteristic
features they all have in common and these are the characteristic
features of Ethics. Now instead of saying “Etthics is the enquiry into
what is good” I could have said Ethics is the enquiry into what is valu-
able, or, into what is really important, or I could have said Ethics is

the enquiry into the meaning of life, or into what makes life worth living,
or into the right way of living. I believe if you look at all these phrases
you will get a rough idea as to what it is that Ethics is concerned with.
Now the first thing that strikes one about all these expressions is that
each of them is actually used in two very different senses. I will call
them the trivial or relative sense on the one hand and the ethical or
absolute sense on the other. If for instance I say that this is a good
chair this means that the chair serves a certain predetermined purpose and
the word good here has only meaning so far as this purpose has been pre-
viously fixed upon. In fact the word good in the relative sense simply
means coming up to a certain predetermined standard. Thus when we say that
this man is a good pianist we mean that he can play pieces of a certain
degree of difficulty with a certain degree of dexterity. And similarly if
I say that it is important for me not to catch cold I mean that catching
a cold produces certain describable disturbances in my life and if I say
that this is the right road that it I mean that it's the right road rela-
tive to a certain goal. Used in this way these expressions don't present
any difficult or deep problems. But this is not how Ethics uses them.
Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said
“well you play pretty badly” and suppose I answered “I know, I'm playing
badly but I don't want to play any better”, all the other man could say
would be “Ah then that's all right”. But suppose I had told one of you a
preposterous lie and he came up to me and said “You're behaving like a
beast” and then I were to say “I know I behave badly, but then I don't
want to behave any better”, could he then say “Ah, then that's all right”?
Certainly not; he would say “Well, you ought to want to behave better”.
Here you have an absolute judgment of value, whereas the first instance
was one of a relative judgment. The essence of this difference seems to
be obviously this: Every judgment of relative value is a mere statement of

facts and can therefore be put in such a form that it loses all the
appearance of a judgment of value: Instead of saying “this is the right way
to Granchester I could equally well have said “this is the right way you
have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time”, this
man is a good runner simply means that he runs a certain number of miles in
a certain number of minutes, a.s.f. Now what I wish to contend is, that
although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statements
of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of
absolute value. Let me explain this: Suppose one of you were an omniscient
person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world
dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human
beings that ever lived, and suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big
book, then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and
what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would
call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a
judgment. It would of course contain all relative judgments of value and
all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can
be made. But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same
level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level. There
are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important,
or trivial. Now perhaps some of you will agree to that and be reminded of
Hamlet's words: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
But this again could lead to a misunderstanding. What Hamlet says seems to
imply that good and bad, though not qualities of the world outside us, are
attributes of our states of mind. But what I mean is that a state of mind,
so far as we mean by that a fact which we can describe, is in no ethical
sense good or bad. If for instance in our world-book we read the descrip-
tion of a murder with all its details physical and psychological the mere
description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an

ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any
other event, for instance the falling of a stone. Certainly the reading of
this description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we
might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people
when they heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts and facts but
no Ethics. — And now I must say that if I contemplate what Ethics really
would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me
quite obvious. It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or
say should be thech thing. That we cannot write a scientific book, the sub-
ject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime and above all other
subject matters. I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if
a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this
book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. —
Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of con-
taining and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense.