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The logic of Logic and the Basis of Ethics


What is it that is doing the real work in Prior’s 1949 book Logic and the Basis of Ethics? As Prior’s title announces, it seems that the answer is logic. But what exactly does this mean to Prior?

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    Prior does not elaborate this curious comment about necessity. One would have thought that, at least in Moore’s eyes, it would be equally a fallacy to say that ‘being good is necessarily equivalent to being \(\mathrm{X}\)’ where X is any natural property.

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    In fact, the particular reference in Chapter V of LBE to Principia Mathematica does not get into greater technical detail than to consider whether the sentence ‘I promise’ is “a statement about an object, or a statement about a statement; or perhaps more accurately, it is not clear whether it is a statement about an object, or is itself the object which the statement is about” (LBE, p. 50).

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    This makes LBE especially interesting because in LBE he often sounds very much like an ordinary language philosopher himself.

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    Mary Prior recalls going to the 1951 meeting of the ‘Australasian Philosophy and Psychology Society’. She explains:

    We were amazed when Jack Smart, freshly out from Oxford, strode across the room to congratulate Arthur on Logic and the Basis of Ethics, which he announced was being much discussed in Oxford (Prior 2003, p. 295f).


  1. Jakobsen, D., (2013). Arthur Norman Priors bidrag til metafysikken. PhD Dissertation, Aalborg University.

  2. Perry, C. (1951). Review of ‘Logic and the Basis of Ethics’. Ethics, 62(1), 70–71.

  3. Prior, A. N. (1949). Logic and the basis of ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  4. Prior, A. N. (2003). Papers on time and tense. (2nd ed.). In P. Hasle, P. Øhrstrøm, T. Brauner, & J. Copeland (Eds.), New York: Oxford University Press.

  5. Prior, A.N. (N.D.). A statement of temporal realism. The Virtual Lab for Prior Studies, Record no. 940, Box 7, File 01.

  6. Strawson, P. F. (1951). Review of ‘Logic and the Basis of Ethics’. Philosophy, 26(98), 270–272.

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This work has been supported by a Grant from the New Zealand Government’s Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Correspondence to Adriane Rini.

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Rini, A. The logic of Logic and the Basis of Ethics . Synthese 193, 3449–3457 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-015-0946-3

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  • A.N. Prior
  • Naturalistic fallacy
  • Formal logic
  • Ethics
  • Neutrality of logic