Michael J. Zimmerman


Many philosophers have endorsed G. E. Moore’s principle of organic unities – according to which the value of a whole must not be assumed to be the same as the sum of the values of its parts – claiming this principle to be of fundamental importance to ethics. In this paper, I cast doubt on the principle. In Section 1, I provide a provisional reformulation of the principle of organic unities and contrast such unities with mere sums of value. In Section 2, I do some groundwork in order to arrive at an account of the part–whole relation with which the principle of organic unities is concerned. In so doing, I provide some further reformulations of that principle. In Section 3, I discuss the isolation method that Moore proposes for determining the value of something, and then, in Section 4, I begin an extended discussion of a particular example of an alleged organic unity, namely, Schadenfreude. I explain why some philosophers claim that such pleasure constitutes an organic unity, but I also present reasons for denying this claim. In Section 5, I pursue one of these reasons in particular, a reason that appeals to the concept of what I call evaluative inadequacy, and, in Section 6, I seek to motivate this appeal by drawing on the relation between value and fitting attitudes. In so doing, I provide still further reformulations of the principle of organic unities. In Section 7, I entertain objections to my account of Schadenfreude, one of which requires one final reformulation of the principle of organic unities, and then, in Section 8, I discuss the more general objection that, even if my reasons for denying that Schadenfreude constitutes an organic unity are cogent, these reasons do not extend to other alleged organic unities, such as the related phenomenon of Mitleid. In the final section, I address the significance of the debate about whether the principle of organic unities is true.