The Mystery of Indefinables

One man, a great contemporary, G.E. Moore, has written a book, Principia Ethica. And perhaps he is the only man in the whole of history, who has thought so deeply just to define the word “good.” Because without defining good, there can be no ethics and no morality. If you cannot define what is good, then how you can decide what is moral, what is immoral; what is right, what is wrong.

He took a fundamental question, without knowing that it is the ultimate question and he got into trouble. And he was one of the most intelligent people of our contemporary world. He looks at it from every direction enquiring for almost for two hundred and fifty pages, just on a single question, “What is good?” And he was utterly defeated in defining such a simple word as good. Everybody knows what is good, everybody knows what is bad, everybody knows what is beautiful and everybody knows what is ugly. But when it comes to definition – you will be in the same trouble.

He was thinking that everybody knows what is good. There must be some way to find the secret and define it. But finally, after 250 pages of very concentrated thinking, of the keenest logic and rational analysis he comes to the conclusion that good is indefinable. These 250 pages have been just going round and round and reaching nowhere. Good is indefinable.

Croce has done the same work on “beauty” … 1000 pages. He has gone far deeper than G.E. Moore has gone into “good.” And after 1000 pages, comes the last statement: that beauty is indefinable. Everybody knows that the most difficult problem is that it is very difficult to find a man who does not know what beauty is and what ugliness is. But don’t insist on a definition. Even the greatest minds have failed. This is accepting failure, when they say beauty is indefinable.

G.E. Moore became so frustrated that he said, “Don’t blame me that I have not been able to define what is good. Even simpler questions – this is a very complex question – are indefinable. For example, what is yellow?” That is what G.E. Moore asks, “Can you define what yellow is?” You all know what yellow is. There is no doubt about it. You can all indicate towards a marigold flower; this is yellow. But he is not asking for indications; he is asking, “How have you come to know that this is yellow? What is the definition? What is the criterion that this marigold flower fulfills? Why it is not red? Why is it yellow? You must have certain definitions. Why is something red and something blue and something green and something yellow …on what grounds?” And then he says, “If yellow cannot be defined and although everybody knows what it is, nobody says, then perhaps all our knowledge is just very superficial.”

Perhaps we have never enquired deeply into anything; we have never gone to the very rock-bottom. Otherwise my own understanding is everything is indefinable, because everything is mysterious. It is not only a question of beauty, or good, of ignorance, or awareness — everything, the whole existence consists only of indefinables. To recognize this is to recognize our ultimate ignorance. And to be able to recognize our ultimate ignorance, you need an absolutely selfless, egoless innocence, because that has been missing.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Chuang Tzu Auditorium, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune, India.

Discourse series:

Bodhidharma: The Greatest Zen Master

Chapter #16

Chapter title: The courage to say “i don’t know”

12 July 1987 pm in Chuang Tzu Auditorium


Osho has spoken on notable philosophers Aristotle, Berkeley, Bukharin, Confucius, Descartes, Feuerbach, Hegel, Heidegger, Heraclitus, Huxley, Jaspers, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Moore, Nietzsche, Plato, Pythagoras, Russell, Sartre, Schiller, Socrates, Voltaire, Wittgenstein and many others in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Philosophia Perennis Vol.1-2
  2. Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky
  3. The Invitation
  4. Just Like That
  5. One Seed Makes the Whole Earth Green
  6. Light on the Path
  7. The Sun Rises in the Evening
  8. The Empty Boat
  9. Beyond Psychology
  10. What Is, Is, What Ain’t, Ain’t
  11. From Personality to Individuality
  12. From Death to Deathlessness
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