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From Meta-Ethics to Ethics

An Overview of R. M. Hare’s Moral Philosophy

Series:

Eleni M. Kalokairinou

This book brings out the way in which the twentieth century philosopher R. M. Hare has attempted to break the deadlock to which his contemporary moral theories had been led, i.e. irrationalism and relativism. Taking his point of departure from these theories, he suggests that the logical rules we reach from the linguistic analysis of moral language can have implications on the normative level, which in their form are in agreement with the principle of utility. So he differs from his contemporary philosophers because he argues that we engage in moral philosophy with a view to clarifying and solving the practical problems we face in life. In this sense he is an ardent defender of the practical relevance of philosophy. Hare’s moral account is closely analyzed in this book and his main theses are tested not only for internal coherence but also for their capacity to resist all rational criticism.

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Introduction 1

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Introduction It is no doubt a task to examine carefully the moral theory of a philosopher. Much more so when that philosopher is of R. M. Hare’s stature. For in the at- tempt to interpret his moral philosophy one always runs the risk of failing to steer a middle course and thus fall either into one extreme or the other. One may, for instance, out of prejudice or certain preconceptions offer such a reading of his moral philosophy that one will eventually end up on the side of his fierc- est critics. Or, on the other hand, one may consider it with such sympathetic eyes that one will end up agreeing with everything Hare has to say. I feel that my own approach has avoided both of these possible pitfalls. I definitely did not view his work negatively or with preconceptions that might have prejudged my conclusions. At the same time I did not initially see his philosophy sympatheti- cally. Instead I approached what he had to say with interest and curiosity. The prevalent moral theories in the early fifties had reached a dead end. They had not managed to overcome the problems of subjectivism and relativism. Nor had they solved the problem of irrationalism. Making its appearance at that point of time, Hare's theory offered a new beginning and a promise that came with it. This is precisely what attracted me into studying him carefully and sys- tematically: the idea, widely circulating in the academic community at the time,...

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