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From Meta-Ethics to Ethics

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


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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2. The logical features of moral language 31


2. The logical features of moral language 2.1 Introduction As we have already mentioned, Hare contends that the analysis of the meaning of moral language does not simply provide us with a better understanding of a problematic situation but also lays down the logical framework within which the solution to the practical problem is to be sought and found. The logical analysis of moral language, such as it is, does not offer any substantial answers or solu- tions to our problems. In this respect Hare is careful to draw a distinction be- tween what he calls linguistic and moral intuitions.1 Moral intuitions are the set of substantial moral principles which people or a certain group of people hold. Linguistic intuitions, on the other hand, consist in the native speaker's usage of words and in his ability to judge when a misuse of a term or an expression has occurred. Thus, given the meaning of the term "all", an English native speaker knows that one cannot say, "All the books on the table are red, and there is one of them which is not red"; this would involve a logical contradiction. And simi- larly, assuming the meaning of the moral term "ought", the English speaker knows that one cannot consistently say, "I ought to keep my promises and this is in all relevant respects an instance of a promise, except that I ought not to keep it"; for this again would go against his linguistic intuitions. The thing we cannot do,...

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