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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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3. The non-logical ingredients of moral argument 69


3. The non-logical ingredients of moral argument 3.1 Introduction As we have seen, Hare's main thesis, is that one cannot answer or even attempt to answer moral questions unless one makes sure that one understands the mean- ing of the words used and the logic of the terms in which these questions occur. Analysing the meaning of moral terms and understanding the logical properties they possess is for Hare the necessary starting point for answering moral ques- tions and for settling moral disagreements. But now we are in a position to add that this is only part of his central claim. For Hare also argues that moral prob- lems normally come to us in a bunch of three different kinds of question.1 We have first of all logical questions which concern the analysis of the meaning of the moral terms involved and the logical limitations which such an analysis im- plies. We have secondly pure questions of fact which help us to distinguish the relevant facts of the situation and to determine, between the sets of conse- quences which alternative courses of action have, which one we would like to bring about. And finally, there are the irreducibly evaluative, moral and pre- scriptive questions which, after we have studied the logic of the moral terms and become clear about the facts of the situation, will enable us to decide whether what we wanted to do is right and thus solve the existing moral disagreement. Hare's point is that these three...

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