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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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4. Imperative logic and decisions of principle: the Existentialist phase of moral reasoning 89


4. Imperative logic and decisions of principle: the Existentialist phase of moral reasoning 4.1 Introduction Hare's main contention throughout his work has been that there can be logical procedures and argument in morals and that the kind of reasoning which occurs in morality is essentially similar to the kind of reasoning which occurs in the domains of empirical science. Contrary to the view widely held by traditional and modern philosophers that morality is a non-rational activity, Hare claims that moral theory can hardly be divorced from logic and rational argument and that in fact it is incomplete without it. It is in this frame of mind that he declares ethics "as a special branch of logic".1 Such a thesis, however, lays him open to the following kind of objections. Although it is quite conceivable how argument and reasoning proceed among indicative sentences in terms of which scientific statements are expressed, it is highly problematic whether logical relations are possible among value judge- ments. And as value judgements and in particular moral judgements have been said, according to Hare's prescriptivist account, to entail imperatives, the whole problem is reduced to whether logical relations and inferences are possible among imperatives as they are among indicatives.2 Quite a few philosophers have disputed the claim that there is such a thing as imperative logic; people like G.J. Warnock, P. Kashap and Mrs. V. Peetz have argued that the proper subject- matter of ordinary logic is restricted to the class of indicatives, thus leaving...

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