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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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5. The Universal Prescriptivist kind of Utilitarianism: the formalistic stage of moral argument 139


5. The Universal Prescriptivist kind of Utilitarianism: the formalistic stage of moral argument 5.1 Introduction In the previous chapter we presented the Phrastics - Neustics theory which Hare puts forward in order to substantiate his claim that despite their grammatical dif- ferences, there are logical similarities between the imperatives and indicatives, which allow us to argue that as logical relations can hold among indicatives, they can also hold among imperatives and also among the premises of an argu- ment, some of which are in indicative and some in imperative form. We also pointed out that underlying the practical or mixed syllogism, of which Hare's moral theory at least in its first stage makes use, are the logical rules of deduc- tive reasoning. And we further argued that the way moral argument proceeds in his first book, in LM, is by virtue of deductive reasoning and ultimate decisions of principle or ways of life. This picture of moral reasoning, however attractive in its ways, was not destined to last long. In his second book, FR, Hare will come to modify the account he has offered so far in important respects. If the notion of deductive reasoning is substantially transformed, the idea of a decision of principle or a way of life which is ultimately grounded in the freedom we have to choose anything we like is entirely given up. Hare now suggests a dif- ferent kind of method which enables us to hold our moral judgements only ten- tatively, and to...

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