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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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7. From Theory to Practice 195


7. From Theory to Practice 7.1 Introduction Even though many philosophers have undertaken the study of moral philosophy out of an interest to find out how moral terms like "good", "right" and "ought" behave and in what respects their logical behaviour is similar to or different from that of the terms "red", "yellow" or "green", Hare, as has repeatedly ar- gued, decided to engage in the study of moral philosophy with a view to con- tributing to the solution of the practical problems that worry us most of the time.1 In fact he has admitted that it was the atrocities that he himself experi- enced during the Second World War that led him to think that it was only by studying the logic of the terms in virtue of which the moral problems are ex- pressed that we can clarify them, understand them and then proceed to solve them.2 So really he is an ardent adherent of the practical relevance of philosophy and he has not spared the time and trouble to bring this out on various occasions. And this is in spite of the fact that he is in entire agreement with his other fel- low-philosophers, and especially the Descriptivists, that the role of the twentieth century moral philosophy is not to answer questions of the form, "Is torturing animals wrong?" or "Is experimenting on human embryos right?" but rather to deal with the questions, "What do we mean by the term 'wrong'?" or "What is the logic of...

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