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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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8. An overall evaluation 231


8. An Overall Evaluation 8.1 Introduction In the previous chapter we examined Hare’s central claim that his moral theory is relevant to the practical problems we face in everyday life. We concluded that the kind of moral methodology he espouses does not seem to be so relevant to practical life as he initially thought. We also examined the way in which Hare’s two-level theory of moral thinking is related to the alternative moral ac- counts that have been developed, such as Virtue ethics, Rights based ethics, Care ethics etc. Hare had claimed that all these are first-level theories analogous to his own Intuitive level of moral thinking. Moreover, since these accounts lack a second, critical, level which will help them solve the differences that arise on the first level, Hare suggested that they have to be supplemented by his own critical level of moral thinking. But if they are to be so supplemented, they will all turn out to be compatible with the kind of Utilitarian theory that Hare pro- pounds. It is from within this frame of mind that Hare goes on to argue that a phi- losopher like Kant could have been a Utilitarian. I take Hare’s contention seri- ously. And in the present chapter I examine the consequences that follow from his claim I considered in the previous chapter. So in this chapter I examine Hare’s central idea of whether Kant’s moral philosophy, if properly formulated, can be compatible with Utilitarianism (8.2). As it must have become...

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