- Paperback: 236 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 12, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019881092X
- ISBN-13: 978-0198810926
- Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.5 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,452,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Freedom and Reason
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About the Author
Richard Mervyn Hare is at University of Florida, Gainesville.
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The book opens with a section summarizing Hare's purely formal account of moral language. He argues that claims are moral if and only if they take the form of universalizable prescriptions. They are universalizable in that an agent must be willing to apply them to all cases that are alike in all the relevant respects. They are prescriptive in that they provide guidance about how to act and they are necessarily connected to motivation.
Hare then considers a single issue--the nature of moral arguments--in the remainder of the book. This is an extended response to a problem that noncognitivists are usually alleged to face: that they rule out the possibility of any sort of rational moral debate because their views don't allow a notion of good reasons for making a moral judgment. Hare argues that he can account for the rationality of moral argument. His fundamental move is to appeal to the universalizability of moral claims, and to argue that this provides us with a way to criticize people for a sort of inconsistency. If you make a judgment about a person in one situation, then you have to make the same judgment about anyone else in a situation that is alike in all relevant respects. And, importantly, you must make the same judgment about yourself if you were in that person's situation. Hare thinks this is important since it provides us with a way to argue with people about moral issues. We can discover and remove inconsistencies in our own views and in the views of others, and this will involve a sort of rational discussion that can lead to progress. Crucially for Hare, this is supposed to be a logical feature of moral language; it is not based on some substantive moral view, but on what moral language means.
How is this supposed to work? In the simplest case (i.e. a case where we're dealing with only two people), the person making the moral judgment about the other is supposed to use her powers of imagination to place herself in the position of the person she's judging. Now, these judgments are universalizable, and so they apply to everyone in the very same situation. So, in assuming she's in the situation, she would have to be willing to have the same judgment applied to herself. She would have to say about the imagined case that she would prescribe that she receive the punishment in it. But she may not be able to sincerely say this, given her actual inclinations, and so she either has to abandon the original judgment or opt out of making the full moral judgment in some other way. And when we consider more complex cases (i.e. cases involving the interests of many people), Hare thinks this method of reasoning results in something resembling utilitarianism. The individuals and their particular situations drop out through the universalizability requirement, and we have to prescribe moral judgments taking all their interests into account.
And Hare thinks we have good reason to believe that a continued application of this method will lead to a significant convergence in moral opinions. The method rests on (i) the non-moral facts, (ii) people's inclinations (what they want, what they are willing to accept happening to them, etc.), (iii) their imaginative abilities, and (iv) the logic of moral claims. The facts are common and disagreement about them can be gradually removed, inclinations are similar from person to person, and imaginative abilities can be trained. Since the logic of moral claims commits us to a sort of universalizability, we have enough here to reach a lot of moral agreement. But there is no guarantee that the convergence will eventually be complete, for even people who know all the facts and have adequate imaginative abilities may have odd inclinations. Even if two people share all the relevant info., employ their imaginative abilities successfully, and appropriate use moral language, they may disagree in their inclinations to such an extent that they may be willing to accept moral principles that conflict.
This is a problem Hare tries to deal with in many chapters. He first tries to explain the persistence of these disagreement, and he thinks they are to be explained by the fact that some people base moral judgments on their deals. People have ideals if they have certain principles, certain grounds for moral judgment, that do not depend on satisfying desires, aims, goals, etc. These people may be willing to prescribe that their moral judgment should apply to everyone--even if it would lead to disregarding their interests if they were in the situation of the person being judged. This is the problem of the person Hare calls the fanatic, the person who holds his ideals come what may. He acknowledges that such people seem to result in a problem for his view, since his style of argument can't really get started against such a person. What is his response? First, he wants to argue that such people are extremely rare, and that normal people usually don't have pure ideals. Provided that we can get most people to really think through what they'd be saying here, most of them are such that they wouldn't prescribe that their own interests be ignored in the relevant cases. But what of those who remain steadfast in their judgments? In short, Hare's response is that we can't expect a moral theory to help us argue everyone into a respectable position.
`Moral' comes from the Latin `mores', sc human conduct. However plenty of human conduct does not fall into the classification `moral'. The word belongs to the large (and largely unrecognised) category whose meaning in different instances is determined by some implied opposite. I feel a moral responsibility not to drop litter in the street. I also have a legal responsibility not to, and part of the meaning of `moral' in this case is to distinguish it from the latter. We also talk of a `moral certainty', `moral' meaning `as distinct from mathematical or actuarial', and in this use `moral' has nothing to do with morals. Again, someone may feel a revulsion at slugs and at certain sexual acts. The aversion to slugs is aesthetic, not moral, but if anything is routinely classed as `moral' it is surely sexual conduct. I can't myself see the dividing line in these two cases - what they have in common is an appeal to certain values or tastes, and language does not help with that.
To me, morality all ultimately rests on such an appeal to values. Reason can take these as a basis for argument, but they are not matters of the intellect at all. Hare dutifully parades for us the `utilitarian' school of moral reasoners, who argued for a rational basis of morality founded on the greatest good (or greatest `happiness') of the greatest number. `Good' describes or identifies nothing whatsoever - it is the universal term of commendation according to any standard at all. `Happiness' has done philosophy untold harm ever since Aristotle's `eudaimonia' was first mistranslated as happiness rather than as wellbeing. I may be happy with a certain compromise, in the sense that I'm prepared to put up with it. That is not what's meant by a book having a happy ending, and neither resembles the rosy glow that I may briefly experience from alcohol. `Happy' is another of the words that takes its meaning from its context, and I'd call it perfectly useless as a guide to morality.
Hare conjures up his own language of morals. There are three basic propositions - statements may be `descriptive' or `evaluative': commands or precepts are `prescriptive'; and the essence of a moral precept is that it should be, God help us, `universalizable'. `Descriptive' is rough-and-ready, but it will do if understood (again) as sweeping up the senses excluded by the alternatives. `A red car' is descriptive of the car, but we are into evaluations already with `large' or `loud' as these terms invoke a scale of assessment. `Large' can't be neatly pigeonholed as either `descriptive' or `evaluative'. `This car is large' is evaluative: `this car is too large' is either meaningless or descriptive in the sense of implying that it's too large for the garage or for some other implied purpose. These uses show the unreliability of language as a guide to such categorisation - `too' looks an evaluative word until we think how it may be used. Similarly, imperatives that seem to operate in the moral sphere may be adjudged right or wrong but still descriptive, for reasons unconcerned with moral values. The order `Advance to meet the enemy' can and should be adjudged wrong, but `descriptively' (as well as prescriptively), though not morally, wrong, if the enemy happens to be behind us.
I have no end of problems with `universalizable'. `By calling a judgement universalizable I mean only that it logically commits the speaker to making a similar judgement about anything which is either exactly like the subject of the original judgement or like it in the relevant respects' says Hare. How many begged questions have we here? Any command or precept whatsoever is universalizable - it's a matter of how many people the speaker means it to apply to and at what times and in what places. When the chorus in Housman's Fragment of a Greek Tragedy says to the stranger
`And oh my son be, on the one hand, good
And do not, on the other hand, be bad'
that is as near as language on its own can get to a universal prescription, applicable to all persons, times and places although prescribing nothing in particular. When Polonius says to Laertes
`Nether a borrower nor a lender be'
that is obviously universalizable so far as the language goes, but the extent to which it is universalised has nothing to do with the language. The battlefield command `advance' is universalizable although it would often be ill-advised. Also, what are `the relevant respects'? If I say `Describe respects of your house' I'm talking odd English but at least making sense. If I say `Describe THE respects of your house' I'm talking nonsense. `Relevant' is a conjuring-trick. The word has no descriptive meaning, and to class two decisions as being alike in the relevant respects is to say that they are alike in the respects in which we have deemed them to be alike.
The issue of free will, more interesting and important than everything else in the book, is sidelined, and in a patronising tone that is rather too characteristic. Hare disputes with other moral philosophers at times, successfully no doubt except that in my opinion they're all flailing their own hot air, and although in his introduction he says he will refer to other works of wisdom, in practice his footnotes mainly refer to himself. He didn't clarify moral issues to me all that time ago, and he still doesn't. He deserves to have fallen out of fashion, and a suitably prescriptive and universalizable summing-up for him might be
`Neither a be-all nor an end-all be.'
I recommend the book to anyone doing comparative reading (it is out of sight of the standard of "Life without principles" by Margolis, for instance.) But for the beginner it is is far less of a "must-read" than "The Language of Morals".