Freedom and Reason

Freedom and Reason

R. M. Hare

Language: English

Pages: 190


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Proceeds in a logical fashion to show how, when thinking morally, a man can be both free and rational.


I consider this Hare's best book. And, as a matter of fact, the first part of this book summarizes the main conclusions about moral language that Hare reached in the first part of The Language of Morals. But I think this is the better presentation of Hare's position. The most important difference is that his interests here are broader: he summarizes his views about moral language, he attempts to account for moral reasoning, and he moves toward the normative ethical position he defends in Moral Thinking.

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.













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