Harold Arthur Prichard

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Harold Arthur Prichard
Born 1871
London
Died 1947
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Ethical intuition
Influenced

Harold Arthur Prichard (1871–1947), usually cited as H. A. Pritchard, was an English philosopher. He was born in London in 1871, the eldest child of Walter Stennett Prichard (a solicitor) and his wife Lucy. Harold Prichard was a scholar of Clifton College from where he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford, to study mathematics. But after taking First Class honours in mathematical moderations (preliminary examinations) in 1891, he studied Greats (ancient history and philosophy) taking First Class Honours in 1894. He also played tennis for Oxford against Cambridge. On leaving Oxford he spent a brief period working for a firm of solicitors in London, before returning to Oxford where he spent the rest of his life, first as Fellow of Hertford College (1895–98) and then of Trinity College (1898–1924). He took early retirement from Trinity in 1924 on grounds of ill health, but recovered and was elected White's Professor of Moral Philosophy in 1928 and became a fellow of Corpus Christi College. He retired in 1937.[1]

"Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?"[edit]

Prichard gave an influential defence of ethical intuitionism in his "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?" (1912), wherein he contended that moral philosophy rested chiefly on the desire to provide arguments, starting from non-normative premises, for the principles of obligation that we pre-philosophically accept, such as the principle that one ought to keep one's promises or that one ought not steal. This is a mistake, he argued, both because it is impossible to derive any statement about what one ought to do from statements not concerning obligation (even statements about what is good), and because there is no need to do so since common sense principles of moral obligation are self-evident. The essay laid a groundwork for ethical intuitionism and provided inspiration for some of the most influential moral philosophers, such as John Rawls.[2][3]

Criticism of Utilitarianism[edit]

Prichard attacks Utilitarianism as not being capable of forming obligation. He states that one cannot justify an obligation by pointing to the consequences of the obligated action because pointing to the consequences only shows that the action is desirable or advisable, not that it is obligatory. In other words, he claims that, while Utilitarianism may encourage people to do actions which a moral person would do, it cannot create a moral obligation to do those actions.[4]

Deriving moral obligation[edit]

H. A. Prichard is an ethical intuitionist, meaning he believed that it is through our moral intuitions that we come to know right and wrong. Further, while he believes that moral obligations are justified by reasons, he does not believe that the reasons are external to the obligation itself. For instance, if a person is asked why he ought not torture chipmunks, the only satisfying answer that could be given is that he ought not torture chipmunks.[5]

Prichard, along with other intuitionists, adopts a foundationalist approach to morality. Foundationalism is a theory of epistemology which states that there are certain fundamental principles which are the basis for all other knowledge. In the case of ethics, foundationalists hold that certain fundamental moral rules are their own justification. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong explains:

Therefore, Prichard concludes that just as observation of other people necessitates that other people exist, the observation of a moral obligation necessitates that the obligation exists. Prichard finishes his essay by answering a few obvious problems. Most notably, he explains how people should guarantee the accuracy of their moral intuitions. Clearly, observations can be misleading. For instance, if someone sees a pencil in water, he may conclude that the object in the water is bent. However, when he pulls the pencil from the water, he sees that it is straight. The same can occur with moral intuition. If one begins to doubt one's intuition, one should try to imagine oneself in the moral dilemma related to the decision. If the intuition persists, then the intuition is accurate. Prichard further supports these claims by pointing out how it is illegitimate to doubt previously believed moral intuitions:[7]

Writings[edit]

  • Kant's Theory of Knowledge, (1909)
  • "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?" Mind 21 (1912): 21–37. Reprinted in Moral Obligation.
  • Moral Obligation (London, 1949; 1968)
  • Knowledge and Perception, Essays and Lectures (London, 1950)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dancy, Jonathan. "Harold Arthur Prichard". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2012. 
  2. ^ Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press. pp. 30,307–308. ISBN 0-674-00077-3. 
  3. ^ Dancy, Jonathan. "Harold Arthur Prichard". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2012. 
  4. ^ Prichard, Harold Arthur (1912). "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?". Oxford University Press. Mind 21 (81): 21–37. Retrieved 2012. 
  5. ^ Dancy, Jonathan. "Harold Arthur Prichard". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2012. 
  6. ^ Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (2005). Moral Intuitionism Meets Empirical Psychology. 
  7. ^ Prichard, Harold Arthur (1912). "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?". Oxford University Press. Mind 21 (81): 21–37. Retrieved 2012. 
  8. ^ Prichard, Harold Arthur (1912). "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?". Oxford University Press. Mind 21 (81): 21–37. Retrieved 2012. 

References[edit]

  • Jim McAdam, "Introduction", Moral Writings by H.A. Prichard, (Volume 3 of British moral philosophers), Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-925019-7, pp.xiv-xv
  • William J. O'Brien, "H.A. Prichard's Moral Epistemology" Doctoral Dissertation, University of Iowa, 1988.
  • H.H. Price, "Harold Arthur Prichard", Proceedings of the British Academy, XXXIII, 1947.

External links[edit]