R. M. Hare

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Richard Mervyn Hare
Born (1919-03-21)21 March 1919
Backwell, Somerset
Died 29 January 2002(2002-01-29) (aged 82)
Ewelme, Oxfordshire
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests Ethics
Notable ideas Universal prescriptivism, two-level utilitarianism
Influences
Influenced

Richard Mervyn Hare (/hɛər/; 21 March 1919 – 29 January 2002) was an English moral philosopher who held the post of White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1966 until 1983. He subsequently taught for a number of years at the University of Florida. His meta-ethical theories were influential during the second half of the twentieth century.

Hare is best known for his development of prescriptivism as a meta-ethical theory. He believed that formal features of moral discourse could be used to show that correct moral reasoning will lead most agents to a form of preference utilitarianism.

Some of Hare's students, such as Brian McGuinness and Bernard Williams, went on to become well-known philosophers. Peter Singer, known for his involvement with the animal liberation movement, was also a student of Hare's, and has explicitly adopted some elements of Hare's thought, though not his doctrine of universal prescriptivism.

Life and career[edit]

Richard Hare was born in Backwell, Somerset. He attended Rugby School in Warwickshire, followed in 1937 by Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Greats (Classics). Although he was a pacifist, he volunteered for service in the Royal Artillery and was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese from the fall of Singapore in 1942 to the end of the Second World War. This experience had a lasting impact on Hare's philosophical views, particularly his view that moral philosophy has an obligation to help people live their lives as moral beings (King 2004). His earliest work in philosophy, which has never been published, dates from this period, and in it, he tried to develop a system that might "serve as a guide to life in the harshest conditions," according to The Independent.[1]

He returned to Oxford after the war, and in 1947, married Catherine Verney, a marriage that produced a son and three daughters. (Hare's son, John E. Hare, is also a philosopher.) He was elected fellow and tutor in philosophy at Balliol from 1947–1996; honorary fellow at Balliol from 1974–2002; and was appointed Wilde Lecturer in Natural Religion, 1963–66; and White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, 1966–1983, which accompanied a move to Corpus Christi. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1972 to 1973. He left Oxford in 1983 to become Graduate Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Florida at Gainseville, a post he held until 1994.

He died in Ewelme, Oxfordshire on 29 January 2002 after suffering a series of strokes.

Influences[edit]

Hare was greatly influenced by the emotivism of A. J. Ayer and Charles L. Stevenson, the ordinary language philosophy of J. L. Austin, a certain reading of the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, utilitarianism, and Immanuel Kant.

Hare held that ethical rules should not be based on a principle of utility, though he took into account utilitarian considerations. His hybrid approach to meta-ethics distinguishes him from classical utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham. His book Sorting Out Ethics might be interpreted as saying that Hare is as much a Kantian as he is a utilitarian, but other sources[2] disagree with this assessment. Although Hare used many concepts from Kant, especially the idea of universalizability, he was still a consequentialist, rather than a deontologist, in his normative ethical views. Hare himself addressed the possibility that Kant was a utilitarian like himself, in his "Could Kant Have Been a Utilitarian?"

Universal prescriptivism[edit]

In a series of books, especially The Language of Morals (1952), Freedom and Reason (1963), and Moral Thinking (1981), Hare gave shape to a theory that he called universal prescriptivism. According to this, moral terms such as 'good', 'ought' and 'right' have two logical or semantic properties: universalizability and prescriptivity. By the former, he meant that moral judgments must identify the situation they describe according to a finite set of universal terms, excluding proper names, but not definite descriptions. By the latter, he meant that moral agents must perform those acts they consider themselves to have an obligation to perform whenever they are physically and psychologically able to do so. In other words, he argued that it made no sense for someone to say, sincerely: "I ought to do X," and then fail to do X. This was identified by Frankena, Nobis and others as a major flaw in Hare's system, as it appeared to take no account of akrasia, or weakness of the will.[3][4][5]

Hare argued that the combination of universalizability and prescriptivity leads to a certain form of consequentialism, namely, preference utilitarianism.

Importance of specificity[edit]

Hare departs from Kant's view that only the most general maxims of conduct be used (for example, "do not steal"), but the consequences ignored, when applying the categorical imperative. To ignore consequences leads to absurdity: for example, that it would be wrong to steal a terrorist's plans to blow up a nuclear facility. All the specific facts of a circumstance must be considered, and these include probable consequences. They also include the relevant, universal properties of the facts: for example, the psychological states of those involved.

Applied ethics and political philosophy[edit]

While Hare was primarily interested in meta-ethics, he also made some important contributions to the fields of political philosophy and applied ethics. Among his essays within these fields those on the wrongness of slavery, abortion and the golden rule, and on demi-vegetarianism have received the most attention. Hare's most important work in political philosophy and applied ethics is collected in the two volumes Essays on Political Morality (1989) and Essays on Bioethics (1993), both published by Oxford University Press.

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Nobis, Nathan. "CHAPTER 4: Hare's Universal Rational Prescriptivism". Morehouse College. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Frankena, William (July 1988). "Hare on moral weakness and the definition of morality". Ethics 98 (4): 779–792. doi:10.1086/293005. 
  5. ^ Singer, Peter. "Universal Prescriptivism R. M. Hare". UNC Charlotte. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]