[lit-ideas] SOS - BA vs Hare's prescriptive

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 7 Jun 2006 11:45:46 -0700

In the first part of chapter 3, Taylor develops the idea (not unlike
Collingwood's) that we develop our BA, Best Account, Moral Framework.  We
don't necessarily believe it absolutely.  That is, we aren't willing to
insist that it is the absolute truth, but we have lived and developed and
adhere to a Framework that is best able to account for the implications of
our experiences and studies.  We hope we aren't engaged in subjective
projectivism, that is, projecting a subjective view as an overlay to account
for the external world as we see it, and that is a danger.  Perhaps
something in our childhood caused us to fear something and as time went on
we projected an image upon reality that resolves that fear into something we
need no longer be afraid of.  


Perhaps we were raised as a Catholic and feared afterlife punishment, but if
we can do away with the afterlife and God, then we need no longer entertain
that particular fear.  But, as we reexamine the transition that we lived
through from Catholic to atheist, are we sure that we were persuaded by
scientific arguments that there is no afterlife or God?  Or could we have
sought out that solution because of subjective fear?  


Taylor argues that we must be moved by our convictions.  Our transitions are
experiences that move us toward a more elaborate or perhaps a different
framework.  We cannot prescind from our background confidence, i.e., our
framework.  We cannot be "objective," because we are moved by the
transitions and so adhere to our framework.  As a consequence we cannot
reason with someone who adheres to a radically different framework.  We may
have grown into atheism in our teens and discovered additional reasons for
out atheism as we grew, but if in our adult life we meet our village priest,
we shall not be able to reason with him because he holds a radically
different framework.  Furthermore he is probably as moved by his as we are
by our atheistic framework.  Our conception of reason is to convince him
that his belief (framework) is wrong and that atheism is the correct view.
His conception will probably be come, let us reason together, though your
sins be as scarlet, I will wash them white as snow. 


On page 75 Taylor writes, "As long as the wrong, external model of practical
reason holds sway, the very notion of giving a reason smacks of offering
some external considerations, not anchored in our moral intuitions, which
can somehow show that certain moral practices and allegiances are correct.
An external consideration in this sense is one which could convince someone
who was quite unmoved by a certain vision of the good that he ought to adopt
it, or at least act according to its prescriptions.  This is the kind of
reasons which a naturalistic picture of human life might seem to offer
utilitarianism or some ethic 'material' welfare; or the kind of support that
theories like Hare's prescriptivism derive from considerations about the
logic of moral language."


I looked up the reference and it was to Hare's Freedom and Reason.  I
checked the reviews on Amazon.com and one of them had the following: "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."


One can see that Taylor (at least at this point) is taking a very different
tack from Hare and yet I wonder if Hare doesn't have the truer hold on this
matter.  Do we really think as Taylor argues that we settle for the BA, Best
Account?  Or do we with Hare believe our framework is the truth and that it
should be universalized.  I can recall several years ago when I was heavily
into Collingwood attempting to get some with opposing political views to
examine with me our mutually exclusive "constellations of absolute
presuppositions."  I got no takers because, I gathered, my opponents were
not willing to consider their views as anything other than univeralizable;
whereas I was willing, at least for the sake of discussion, to consider both
views, theirs and mine, as Best Accounts in order to examine how we got to
wherever we were.



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