[lit-ideas] Re: SOS - BA vs Hare's prescriptive
- From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
- To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 21:04:24 -0700
Lawrence Helm wrote:
That statement led me to the aforementioned reviewer whom you say is not
misleading who wrote, “He [Hare] 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.”
I hope we aren’t going to get into one of our famous arguments that
results in our being described as dogs, but I believe that I am being
true to what the reviewer wrote. Explain to me why I am not. I see
Kant’s Categorical Imperative here – a truth that is to be
universalized. I can say “thou shalt not murder” and intend this to be
universalizable. It is prescriptive and a guide for moral behavior. I
can also see Geary’s “be kind” as universalizable within his framework.
I too hope that this won't lead to our being described as dogs, or fish
for that matter. Here is where I think you misunderstand Hare (and
Kant). Kant first. The Categorical Imperative is not 'a truth that is to
be universalized.' It is a test of the 'maxims' one considers acting on.
A 'maxim' is for all practical purposes a description of what one is
thinking about doing (eating figs, e.g., or making a 'lying promise').
The CI comes in various formulations, but the one we're talking about, I
think, is the one expressed as: 'Act only according to that maxim which
you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.'
This doesn't mean, in the case of eating figs, that you want to will
that every rational beings eat figs: what it means is that it would not
be self contradictory or destructive of any concepts of rationality if
everyone did eat them. But when it comes to making lying promises, one
is supposed to see that willing that everyone should be allowed to make
lying promises would be incoherent for it would destroy the very notion
of promise keeping. And so on.
In saying, 'Thou shalt not murder,' one may or may not mean that this
should be universalized. One may be speaking to another person or group
of people, whom one thinks shouldn't murder, and yet see oneself as
exempt from this 'command.' In your example, it's clear that you think
you're speaking to 'everybody' and that you're included (although not by
name or reference) in 'everybody.' But this command comes too late. If
you've already decided that 'Thou shalt not murder,' is an injunction
binding on everybody, there's a sense in which you need neither Kant nor
Hare. Kant provides a test not of commands and injunctions, but of
proposed actions, some of which will and some of which won't pass the
test of the first formulation of the CI. Even if 'don't murder' does
pass the test of the CI, it doesn't thereby become a command. (If this
is wrong, Walter, straighten me out.) You could say that that even if
you find that you can (with consistency) will that a proposed maxim
become a universal law, you aren't commanding or enjoining anyone to do
So, I think that in this example, you begin your story too late. In
Kant's analysis, you're not supposed to issue commands that you 'intend
to be universalizable'; you're supposed to see if some 'maxim' _could
be_ universalizable (although Kant nowhere talks of 'universalizability').
I haven’t read Hare but don’t see how he can hold the view that we must
believe our moral choices to be universalizable prescriptions without
the potential for evaluating consequent more actions. Jack was unkind
to Jim. He violated Geary’s universalized prescription; therefore in
Geary’s moral judgment Jack is guilty of moral turpitude.
Hare's test is different from Kant's in this way: if I propose that
something ought or ought not to be done (in a moral tone of voice), then
I must accept its being universalizable and prescriptive. If you're in a
certain situation and I tell you you ought or ought not to do something,
then, if I'm not trying to coerce you or whatever, I must grant that
anyone in those circumstances should act as I now say you should (myself
included) although I cannot mention myself (or you) in expressing this
in universalized form.
Really, I only think you go wrong when you see Hare as proposing that
there is anything like a framework (in what I sort of take to be
Taylor's sense) which is not only 'true' but out of which come
'universal truths.' Again, Hare nowhere mentions the truth of a
universalized moral statement. His only requirement is that if one
claims that it is a moral statement (or judgment) one must be willing to
see it universalized.
My dog is trying to tell me that he wants to go for a walk. Or maybe
he's telling me that he has to go outside and pee. Sometimes it's hard
to know the difference.
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