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

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 7 Jun 2006 23:18:35 -0700

Okay, I can see that I don't have Hare right, but I didn't think quite what
you suggest.  I was seeing Taylor as advocating a sort of philosophical
pluralism.  His frameworks are the Best Accounts that we can achieve to
account for our places in the world. We define Goods, even Hyper-goods and
have them established as goals to be pursued.  In Utilitarianism and
Kantianism morality is what one does, the actions one takes, but in Taylor
it is what one is and what one is becoming.  


In Taylor, and I want to say this tentatively because I've only read 112 and
already he seems to have changed a bit in the sense of filling himself in
and clarifying ambiguities, he doesn't prescribe a framework, or a Best
Account that is good for everyone.  We each seek our own in a pluralistic
fashion recognizing that other people will have their own Best Accounts and
that will be okay with us.  


I took Taylor to be saying that Hare's Prescriptivism was similar to Old
Testament morality, and here I take it I was wrong (but if I'm wrong then I
don't understand what Taylor was saying about Hare).  I took Hare to be
making absolute statements he believed could be universalized in the same
sense that Old Testament morality could be universalized.  It is to be
prescribed that No one is to Kill, steal or commit adultery - or whatever.
And this wouldn't be just his prescription; it must be applied to everyone.
If Hare is pluralistic about his Universalized prescriptions then he is much
more trivial than I imagined.







-----Original Message-----
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Robert Paul
Sent: Wednesday, June 07, 2006 9:04 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: SOS - BA vs Hare's prescriptive


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.


Robert Paul

Reed College


To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,

digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: