How to make ethical universalization tests work

Journal of Value Inquiry 41 (1):31-43 (2007)
Richard Hare described the "ethical fanatic" as an agent who appeared to be able to rationally universalize morally horrendous values by "fanatically" accepting the consequences of those values even if their universalization harmed the original agent. This challenges the project of basing ethics on universalization tests, as advocated by Hare, Immanuel Kant, and others. Hare later argued that fanatics are irrational by appealing to a "principle of prudence," but this violates his meta-principle of not basing fundamental ethical principles upon intuitions which are not themselves shown to be required by reason. This failure is corrected by using the concept of "pragmatic implication" to show that any agent's reliance upon any ethical principle commits her to a higher-ordered principle which justifies commitment to the original principle. This threatens an infinite regress, which can only be closed by a unique meta-principle. It is shown that all possible alternatives to this principle fail to actually end the regress, and all strategies of ignoring the regress also entail practical inconsistency. Hence, ethical universalization tests are not empty; they support unique ethical principles whose content does not depend upon the particular values of actual agents.
Keywords Ethical fanaticism  Richard Hare  Ethical rationalism  Pragmatic implication  Ethical universalization tests  Justificatory regress  Foundations of ethics
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-007-9075-7
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