Moral argument

Mind 69 (276):544-549 (1960)

The thesis is advanced by R. M. Hare that a judgment on an action or state of affairs is a moral judgment only if the person who makes it accepts some universal moral principle which, together with some true statement about the non-moral characteristics of the situation originally judged, entails the original judgment.1 Instances of this thesis would take some such form as saying that someone who says ‘You ought not to have done what you did’ cannot be expressing a moral judgment by this unless he accepts something of the form ‘Actions which are A are wrong and what you did was A’ or ‘People who are A ought not to perform actions which are B, and you are A and what you did was B’. Hare claims that it is analytic that every moral judgment is so supported; he claims, that is, that ‘universalisable’ is part of the meaning of ‘moral’. I think that Hare is perfectly right about this, but the question of truth is not what I am now primarily concerned to discuss. What I wish to bring out here is something of what can be built on the basis of Hare's thesis, for I think that it is important in ways which Hare has not publicly discussed. Furthermore, there is something to be said for the view that the best way to argue for the truth of the thesis is to bring out clearly what makes it important. It is sometimes urged that the thesis is true but trivial. It is said: ‘If Hare's thesis is that my judgment qualifies as a moral one only if it is an application of some universal moral principle which I accept, then the thesis allows any prima facie case of a moral judgment to qualify as a genuine moral judgment: nothing could fail to qualify. For it is always possible to form a universal principle of the form ‘Anything which is [complete description of the subject of the original judgment] is [moral characterisation as given in the original judgment]’, and to claim honestly enough that one accepts this ‘universal principle’ - to claim, indeed, that accepting the original judgment was accepting the ‘universal principle’..
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DOI 10.1093/mind/LXIX.276.544
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