R.M. Hare

1919-2002

Richard Hare was a prominent 20th century ethicist who defended an unusual and surprising mix of Kant and preference utilitarianism. Like Kant, his account begins from the logic of the moral "ought." He claims, however, that the universalizability of moral judgements, coupled with general facts about human beings and the human condition, implies a two-level form of utilitarianism. He claims that this version answers the standard objections to utilitarianism better than any other version, and that it explains a lot of the reactions people have to the Bloggs-type cases from which we began.

The best place to read an overview of Hare's position as described here is his book Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point (Oxford University Press, 1981).


Hare's basic argument:

  1. The logic of
    moral terms
    like "ought"
plus
  1. Facts about
    human nature
    and the
    human condition
lead
to
  1. A two level
    version of
    utilitarianism

1. The universalizability of moral judgments implies preference utilitarianism.

2. However, human beings need both "intuitive level moral principles" and "critical thinking."

C. This implies that one should embrace a two-level version of utilitarianism:

"Intuitive
level"
thinking
Acceptance
utility
based
rule
utilitarianism
Prima facie principles governing general types of cases commonly encountered by people, for use:

  1. when there isn't time for critical thinking, or

  2. when one can't trust one's critical thinking.
"Critical
level"
thinking
Act utilitarianism

or

"specific rule utilitarianism"

For use:

  1. when prima facie principles conflict,

  2. in unusual cases, or

  3. when both (a) it is clear that utility can be maximized a certain way and (b) one can trust one's judgment that this is so.

"The archangel"

&

"the prole"

super-human knowledge ignorant, uninformed
super-human powers of critical thinking incapable of critical thinking
no human weaknesses weaknesses in the extreme degree


Three kinds of intuitive level principles:

  1. Common morality: Insofar as members of a society face similar problems, we would expect agreement to emerge on basic standards which everyone in the society will be expected to live up to. Moreover, given the universal features of the human condition, we would expect there to be many similarities between the common moralities of various cultures at different times and places.

  2. Professional ethics: Insofar as those in certain roles face similar kinds of situations repeatedly, we would expect agreement to emerge on basic standards for the conduct of various professionals and others in special roles.

  3. Personal morality: And insofar as individuals differ in their abilities to reason critically under various circumstances, critical thinking will lead different individuals to train themselves to adhere to different sets of intuitive level rules, including "metaprinciples" for deciding when to engage in critical thinking and when to stick unquestioningly to one's intuitive level priniciples.