| 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:
- The logic of
- Facts about
- A two level
1. The universalizability of moral judgments implies
- It is a logical feature of natural language that moral judgments
(expressed in terms of "ought" claims, or claims about what is "right")
are both (1) universalizable and (2) overriding.
- By this he means that, in order to sincerely assent to the
judgement that "A ought to do X to B and C," one must sincerely assent to
the judgements that "B ought to do X to A and C" and "C ought to do X to A
and B," were their various roles switched, and one must assent to this
irrespective of what one's individual preferences are (that is, whether
one is A rather than B or C).
- And this means, according to Hare, that Kantian universalizability
implies preference utilitarianism. For to sincerely assent to an ought
claim is to prefer that the thing in question be done, even if one had to
occupy, successively, the positions of each and every one of the persons
- Hare's criterion of universalizability thus combines the intuitiveness
of the traditional Golden Rule (do unto others what you would have them do
unto you -- you imagine yourself in the others' shoes) with the precision of
the philosophers' condition of universalizability (when doing so, you are to imagine yourself
having the others' preferences rather than your own). So one way to think of
Hare's view is as providing a secular defense of the Golden Rule (one based on
the logic of moral judgments rather than divine authority) and an
argument to the conclusion that the Golden Rule, properly understood,
implies preference utilitarianism.
2. However, human beings need both "intuitive level
moral principles" and "critical thinking."
- Humans' basic preferences are pretty uniform, but
- Humans vary in their ability to think critically and to act on what
they determine to be correct moral principles, and across time and varying
circumstances, the same individual varies in these same ways.
C. This implies that one should embrace a two-level
version of utilitarianism:
Prima facie principles governing general types of cases commonly
encountered by people, for use:
- when there isn't time for critical thinking, or
- when one can't trust one's critical thinking.
"specific rule utilitarianism"
- when prima facie principles conflict,
- in unusual cases, or
- 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.
Hare uses the images of "the archangel" and "the prole" to help us
understand why humans need both kinds of thinking by contrasting us
with a being who would have no need for intuitive level principles
(the archangel) and one who would be incapable of critical thinking
super-human powers of critical thinking
incapable of critical thinking
no human weaknesses
weaknesses in the extreme degree
Three kinds of intuitive level principles:
- 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.
- 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
- 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