Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

By R. M. Hare | Go to book overview
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12.1. IN these days of intense academic competition, which is supposed to keep us all on our toes, one has to publish or be damned; and for advancing one's career it is more important that what one publishes should be new, than that it should be true. Often it is not as new as one thinks it is; sometimes, if one looks back to the great philosophers of the past, one finds that one's bright new ideas have been anticipated by them. This has happened often enough to me.

As to being true, that is not so difficult. Most philosophical truths are fairly obvious, though people obscure them by their inability or unwillingness to express themselves clearly. The difficult thing is to grasp the whole truth. If you take a bunch of supposedly divergent theories on almost any philosophical question, you will find in each of them some points which are right, and some which are wrong. Those who criticize these theories often rightly attack the points that are wrong, but do not see that not everything in a theory is wrong; it also, usually, has hold of important truths. So, in putting forward their own opposing theories, these philosophers discard the good with the bad, denying truths that their victims had grasped. So they too land themselves in a mixture of truth and error. The difficult thing, as I said, is to grasp the whole truth. This entails carefully disentangling the truths from the errors in all the theories one studies. It is the mark of the good philosopher to be able to do this. All philosophers can profit from the advice that I regularly give to my students: pinch your opponents' clothes. That is, find out what is right about what they are saying, and say it yourself You will then be less exposed to their counterattacks. You will end up, as I have ended up, as an eclectic-- not the sort of eclectic that borrows thoughts from all and sundry without seeking to make them consistent with one another, but the

"'Methods of Bioethics: Some Defective Proposals.'" From Monash Bioethics Review 13 ( 1994). Also in L. W. Sumner and J. Boyle, eds., Philosophical Perspectives on Bioethics ( Toronto, Ont.: Toronto University Press, 1996).


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Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays


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