Essays on Political Morality

Essays on Political Morality

Essays on Political Morality

Essays on Political Morality


R. M. Hare, one of the most widely discussed of today's moral philosophers, presents a selection of essays in which he brings ethical theory lucidly to bear on moral problems arising in politics. He examines our obligation to obey the law; the limits of legitimate lawbreaking, civil violence, and war; rights of various sorts and their supposed conflict with utility; justice, distributive and retributive; and care of the environment. His arguments are amply illustrated by specific examples. The volume substantiates the author's claim that help with such problems can be found in philosophy, and particularly in his own ethical theory, which draws together the best insights of Kant and utilitarians.


This is the second of a series of volumes in which, for the convenience of readers, I am collecting essays of mine that now are scattered, inaccessible or as yet unpublished. I have been gratified to see how well they are fitting together. the first volume was called Essays in Ethical Theory; the others will apply to further areas of practice the theory advocated there and in my main books: a combination of what I think to be true in the theories of Kant and the utilitarians. I have in preparation two more volumes to be called Essays on Religion and Education and Essays on Bioethics. Since I am still hard at work writing, there may be, if I am spared, more to come on both theory and practice.

Throughout my career I have been looking for a method of thinking rationally about practical moral questions. That was what brought me into philosophy in the first place. I have been publishing papers on practical questions since 1955, and I have written more as my confidence in my understanding of the theoretical issues has grown. Over half of my output is now on applied ethics. I am happy that more moral philosophers are now doing the same; the view, which I never shared, that philosophy cannot contribute to the solution of practical problems is not heard so much these days. Indeed, we are now in a position to help a great deal, if the philosophy is well done and the public can be got to recognize this, and distinguish the serious philosophers from those who are only confusing the issues.

The essays in this volume fall into sections. the first (papers 1 to 3) deals with laws: how philosophers can help in improving them, the basis of the obligation to obey them, and when this obligation can be overridden. the topic of violence thus introduced is pursued in the next section (papers 4 to 6), which deals with the morality of acts of terrorism and war.

Papers 7 to 9 deal in general with rights and how they can be argued for on Kantian-utilitarian grounds (the only grounds, so far as I can see, which can support them adequately). Particular rights are then discussed in papers 10 to 13: equality, liberty, both political and personal, with . . .

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