Sorting out Ethics

Sorting out Ethics

Sorting out Ethics

Sorting out Ethics

Synopsis

Sorting Out Ethics is a characteristically lucid and lively survey of rival ethical theories by one of the most influential moral philosophers of the century. It also constitutes a definitive summary of Hare's own fundamental ethical position. The book's main theme is that objectivity in moral thinking is not to be sought by making moral questions into questions of fact; this leads inevitably to relativism, tying us to particular cultures and languages. Objectivity is to be sought, rather, by emphasizing the universally prescriptive character of moral language, which all cultures can share, and so using it to resolve their moral differences. An objective moral prescription, as Kant saw, is one upon which all rational thinkers can agree.

Excerpt

The core of this book is my Axel Hägerström Lectures, given in Uppsala in 1991. I had planned to incorporate these, together with revisions of other papers, into a full-length book giving my considered views on ethical theory. It was to have been given as the José Ferrater Mora Lectures at Girona in Catalonia. But this too ambitious project was defeated by a series of strokes, which rendered me incapable, not only of typing with more than one hand, but of thinking book-length thoughts. I was very sorry to have to cancel my visit to Catalonia, to which I had been looking forward with pleasure.

Formerly, when writing a book, I used to hold the whole of it in my head from start to finish. This is the only way to avoid repetitions and even contradictions. But I can no longer do it. So I have had to compromise, with the helpful advice of the Oxford University Press, and publish the lectures with three major additions. The first of these is an attempt to justify the whole enterprise of applying philosophy of language to ethics. It is a revised version of my contribution to the De Gruyter Handbuch Sprachphilosophie, and gives a conspectus of my entire thinking. The second is an introduction to my lecture course in Oxford and Florida, omitted from the five lectures given in Uppsala because of lack of time.

The Axel Hägerström Lectures follow. They were delivered originally under the title, 'A Taxonomy of Ethical Theories'. The first and second of these were mostly new; the rest had many sources. They are partly a distillation of lectures given over the years in Oxford, Florida, and elsewhere, much revised, condensed, and, I hope, improved. My practice has been to give lectures shaped round a nucleus which remained basically the same, to which I added other lectures from time to time. Many of these additions were intended to illustrate the uses of ethical theory by applying it to practical problems. They have mostly been collected into volumes and published already. I hope that one other such volume will appear. But the nucleus, giving my . . .

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