Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays


R. M. Hare has brought together in this volume the best of his uncollected essays in moral philosophy, several of them previously unpublished or revised for this collection. They span the whole range of his ethical interests, from the most abstract to the most down-to-earth. The reader will find here the bases of his ethical theory in Kantian prescriptivism, utilitarianism, and the logic of imperatives, and will see that theory applied to issues of bioethics, medical ethics, business ethics, loyalty and obedience, and racism. The essays display the author's characteristic clarity and vigour; some of them are polemical, targeting particular opponents and rival theories. The volume provides a compelling demonstration of Hare's commitment to bringing together the theoretical and the practical in ethics.


As I approach my eightieth birthday, which both Plato and Kant survived, I think it appropriate to publish one more volume of essays. Although I shall leave a fairly large Nachlass, published and unpublished, this is probably my last book. the remaining items are mostly repetitive of what I have said already, and I cannot see much point in saying it again. Those who have understood my ideas will not need it, and it would be vain to hope that those who have not understood will see the light.

Unlike my previous volumes of essays, this one spans the whole field of moral philosophy from the most abstract and theoretical to the most down-to-earth. Some guidance to the reader may therefore be useful. Those who wish to know how I have reached my practical conclusions may want to examine their theoretical basis in my universal prescriptivist theory and in the logic of imperatives. But those, probably more numerous, who seek the practical conclusions and are scared by the theory, will be well advised to skip the early chapters. the chapter which gives the volume its title of 'Objective Prescriptions' may serve as a simple introduction giving the gist of my theory. There follows a combination of two papers which I wrote for different encyclopedias, under the title 'Prescriptivism'.

Chapters 3 and 4 mark my contribution to the logic of imperatives, which, although it is the foundation of all my work in moral philosophy, will probably earn the contempt of the real experts in this field. a polemical piece follows, directed at some writers who, I say, can contribute little to ethics because they have not understood it; and three other equally hostile essays on particular opponents. I once contemplated a volume of 'Philosophical Satires'; but the reader will be happy to be spared this.

There follows a minor contribution to the study of Aristotle, in connection with his treatment of weakness of the will, which is wrongly thought to be the Achilles heel of prescriptivists. in Chapters 10 and 11 I take up the subject of foundationalism, showing that Kantian, as contrasted with Cartesian, foundationalism is the key to moral objectivity; and of preferences, showing, with acknowledgements to Mane Hajdin, how I might avoid the snares of external and now-for-then . . .

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