Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Sorting out Ethics

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Sorting out Ethics

Article excerpt

HARE, R. M. Sorting Out Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. vii + 191 pp. Cloth, $18.95--I believe the title of this book to be something of a pun which Hare employs to point to the two central tasks of this book, his attempt to "sort out" ethical theories by placing them within an exhaustive "taxonomy" of ethical theories and his attempt to use this taxonomy to "sort these theories out," as the English might say, or "put them in their place" as Americans would put it. That is, he hopes to use this taxonomy to develop a set of very general arguments that could be used against whole classes of ethical theory, thereby eliminating the need to attack each one individually. In this book, Hare does not attempt, in any systematic way, to apply his own ethical theory to cases; nor does he seek to elaborate it in any great detail. Instead, he attempts to defend it first by raising objections to other types of ethical theories, and then by outlining the numerous virtues of his own theory.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, "The Enterprise of Moral Philosophy," Hare discusses the importance of the philosophy of language to ethics and argues that the purpose of ethical theory is to justify certain methods of moral thinking which are essential to the rational solution to ethical problems. To some degree this section covers quickly some of the same ground that was covered in greater detail in Hare's Moral Thinking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). What is new is Hare's extended discussion of Austin's "speech act theory," which he uses to update and strengthen the linguistic foundations of his theory. He also uses this updated framework in the arguments of the book's second part.

In that second part, Hare develops his taxonomy of ethical theories. Some might find this taxonomy and some of its classifications a bit odd, as it is constructed from within Hare's linguistic perspective. However, it is both interesting and insightful. Since, on Hare's view, an "ethical theory" is a "theory about the meanings and logical properties of the moral words" (p. 45), it is only natural that his "taxonomy" will be cast in terms of these properties. …

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