Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

By R. M. Hare | Go to book overview

19
WHAT ARE CITIES FOR? THE ETHICS OF URBAN PLANNING

19.1. To ask what cities are for is to ask for their function--a concept which notoriously needs careful handling if it is not to get us into trouble. Some words incorporate in their very meaning the function of the things for which they are the words. For example, if we know what a knife is, or what the word 'knife' means, we know that knives are for cutting, or that cutting is the function of knives. This has the consequence that if a knife will not cut, it must be a bad one. I disregard the case of a knife which, though a good knife, has been neglected and is therefore blunt. At least it would cut if it were sharpened. I have dealt with some of the properties of functional words, as I call them, elsewhere (LM 6.4).

Other words, though not functional in the sense that the function is implicit in their meaning, nevertheless are words for things that do have functions. 'Heart' is an example of such a word. People knew what hearts were, or what the word 'heart' meant, before it was discovered that the heart is a pump whose function is to circulate the blood. So the function is not implicit in the meaning. Nevertheless, the heart does have this function.

It does not much matter to which of these classes we assign the word 'city'. Actually I think that it belongs to the second: one could know what a city is without knowing the function of cities (indeed many of our most vocal Greens are in this position); but they do have a function, and we can ask what it is. In other words, we can ask what good it does to have cities in which people live and work in proximity to one another, instead of living and working scattered uniformly over the countryside. I asked and answered this question in 1969b. I said that the reason why we have cities is in order to facilitate communication with one another.

Most forms of human activity, from the most commercial and soul-

____________________
'What are Cities For?' From C. C. W. Taylor, ed., Ethics and the Environment ( Oxford: Corpus Christi College, 1992).

-201-

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