Quandaries in Moral Philosophy

Total Posts:  39
Joined  31-12-2017
29 May 2018 20:31

R. M. Hare seems to be a nearly forgotten figure now, but in previous years he was an important moral philosopher.  Last month I posted a comment about Bryan Magee’s interviews with philosophers (forum.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/70969/).  In it I briefly described the first interview with Isaiah Berlin, who divided philosophical questions that can be 1) answered empirically, 2) answered within the context of formal systems, and 3) can’t readily be answered conclusively (e.g. moral questions).  It is the third of these categories that occupied Hare.  Unfortunately, the Magee interview with Hare is not currently available, but another interview, with Tim Moore of the University of Hong Kong, is accessible.

In that interview, Hare divides answers to these questions into two types: those at the ‘intuitive level’ and those at the ‘critical level’.  An intuitive answer is that which comes through one’s dispositions, which in turn are products of one’s values, culture and traditions.  At the critical level, dispositions are challenged (often causing stress).  Hare does not give primacy to the critical level; indeed for him, in most circumstances, the intuitive level is the right one (because for most people traditions are going to be an appropriate base in most day to day circumstances), and in that sense he is conservative.  However, in exceptional circumstances, the critical level must be applied and may need to at least be considered generally (applying it generally, on the other hand, can be counterproductive, even dangerous).  He compares his division to the “that” vs. the “why” in Aristotle’s ethics (i.e. usually it is enough to know that something should be done a certain way, without knowing why). 

This division into intuitive and critical, while not solving certain irreconcilable ethical problems that arise in situational ethics, consequentialism, utilitarianism, and liberalism, provides a way to frame the differences, which in many practical situations can help resolve differences, if there is a certain amount of good faith.

The A/V quality of the recording is not very good, but its a worthwhile listen for the content.

video: https://youtu.be/qXzuM6HaTj8
audio: https://is.gd/OMeLvA    (‘78 series, #8)


[ Edited: 29 May 2018 20:38 by saeed]
Brick Bungalow
Brick Bungalow
Total Posts:  5218
Joined  28-05-2009
30 May 2018 05:59

I think it’s a good division in almost any domain of inquiry. Conflating objective properties and aesthetic judgments is the source of much unnecessary confusion. The distinction isn’t always clear and available but where and when it is I think we ought to acknowledge it.