R. M. Hare Biography

Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Hare’s moral theory, called “universal prescriptivism,” is based on the idea that moral judgments are universalizable prescriptions. Like the noncognitivist, he stresses the commending or evaluating function of value statements. Therefore, at least part of what it means to say “x is right” is “x is to be commended,” or “one ought to do x.” Hare also thinks, however, unlike the noncognitivist, that moral statements are meant both to guide choices through a veiled appeal to universal principles and to assert on rationally testable grounds that something is the case. He agrees with G. E. Moore that naturalistic theories are fallacious but differs in his account of the reason for this. Hare’s work is one of the most eclectic efforts in contemporary moral philosophy, for his view has certain definite affinities with utilitarianism (in the idea that the basic human good is to maximize rational preferences that embody prescriptions), with existentialist ethics (in his suggestion that one makes a “decision of principle” when one chooses a particular action), with Kantian ethics (in connection with his universalizability thesis), and with emotivism (in his focus on the logic of the language of morals). On the practical side of moral philosophy, Hare shows an unusual philosophical interest in problems related to moral education and moral decision making.