Saturday, April 22, 2006

Harean Nuggets

Select quotes from R.M. Hare's Moral Thinking:
Nothing is so difficult in philosophical writing as to get people to be sympathetic enough to what one is saying to understand what it is. (p.65)

[I]t is a misuse of the word 'ought' to say 'You ought, but I can conceive of another situation, identical in all its properties to this one, except that the corresponding person ought not'. (p.10)

The winner of a game of backgammon is the player who first bears off all his pieces in accordance with the rules of the game, not the one who follows the best strategies. Similarly in morals, the principles which we have to follow if we are to give ourselves the best chance of acting rightly are not definitive of 'the right act'; but if we wish to act rightly we shall do well, all the same, to follow them. (p.38)

[To directly employ act-utilitarian reasoning] is, as we have seen, a dangerous procedure; but sometimes we may be driven to it [e.g. if our prima facie principles conflict]. Anti-utilitarians make it their business to produce examples in which this is the only recourse, and then charge utilitarians with taking it (which is unavoidable) and with taking it light-heartedly (which is a slander). The good utilitarian will reach such decisions, but reach them with great reluctance because of his ingrained good principles; and he may agonize, and will certainly reflect, about them till he has sorted out by critical thinking, not only what he ought to have done in the particular case, but what his prima facie principles ought to be. (pp.51-52)

If we want to find out what ordinary people mean, it is seldom safe just to ask them. They will come out with a variety of answers, few of which, perhaps, will withstand a philosophical scrutiny or elenchus, conducted in the light of the ordinary people's own linguistic behaviour (for example what they treat as self-contradictory). (p.80)

Since this is a problem which has to be faced by any theory of rational choice, and not merely by utilitarianism, those who clutch at it as an argument against utilitarianism in particular reveal only their own lack of interest in rational choice between alternatives. But it has to be faced all the same. (p.95, fn.4)

He wasn't talking about the Infinite Spheres of Utility puzzle, or the population paradox. But the point has broad application. And again:
It is worth saying right at the beginning that this is not a problem peculiarly for utilitarians... The fact, if it is one, that there are other independent virtues and duties as well [as beneficence] makes no difference to this requirement. Only a theory which allowed no place at all to beneficence... could escape this demand. Anybody, therefore, who is tempted to bring up this objection against utilitarians should ask himself whether he is himself attracted by a theory which leaves out such considerations entirely. (p.118)


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