Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard M. Hare, fully Richard Mervyn Hare

English Moral Philosopher, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford and University of Florida

"It is, most fundamentally, because moral judgments are universablizable that we can speak of moral thought as rational (to universalize is to give the reason); and their prescriptivity is very intimately connected with our freedom to form our own moral opinions (only those free to think and act need a prescriptive language)."

"I have been maintaining that the meaning of the word 'ought' and other moral words is such that a person who uses them commits himself thereby to a universal rule. This is the thesis of universalizability."

"Our argument ... will result, not upon logic by itself--though without logic we should never have got to this point--but upon the fortunate contingent fact that people who would take this logically possible view, after they had really imagined themselves in the other man's position, are extremely rare."

"An 'ought' statement implies universal application."

"Both the Greeks of the Fourth Century B.C. and we in our own times have seen how quickly people like Thrasymachus spring up, and with what dire results, once men have forgotten the meaning of ?ought?."

"But ?ought? aspires to the status of ?must?, and ? in rigorous, critical moral reasoning has to be used like it."

"By far the easiest way of seeming upright is to be upright."

"Descriptivism say ethical meaning is just truth-conditions; prescriptivism adds an evaluation."

"Determinism and Libertarianism are still thought by many to be locked in a conflict which philosophers have been unable to resolve, and it is also thought that the conflict is of great practical significance, so that for example, important policy decisions about the punishment of offenders or the education of children hang upon its solution. But in fact I do not think that many of those who have come down decisively on one of what they think are the two sides of the so-called 'Free Will controversy' have been caused thereby to alter their opinions on any important practical question -- or if they have, they have lacked reason. For as soon as we ask, what an extreme determinist or an extreme libertarian would have to say about practical issues as a result of embracing their doctrines, both are faced with the same dilemma. Either they say that the consequences of their views are something so utterly absurd as to cast doubt on the seriousness of anybody who maintains them; or they say that the consequences are no different from what the rest of us think -- in which case, they are left, in spite of their alleged dispute, in substantial agreement with one another and with the ordinary man. This is, in short, one of the class of puzzles which used to be called 'pseudo-problems' -- a very misleading expression, because if something is a problem for someone, it really is a problem for him and he needs to solve it. What the people who invented this term ought to have said is that there are different kinds of problems, of which some admit a 'yes'-or-'no' answer; others, such as this one, require instead a fuller understanding of the question itself, to see the pitfalls and ambiguities in it."

"Emotivists mistakenly think all disagreements are about facts, and so there are no moral reasons."

"I ask him to visualise, not certain non-natural properties, but the very natural, real properties of the situations that the alternative courses of action will bring about ? It is not by any appeal to intuition that I can conduct my argument; ? it is by revealing to him the nature of his choice, and showing him what it involves, what in fact he is choosing. And when I have done all this, I can only leave him to choose; for it is after all his choice, not mine ? At any rate I have myself chosen, so far as in me lies, my own way of life, my own standard of values, my own principle of choice. In the end we all have to choose for ourselves; and no one can do it for anyone else."

"I had a strange dream, or half-waking vision, not long ago. I found myself at the top of a mountain in the mist, feeling very pleased with myself, not just for having climbed the mountain, but for having achieved my life's ambition, to find a way of answering moral questions rationally. But as I was preening myself on this achievement, the mist began to clear, and I saw that I was surrounded on the mountain top by the graves of all those other philosophers, great and small, who had had the same ambition, and thought they had achieved it. And I have come to see, reflecting on my dream, that, ever since, the hard-working philosophical worms had been nibbling away at their systems and showing that the achievement was an illusion."

"If morality is just a natural or intuitive description, that leads to relativism."

"If there can be contradictory prescriptions, then reasoning must be involved."

"If we have to want the preferences of the many, we have to abandon our own deeply-held views."

"If we were to alter the meaning of our words, we should be altering the questions we were asking, and perhaps answering, in terms of them ? If we go trying to answer those questions, we are stuck with those concepts."

"It is not easier, but more difficult, to decide to accept a very general command like ?Never tell lies? than it is to decide not to tell this particular lie ? If we cannot decide even whether to tell this lie, we cannot, a fortiori, decide whether to tell lies in innumerable circumstances whose details are totally unknown to us."

"Moral judgments must invoke some sort of principle."

"My pupils I have always taught you cannot get an ?is? from ?ought?. This is the burden of my song: It's in my book, or else it's wrong."

"Practical issues are issues over which people are prepared to fight and kill one another; and it may be that unless some way is found of talking about them rationally and with hope of agreement, violence will finally engulf the world."

"Prescriptivism implies a commitment, but descriptivism doesn't."

"Prescriptivism sees 'ought' statements as imperatives which are universalisable."

"The categorical imperative leads to utilitarianism."

"The goodness of a picture supervenes on the picture; duplicates must be equally good."

"The Whites describe this situation by saying that there is a difference of opinion between us as to whether fighting does or does not possess the quality right; the Blacks, on the other hand, describe it by saying that we have different feelings about fighting. But the situation which they are both trying to describe is precisely the same, and they know it ? They are disagreeing merely about words."

"To say that it is impossible to keep and intuitive thinking going in the same thought-process is like saying that in a battle a commander cannot at the same time be thinking of the details of tactics, the overall aim of victory, and the principles (economy of force, concentration of force, offensive action, etc.) which he has learnt when learning his trade."

"Where the transcendental is concerned, there is no difference between a true story and a myth; it is therefore wrong to speak of the person who prays having an illusion that there is somebody that he is praying to."

"You can't use intuitions to decide which intuitions you should cultivate."