Paul Worthy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




E. J. Simpson




The following thesis draws together a group of diverse points, and the reader may find it useful. in following if I initially indicate the most important of them. My central concern is to show that R.M.. Hare's claim about the nature of our freedom in formulating moral judgments is mistaken. The first of five points I would draw the reader's attention to is the way I understand Ha.re to interpret this freedom.

1) Freedom exists for Hare because there are no conceptual constraints on individual desires or wants. The individual is free to hold anything as morally good, because, Hare claims, all that is required to think morally is to avoid claims that would be inconsistent, in that I would be committed to claims a.bout my wants that I do not hold. The inconsistencies that Hare rules out are therefore a function of & wants and desires, and given Hare's claim that there are no conceptual constraints on my desires or wants., it follows there is no such constraint on the wants I may have when thinking morally. Moral argument and agreement on this view depend ultimately on the contingent fa.ct of whether persons happen to be different or alike in their wants, and Hare's freedom leaves us with an extreme form of moral individualism that is mitigated only by the contingent fact that in Hare's opinion human beings do happen to be similar in their wants.

2) In contrast to Hare, Philippa Foot holds that there are conceptual constraints on what we can want. Her arguments take two forms. There is the absurdity in saying that anyone could desire to be harmed, for example; and there is the negative consideration that, since all other evaluations seem to be made in contexts that set limits of a conceptual kind on what can be held to be good, it is difficult to see why moral judgments should not be of this type too. Alan Montefiore suggests how the latter point , may be supported by a positive argument according to which there are indeed conceptual restrictions on our moral judgments.

3) Hare points to errors in Foot's accounts. One is a failure to see that although words may contain evaluative aspects as part of their meaning, this in no way limits what we can want, for we may always find neutral terms in which to express ourselves. Another error relates to, failing to take account of two aspects of the concept of wants. In one sense wants have to do only with one's own interests while in the other they may run counter to these interests. The distinction enables Hare to distinguish the ordinary moral man from the moral fanatic and to argue that what Foot considers conceptual absurdity is only contingent oddity. My thesis attempts to show that Foot's distinction rather than Hare's is correct.

4) Hare's view excludes any claim that our moral beliefs are logically determined by a certain conceptual apparatus and hence affirms that opinions about what constitute a moral good are logically independent of the particular culture in which they occur. Whereas this dismissal of moral relativism is a consequence of Hare's analysis of moral judgments, my analysis indicates that his can occur only within a context of normative presuppositions which, consequently, are not brought into question. Inasmuch as these presuppositions are embodied in the conceptual apparatus of a certain culture it is not evident, if I am correct, that Hare has avoided what is correct in the claims of the relativist.

5) Relativism can have a strong and a week form, and my account commits me only to the weaker. According to the stronger form we must indicate the cultural context in which the moral evaluation is made if we are to understand the evaluation, but that we can not then ask if one culture is morally superior to another. The weaker version, while also holding that moral judgments are only understood in the context of a specific culture, does not go on to deny that we can then morally evaluate between them, and also make internal Changes. In this weak form the constr8ints imposed on the individual moral claims are analogous to restrictions on scientific claims, so that although we are faced with conceptual restrictions not admitted by Hare it does not follow that we each do not have in some sense to make up our own minds on moral issues in the same way that we do on scientific theories. There are restrictions on what constitutes comprehensible criticisms in both, but nothing impossible in giving criticisms and alternatives in either.

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