1 The Groundwork of Utilitarian Morals: Reconsidering Hare’s Argument for Utilitarianism DRAFT: NOT FOR QUOTATION Peter Singer In Moral Thinking, R.M. Hare argues that if we think clearly about what we ought to do, we will be led to a form of utilitarianism. Given Hare‟s prominence in ethics at the time, and the difficulty of establishing any strong normative conclusions in ethics, this ambitious claim has received surprisingly scant attention. J. L. Mackie‟s dismissal of the argument appears to have persuaded many that there is no need for further discussion, and the general verdict of others who do discuss it is overwhelmingly negative.1 In my view, the strength of Hare‟s argument has not been sufficiently recognized, and Mackie‟s seemingly knockdown blow fails to grapple with a central element of it. My goal is to revive interest in the argument. To do so I shall show how the argument developed out of Hare‟s early works, indicate what Mackie fails to take into account, and then discuss the argument‟s strengths and weaknesses. I conclude by comparing Hare‟s method of arguing for utilitarianism with that of the greatest of the nineteenth century utilitarians, Henry Sidgwick. Hare regarded his position as Kantian, in the sense that it is the position Kant should have reached, on the basis of his understanding of the categorical imperative as requiring universalizability.2 The Kantian reference of my title should not, however, be taken as an invitation to go into vexed issues of how Kant should be interpreted. Rather, it is a response to the assertion – which I understand was the inspiration for this conference 1 Mackie, Ethics, ….., also Michael McDermott, “Hare‟s argument for utilitarianism,” in Phil Quart. 1983, and several of the essays in Douglas Seanor and N. Fotion, eds., Hare and Critics . 2 R. M. Hare, 'Could Kant have been a Utilitarian?', Utilitas 5 (1993). 2 session – that Kantians and utilitarians never talk to each other. I hope that Kantians will join the discussion of the argument I defend below. The Development of Hare’s Argument: First Phase Hare was a non-cognitivist. He held that moral judgments do not describe the world, and in that sense cannot be true or false, as ordinary descriptive statements can be. They are prescriptions, which means they belong to the broad family of imperatives. In Freedom and Reason, published in 1963, Hare argues that the freedom we have to make up our own minds about what is right or wrong lies in the fact that we choose what we shall prescribe. That choice, however, is not unconstrained. Reason enters the picture both because there can be logical relations between prescriptions, and because moral judgments are universalizable. If I say “Shut all the windows!” and “Leave the central window open!” I contradict myself. I also contradict myself if I say “All tax cheats ought to be imprisoned” and “I am a tax cheat, but I ought not to be imprisoned.” Universalizability means that, in Hare‟s words: One cannot with logical consistency, where a and b are are two individuals, say that a ought, in a certain situation specified in universal terms without reference to individuals, to act in a certain way, also specified in universal terms, but that b ought not to act in a similarly specified way in a similarly specified situation. This is because in any „ought‟-statement there is implicit a principle which says that the statement applies to all precisely similar situations. This means that if I say „This is what ought to be done; but there could be a situation exactly like this one in its non-moral properties, but in which the corresponding person, who was exactly like the person who ought to do it in this situation, ought not to do it‟, I contradict myself.3 Moral judgments, in other words, cannot be based on just any reason. In particular, we cannot make exceptions for ourselves. If I claim that you ought to give to the poor, I 3 R.M. Hare, “Universal Prescriptivism” in Peter Singer, ed., A Companion to Ethics, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1991) p. 456. See also Freedom and Reason, p10ff. 3 must either agree that I too ought to give to the poor, or I must find a reason why it is not the case that I ought to give to the poor, and this reason must be specifiable without reference to individuals. That reason might be that you are a billionaire and I am struggling to keep up with my mortgage payments. But it cannot be that I am the one who will benefit if I keep all my money, whereas you will benefit if you keep all your money. Although Hare‟s words sometimes gave the impression that he understood universalizability to be a requirement of reason (for example: “to universalize is to give the reason”4) his considered position leaves room for amoralism, and the amoralist, in his view, need not be inconsistent or irrational.5 Moral language excludes non- universalizable judgments, but there is no logical requirement that one use moral language, or guide one‟s life by universalizable principles. If that is right, the significance of any conclusions that we may be able to reach by drawing out the implications of universalizability will be weakened. One can always escape those conclusions by refusing to make moral judgments. Nevertheless, since many of us do want to use terms like “ought” and “right,” the possibility of rational amoralism does not render pointless the exercise of exploring the implications of universalizability, and seeing what normative conclusions may follow from its application. When I prescribe something, using moral language, my prescription commits me to a substantive moral judgment about all relevantly similar cases. This includes hypothetical cases in which I am in a different position from my actual one. So to make a moral judgment, I must put myself in the position of the other person affected by my proposed action – or to be more precise, in the position of all those affected by my action. Whether I can accept the judgment – that is, whether I can prescribe it universally – will then depend on whether I could accept it if I had to live the lives of all those affected by the action. 4 Freedom and Reason, p.5. 5 In Moral Thinking, Hare discusses amoralism, but does not reject it on the grounds that the amoralist is necessarily involved in a contradiction. Instead he appeals to prudential considerations as a reason for not being an amoralist. See especially p. 186.. 4 That sounds as if universalizable moral judgments will have to be based on considering the preferences or interests of all affected – which would mean that we can arrive very rapidly at a form of utilitarianism based on maximizing the satisfaction of preferences or interests. But Hare did not arrive at utilitarianism so swiftly. In Freedom and Reason he raises the issue of whether it is wrong for a woman to take a well-paid job undressing herself a at a strip club. The stripper prefers the work to anything else she can get, and those in the audience enjoy the performance. As far as interests are concerned, Hare tells us, “since everybody gets what he or she wants, nobody‟s interests are harmed.” Nevertheless, that does not settle the moral issue, Hare tells us, because “it is a question not of interests but of ideals.” Some hold ideas of how a person should behave – or perhaps, how a woman should behave - that are incompatible with undressing for the sexual enjoyment of strangers. Hare considers the possibility of confining the moral terms to questions concerning the impact of our actions on other people‟s interests, but he rejects such a “terminological fiat” on the grounds that such a restriction “would truncate moral philosophy by preventing it saying anything about ideals.”6 In the same work, Hare makes a similar statement about a Nazi who asserts that all Jews should be killed. This prescription commits the Nazi to prescribing that he himself should be killed, in the hypothetical case in which he discovers that he is a Jew. Since, we assume, the interests of Jews in continuing to live are greater than the interests of Nazis in killing them, no one would prefer to live the lives of all those affected by the prescription that all Jews be killed. Nevertheless, Hare says, a Nazi could be so fanatical about his belief in racial purity that he would think that he should be killed, even if he were a Jew. If he accepts that, he is not violating universalizability. Instead, in Hare‟s words, “the fanatic nails his flag to the content of the ideal, irrespective of its holder.”7 Development of Hare’s Argument: Final Form 6 Freedom and Reason p.147. 7 Freedom and Reason, pp. 144-147. 5 In “Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism,” published in 1976, Hare took the argument an important step further. He had, he wrote discovered how “to deal in an agreeably clear way with the problem of the fanatic, who has given me so much trouble in the past.” Here is how he thought this could be done: In so far as, in order to prescribe universally, I have to strip away (qua author of the moral decision) all my present desires etc., I shall have to strip away, among them, all the ideals that I have; for an ideal is a kind of desire or liking (in the generic sense in which I am using those terms) … This does not mean that I have to give up having ideals, nor even that I must stop giving any consideration to my ideals when I make my moral decisions; it means only that I am not allowed to take them into account qua author of the moral decision.8 It is, of course, only when I can take my ideals into account qua ideals – that is, as something other than interests – that ideals can trump interests. If I can only take them into account as some kind of desire or liking, the content of the ideal no longer matters. Ideals are then treated simply as another kind of preference. When Hare revisits the example of the fanatical Nazi, he shows how this works. Now, he says: …the only sort of fanatic that is going to bother us is the person whose ideals are so intensely pursued that the weight that has to be given to them, considered impartially, outbalances the combined weights of all the ideals, desires, likings, etc. that have to be frustrated in order to achieve them.9 No actual Nazi could possibly have desired the extermination of Jews with sufficient intensity to outweigh all the desires of the Jews to continue to live, so this kind of fanatic 8 “Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism,” in H.D. Lewis, ed., Contemporary British Philosophy 4, Allen and Unwin, London, 1976; reprinted in R.M. Hare, Essays in Ethical Theory, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989). The passage quoted is from that volume, p.219. 9 Ibid., p.220. 6 is quite fantastic. Since our moral intuitions in fantastic situations are, Hare argues, unreliable, such fanatics need not trouble us.10 Mackie’s Objection: Sliding Through the Stages of Universalizability Mackie‟s critique of Hare‟s argument appeared in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, published a year after the version of the argument in “Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism”, but before the fuller version of the argument that was to appear in Moral Thinking. Mackie distinguishes three different stages of universalizability: 1. The irrelevance of numerical differnces 2. Putting oneself in the other person‟s place 3. Taking (equal) account of different tastes and ideals. We can grant, Mackie says, that universalizability, in some sense, is part of the meaning of the moral terms, but if so, this will be no more than the first, or at most the first two, of these stages of universalization. Hare, however, needs to appeal to the third stage for his argument against the fanatic to succeed. For if the moral terms allow me, qua author of the moral decision, to give my own ideals a weight that is independent of the strength with which I desire them, then we cannot treat moral questions as simply a matter of weighing up desires or interests. And, Mackie asserts, the moral terms do allow this: they allow me to assume that my ideals are true and ought to prevail over any mere aggregation of interests, including my own. Mackie sees this as the fatal weakness in Hare‟s argument for utilitarianism, and he is not alone in taking that view. Another’s Sorrow 10 For Hare on the unreliability of moral intuitions in fantastic cases, see his 'What is Wrong with Slavery', Philosophy. and Public Affairs, vol. 8, reprinted in Peter Singer, Applied Ethics, (Oxford, Oxford UP, 1986) 7 On several occasions, Hare commented on Mackie‟s objection to his argument, and invariably denied that he makes use of different stages of universalization. Moral judgments are, as he wrote in Moral Thinking, “universalizable in only one sense, namely that they entail identical ethical judgments about all cases that are identical in their universal properties.” What Mackie refers to as distinct senses or stages of universalization is, rather, “a progression in the use we make of this single logical property as we develop our theory of moral reasoning.”11 In support of this claim, Hare points to his argument in the preceding chapter of Moral Thinking, a chapter headed, in tribute to a poem by William Blake, “Another‟s Sorrow.” The chapter makes a crucial but neglected point in the overall argument. Hare‟s initial appeal here is to the general requirement of rationality “to make our moral judgments in the light of the facts.” If I am prescribing something that will affect no one but myself, it would be irrational for me to do so without knowing the relevant facts, including the impact that what I am prescribing will have on my own preferences. Now suppose that I am making a universalizable prescription. The relevant facts will include the impact my prescription will have on the preferences of others, since I must be willing to agree to the prescription even if I am in the position of others affected by my decision. (These are, after all, situations that are identical to mine in their universal properties.) This much seems difficult to deny. But now comes a more controversial move. Hare claims that to know what it is like to be someone with a preference of a certain strength is to take on that preference, if one is in that person‟s position. Hare puts this in terms of an entailment between two distinct propositions: 11 Moral Thinking, p.108; see also R. M. Hare, 'Rights, Utility and Universalization: a Reply to John Mackie', in R. Frey, ed., Utility and Rights (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press), and reprinted in R.M. Hare, Essays on Political Morality, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989, pp.87-8. 8 (1) I now prefer with strength S that if I were in that situation x should happen, rather than not; (2) If I were in that situation, I would prefer with strength S that x should happen rather than not. Of these propositions, Hare writes: What I am claiming is not that these propositions are identical, but that I cannot know that (2), and what that would be like, without (1) being true, and that this is a conceptual truth, in the sense of “know” that moral thinking demands.12 Hare hasn‟t put this with his usual precision, because his (1) can be read as an all-things- considered preference, and as such, it obviously would not follow from my knowing (2). Even putting aside any consideration of other values or ideals that I may hold – and I shall come to that shortly – “that situation” may refer to me being in the situation of just one of many people affected by the action I am contemplating, whereas when I now, qua author of the moral decision, decide what I prefer, I must take into account the preferences of all those affected by the prescription. Hare should have said that what is entailed by my knowing (2) is: I now have a preference, of strength S, that if I were in that situation, and everything else was equal, x should happen. Hare comes closer to this way of putting his point a few pages later: I cannot know the extent and quality of others‟ sufferings, and in general, motivations and preferences without having equal motivations with regard to what should happen to me, were I in their places, with their motivations and preferences.13 12 Moral Thinking, p.96. I am grateful to Michael Smith for pointing out the significance of this argument, and thus for providing the inspiration for this paper. 13 Moral Thinking, p.99. 9 This claim seems plausible. If it is, it undercuts Mackie‟s claim that Hare‟s argument involves a separate stage of universalization, one that requires an additional substantive moral step to go from the second to the third stage of universalization. Instead, Hare‟s argument relies on the standard form of universalization that Mackie accepts as part of moral language. It couples that standard form with two other claims. One is the surely unimpeachable view that to act rationally is to act with full knowledge of the facts relevant to your action.14 The other is the more contentious claim to which I now turn: that there is a link between knowing what it is like to be another person in a certain situation, and wanting, now, if I were in that situation, what that person wants.15 Ideals, Values and Preferences Our acceptance of an “other things equal” qualification to what I now prefer, qua author of the moral decision, leaves open the possibility of resisting Hare‟s utilitarian conclusion by maintaining that other things are not equal because there are other values involved that are not simply matters of preference or desire. The objection, in other words, is that even if I must take on the preferences of all those who are affected by my actions, I am not required to treat all values as simply a matter of summing up preferences. I can hold, universalizably, a different kind of value – in Hare‟s terminology, an ideal – that has weight irrespective of its impact on anyone‟s preferences. The question is, however, how I can, qua author of the moral decision, justify treating my values or ideals as something other than one of my preferences. Let‟s return to Hare‟s example of the well-paid stripper. We assume that her ability to work as a stripper satisfies her overall preferences, since she enjoys her work, and earns more by stripping than she could by any other form of employment. We assume also that the paying customers enjoy watching her perform. Let‟s also, for the sake of the argument, make the 14 It may be objected that sometimes the costs of acquiring full knowledge of the relevant facts are so great that it is rational to act without that knowledge. We accept this qualification, but assume that it does not affect the point we are making. 15 Hare correctly notes that the argument applies not only to persons, but to all sentient beings, but uses “person” to avoid more cumbersome language.. INSERT PAGE NO. We follow his practice. 10 perhaps more questionable assumption that no-one‟s non-moral preferences are adversely affected by such performances – that is, watching her strip shows does not cause men to harass women sexually, nor to treat them less well in any other respect than they otherwise would have, and other women do not feel degraded or think less well of themselves because of her work. We make these assumptions, of course, so that we have a case in which, if we put ourselves in the position of those whose interests – that is, their preferences apart from any moral ideals they may hold - are affected by a woman‟s decision to work as a stripper, there is no objection to such work. But now imagine that someone we‟ll call Paul accepts all this, but nevertheless urges that strip shows should be banned because the male desires that a woman satisfies when she undresses for the enjoyment of strangers are inherently depraved, and we should not satisfy desires that are depraved, whether or not anyone is aware of, or suffers in any way from, this depravity. How should we understand such a claim? Paul might be understood as saying that he would prefer to live in a world in which no one wished to watch a stranger undress. But while that preference can, and –arguably - should, be counted alongside all the other preferences of those who would be affected by a decision to permit, or ban, strip shows, Paul is not, qua author of the moral decision, entitled to give it special weight merely because it is his preference. That would be a violation of the requirement that we make similar judgments about situations that are identical in their universal properties. If the preference to live in a world in which no one wishes to watch another undress were not his preference, Paul would not be giving it more weight than any other preference. Paul would no doubt respond that this completely misunderstands his claim. He is not saying that the desire to watch a stranger undress is wrong because he doesn‟t like it, he is saying that such desires are wrong because they are depraved. Depravity, he would maintain, is an objective notion. He might say that this is something we know by direct intuition, or by revelations about God‟s commands, or perhaps he would say it is to be discovered by a study of natural law and the proper relationship between sexual desire and reproduction. In whatever way he grounds his claim to objective truth, he would say that it would be wrong to desire to watch a stranger undress even if he himself were, 11 horror of horrors, so far sunk in depravity as to be an enthusiastic patron of such performances. How are we to understand the claim that Paul‟s view is true? For non-cognitivists like Hare, moral judgments are neither true nor false. As now understood, Paul‟s claim can succeed only if some form of moral realism is true. Moreover, this will have to be a form of moral realism in which the truth of at least some moral claims is independent of preferences or interests. Whether the appeal is to self-evident intuitions, or God‟s will, or to natural law, or to any other way of establishing objective truth in morality, to defend it is a large and difficult task. Moreover it is a task that Mackie himself would have thought doomed to fail, for Mackie held that, although we speak as if morality were part of “the fabric of the universe” this is an error, and moral judgments are not really true or false. Nevertheless, it may be objected, surely no meta-ethical view should exclude the idea that some things matter for their own sake. I can commit myself to wanting something to be the case, irrespective of whether I will desire it at the time, as Paul may commit himself to banning strip clubs even if he recognizes that as he gets older he may want to frequent them.) Why does this presuppose moral realism? Some may suggest that the conservative and perhaps religious overtones of objections to strip shows loads the example against the defender of the view that moral principles are independent from desires. (There are also feminist objections to such shows, but these are less likely to be based on ideals than on claims about the effect the shows have on the interests of women.) So let‟s redress the balance by taking an example that will find sympathy with a different range of people. Imagine an ecologist who says: “Failing to conserve an endangered plant is wrong, even if its extinction would make no difference to the interests of any sentient being, now or in the future.” To make such statements, ecologists do not have to believe in objective moral truth. They may be non-cognitivists, expressing their own attitudes. Their views are nevertheless distinct from those of more self-centered advocates of protecting endangered species who say: “I want endangered plants protected because I enjoy finding rare species of plants.” The self-centered 12 environmentalists may not care if, after they die, nothing is done to preserve endangered species. The ecologist, on the other hand, will care about this. These views are distinct. A non-cognitivist like Hare can recognize this distinction without construing either of them as making a statement about how the world is. Hare would regard them as desires, in the broadest sense of the term – we might also call them attitudes, or preferences. The question can therefore be asked, of the advocates of each of these views, why their desires, attitudes or preferences should be given greater weight than the equally strong and firmly-held desires, attitudes or preferences of anyone else. If this question has an answer, then we need to hear and assess it. But in the absence of any claim to objective truth in ethics, one cannot say that the moral ideals one holds should be given greater weight because they are true. Nor, for reasons I have offered elsewhere, do I accept the approach to normative ethics that takes such ideals as data, and then assumes we must choose the normative theory that best matches these and other considered moral jdugments in reflective equilibrium.16 If we put aside both objective truth and reflective equilibrium, however, it is hard to see what reasons a person could offer for giving greater weight to her desires, attitudes or preferences than the equally strong and firmly-held desires, attitudes or preferences of anyone else. It seems that all such a person could say is: “It is the moral view that I hold.” Universalization, however, does not allow me to give more weight to moral views because they are the ones that I have. That being so, the deep ecologist‟s views should not be given more weight than anyone else‟s equally strong preferences.17 Can we dispose of all non-utilitarian moral principles in the same manner, thus leaving the field clear for a maximizing form of preference utilitarianism? Such a claim would be rash, for it would attempt to shortcut all arguments for contrary positions. Instead, each such argument should be considered on its merits. Imagine, for instance, a choice between two actions, one of which leads to world A, in which by chance, some have very 16 See 'Sidgwick and Reflective Equilibrium', The Monist, vol. 58 (July 1974), pp. 490- 517, and 'Ethics and Intuitions', The Journal of Ethics, vol 9, no. 3-4 (October 2005), pp. 331-352. 17 For a similar response, see R.M. Hare, “Comments” in Douglas Seanor and N. Fotion, eds., Hare and Critics, pp.270-272. 13 high welfare and others have very low welfare, while the other action leads to world B, in which welfare varies not at all, or only on the basis of desert. Suppose that the average welfare in world A is slightly higher than in world B. It seems that if we are universalizing in Hare‟s way, we would prefer world A, on the grounds that if I were to live the lives of all those in world A, my total life would be slightly preferable to my total life if I were to live the lives of all those in world B? If someone prefers B, can this egalitarian (or perhaps prioritarian) preference be treated as merely that person‟s preference, to be given no more weight than any other preference? Perhaps it can, but any such attempt will face the familiar objection that it fails to take seriously “the separateness of persons,” so the success of argument for maximizing overall welfare will depend on its ability to rebut that objection. I will not attempt that rebuttal here. There may also be other arguments against maximizing to consider, so this paper will leave open the question of whether Hare‟s argument leads to a pure maximizing utilitarianism, or is compatible with a form of welfarism that accepts some distributive constraints on maximization. An Objective Morality? Is Hare, as I have presented him, trying to have it both ways on objective moral truth? To some it has seemed that he rejects the possibility of objective truth in ethics while at the same time developing a line of argument for the conclusion that the only objectively true ethical view is a form of utilitarianism. No matter how strong Hare‟s argument may seem, that can‟t be right. Hare‟s response to this charge was to insist on the distinction between a formal constraint on what can count as a moral judgment, and a substantive ethical principle. Moral judgments are prescriptions, and the notion of an objective prescription was, he sometimes said, one he did not understand. So objective moral judgments remain out. Nevertheless, if we make moral judgments, we make them under the constraint of universalizability, and this should lead us to agreed conclusions about what we are able to prescribe morally. Universalizability, properly understood, will lead us to agree on what we are willing to prescribe – as long as we also agee on all the relevant facts. These facts 14 includes the facts about the preferences of everyone affected by our acts, and that includes our own preferences. Does this agreement on what we are willing to prescribe make the moral judgment on which we agree objectively true? Not really. We are stll each uttering prescriptions. The point is that these are the only universalizable prescriptions to which beings like us, in these circumstances, can assent. But a tiny element of choice still remains. To see this tiny element writ large, imagine that I am a utility monster and my preferences are billions of times as intense as anyone else‟s preferences. Then my preferences would count much more heavily in the summation of all preferences – not because they were mine, but because they are so intense. Since I can to some extent choose what I prefer – as I could choose right now if I were asked if I prefer to continue working on this paper or to go for a walk – if I were a utility monster I could, by making such a choice, be able to reach a different conclusion about what ought to be done. In that sense, prior to my decision about what I prefer, there is no objectively true answer to the question “what ought I to do?” But if this is true for a utility monster it is also true, in a greatly attenuated sense, for anyone able to decide what to prefer, because everyone must include his or her own preferences in the total to be weighed up before deciding what to do. In theory, my own decision about what I prefer could change the judgment about what ought to be done. In reality, since I am not a utility monster, in any decision involving a large number of people, the likelihood of my own choice about what I prefer playing such a pivotal role is small. The Status of Universalizability Hare‟s argument rests on the claim that when we think about what we ought, morally, to do, we can only accept prescriptions we can universalize. What is the status of this claim? If, as Hare consistently argued, it is a feature of moral language, it remains open to use to refrain from using moral language. Freed of the need to universalize, we can, without inconsistency or irrationality, decide what to do in ways that give more weight to our own preferences (including our ideals) than we give to the preferences of others. Whether we will suffer any personal loss by turning away from morality as a guide to 15 how to live is unclear. Hare argues that to bring up our children in this way – as amoralists – would not be in their interests. He is less clear whether it would be in the interests of an adult to live as an amoralist.18 And in any case, the considerations he offers against bringing up your children as amoralists assume that the choice is either to universalize fully, in his sense, or to live as an amoralist, in the everyday sense of that term. He does not consider whether it would be contrary to the interests of your children to bring them up to adhere to a set of general principles, like honesty, truthfulness, helping and not harming others, and so on, while also acting on some ideals whether about strip shows or about preserving endangered species, that one follows merely for the – admittedly non-universalizable – reason that they are, say, “the ideals our family holds.” Is that all there is to be said? It may seem to be a weakness of Hare‟s approach that it has the implication that the person who does not universalize and does not use moral language is not guilty of a more fundamental mistake. Can we not even say that such a person is acting contrary to the demands of reason? If not, is this not a major weakness of Hare‟s view, and perhaps of any view that seeks to reach a normative conclusion by relying on an analysis of moral language? If it is a weakness, it should not be linked with Hare‟s linguistic approach to philosophy, for it is shared by the greatest of the nineteenth century utilitarians, Henry Sidgwick, who was no linguistic philosopher. Sidgwick held that: “There are certain absolute practical principles, the truth of which, when they are explicitly stated, is manifest…” Among these principles is a version of universalizability that he puts like this: “whatever action any of us judges to be right for himself, he implicitly judges to be right for all similar persons in similar circumstances.”19 Combining this principle with a notion of what is an individual‟s “good on the whole,” Sidgwick arrives at a further “self-evident principle” that he refers to as the “axiom of rational benevolence”: 18 I discuss this question in How Are We to Live? Prometheus, Buffalo, NY, 1995. 19 Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th edition, p.379. The reference to this as “the Kantian maxim” is from p. xvii. 16 … the good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realised in the one case than in the other. Sidgwick notes that this axiom is “required as a rational basis for the Utilitarian system” Like Hare‟s argument, it leads to a utilitarian conclusion. But Sidgwick appears to go further than Hare when he adds: And it is evident to me that as a rational being I am bound to aim at good generally,--so far as it is attainable by my efforts,--not merely at a particular part of it.20 In the concluding chapter of The Methods of Ethics, however, it becomes clear that this is not Sidgwick‟s final word, for he acknowledges that the process by which one might convince an egoist to take the universal good, rather than his own good, as the ultimate end of conduct, “requires that the Egoist should affirm, implicitly or explicitly, that his own greatest happiness is not merely the rational ultimate end for himself, but a part of Universal Good: and he may avoid the proof of Utilitarianism by declining to affirm this.”21 In other words just as Hare‟s amoralist can escape universalizability by declining to use moral language, so Sidgwick‟s egoist can avoid the necessity of admitting that he should aim at universal good by insisting that his own good is merely his own rational ultimate end, and not a part of good on the whole. If the egoist takes his stand there, he cannot be shown to be making a mistake: It would be contrary to Common Sense to deny that the distinction between any one individual and any other is real and fundamental, and that consequently "I" am concerned with the quality of my existence as an individual in a sense, fundamentally important, in which I am not concerned with the quality of the existence of other individuals: and this being so, I do not see how it can be proved 20 Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th edition, p.382. 21 ME 497-8. 17 that this distinction is not to be taken as fundamental in determining the ultimate end of rational action for an individual. This leads Sidgwick to his pessimistic conclusion, which he stated most forcefully at the end of the first edition of The Methods of Ethics (although his views on this matter were more circumspectly stated in later editions of The Methods, they remained substantially unaltered): Hence the whole system of our beliefs as to the intrinsic reasonableness of conduct must fall, without a hypothesis unverifiable by experience reconciling the Individual with the Universal Reason, without a belief, in some form or other, that the moral order which we see imperfectly realized in this actual world is yet actually perfect. If we reject this belief, we may perhaps still find in the non-moral universe an adequate object for the Speculative Reason, capable of being in some sense ultimately understood. But the Cosmos of Duty is thus really reduced to a Chaos: and the prolonged effort of the human intellect to frame a perfect ideal of rational conduct is seen to have been fore-doomed to inevitable failure.22 So when it comes to demonstrating the irrationality of amoralism, Sidgwick and Hare are at one. Fervently as we may wish that it were possible to say that the amoralist is making some kind of mistake, this peak remains unconquered, and not only by utilitarians. In the most widely read and admired sections of The Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals – that is, the first two sections - Kant comes no closer to achieving it than Hare. He argues merely that “if duty is not to be a vain delusion and a chimerical notion,” then “simple conformity to law in general” must motivate our will.23 It is only in the third section that Kant offers an argument to show that reason can motivate our will, that the categorical imperative is rationally required, and hence that duty is not a vain delusion. Yet today this is the least read and discussed section of The Groundwork – whether because contemporary Kantians regard it as a failure, or because they do not wish to 22 The Methods of Ethics, 1st ed, p.473. 23 Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans T.K. Abbott, sec. I (first published 1785). 18 commit themselves to its metaphysical presuppositions, I am not sure. Recent writers in the broadly Kantian tradition, such as John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon, face the same problem as Hare: they attempt to show that their normative conclusions follow for those who are prepared to act only on those principles that they would choose from behind a “veil of ignorance,” or those that others cannot reasonably reject, but in my view they fail to show that we would be irrational if we chose not to so limit the principles on which we act.24 The difficulty of putting ethics on a rational foundation is not a problem specific to utilitarianism: it is a problem that no philosopher of any persuasion has been able to resolve. 24 See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971 and T.M. Scanlon, What We Owe To Each Other, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2000. For one specific way in which we may rationally reject the conditions on our choice of moral principles suggested by Rawls and Scanlon (as well as by Brad Hooker and Bernard Gert) see Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer, “Secrecy in Consequentialism: A Defence of Esoteric Morality,” Ratio, forthcoming, March 2010. For the reasons Sidgwick offers when considering the egoist, more far- reaching rejections would also seem rationally defensible.
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