The Language of Morals  

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when R. M. Hare distinguishes “primarily” and “secondarily” evaluative words in The Language of Morals, his examples of the former are paradigmatic thin concepts and some of his examples of the latter are paradigmatic thick concepts. (Hare 1952: 121–2; see also the discussion of persuasive definitions in Stevenson 1938.)[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Language of Morals (1952) is a book by R. M. Hare.

Starting with this book Hare gave shape to a theory that he called universal prescriptivism. According to this, moral terms such as 'good', 'ought' and 'right' have two logical or semantic properties: universalizability and prescriptivity. By the former, he meant that moral judgments must identify the situation they describe according to a finite set of universal terms, excluding proper names, but not definite descriptions. By the latter, he meant that moral agents must perform those acts they consider themselves to have an obligation to perform whenever they are physically and psychologically able to do so. In other words, he argued that it made no sense for someone to say, sincerely: "I ought to do X," and then fail to do X. This was identified by Frankena, Nobis and others as a major flaw in Hare's system, as it appeared to take no account of akrasia, or weakness of the will.

Hare argued that the combination of universalizability and prescriptivity leads to a certain form of consequentialism, namely, preference utilitarianism. In brief, this means that we should act in such a way as to maximise the satisfaction of people's preferences.

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