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Liberals, fanatics and moral philosophers

Liberals,fanalics and moral philosophers
Aspects of

R~M. Hare’s

I have recently re-started work on a study of
Tolerance and rummaging through my books for any
which I might usefully read or re-read as background or foreground picked out R. M. Hare’s
Freedom and Reason, chapter 9 of which has the
title ‘Tolerance and Fanaticism’. I have now read
the book through, which is something I did not do
in my time as a Philosophy student: marginal
annotations to my copy (purchased for seven
shillings and sixpence) show that in the past I
had read only chapters one, two, three and five.

I was impressed in my reading by the presence in
Hare’s book of explicit, substantive moral argument conducted from the point of view of a liberal, protestant morality and directed, principally,
against positions attrib~ted to Nazi and racist
‘moralities’ and to a lesser extent against those
who would make crimes of sins. Whilst Hare does
make the common distinction between the activities of moral philosophy, on the one hand, and
moralising and the moral life on the other, his
book does not, either in intention or execution,
include only the former to the exclusion of the
latter. The image I had of Hare’s work as typical of an academic philosophy which eschewed substantive moral discussion or action was false.

think part of the explanation for this is that
teachers of philosophy, working in exam-oriented
systems which attach immense importance to objectivity, neutrality etc exclude from their curricula the substantive (first order) moral discussion contained in books like Hare’s. I doubt
if I was the only student to read only the analytical (second order) bits of Freedom and Reason.

I think that my image of Hare was probably a creation of the system which first mediated his work
to me.

Whatever mediators might do, Hare has and states
a clear conception of his readership and what he
wants from it, and the ~ind of reading which he
thinks it ought to give him. The most important
feature of this conception is a negative one, for
Hare does not imagine himself as addressing either
students or teachers of Philosophy (or any other
subject), but rather as writing for and being read
by liberal members of the professional classes:

judges, stockbrokers, army officers and leaders of
Himalayan expeditions are the characters (not
traditionally liberal!) who figure both in his
hypothetical arguments and as the audience for his
discourse. Explicitly, Hare sees himself in an
intellectual reaction-to such people founded upon
an intellectual division of labour which creates
moral philosophy as one profession among many.

The moral philosopher’s most important direct
relationship is with these liberal professionals.

he relates directly to ‘-ordinary members of the
public’ [p180) only insofar as he himself is a
liberal. One of the major, if not the major, task
of the moral philosopher is to assist liberals in
their war of attrition against fanaticism (here in
its Nazi and racist forms) and its confused but
basically non-fanatical adherents:

… on the whole (though there are set-backs)
liberalism advances against fanaticism, provided
that there is freedom of communication, and that
the influential part of the public thinks seriously about moral questions, understands their
nature, and respects the truth. The liberal

‘Freedom and Reason’

should therefore above all struggle to preserve
these conditions; and that is why it is important to the liberal that the moral philosopher,
who is professionally concerned in preserving
them (especially the second), should do his job
properly. Fanatics will always be with us …

The strategy of the liberal must be to separate
from the true fanatics, whose ideals really are
proof against the ordeal by imagination and
facts, those who support them merely because
they are thoughtless and insensitive.

Though Hare obviously makes a large number of unargued assumptions about the structure of fanatical movements, the relation between leaders and
led, the quantitative relation between true fanatics and the simply confused, what is undeniable
is that he has a coherent, liberal conception of
philosophical practice and its relation to other
practices, notably the political-educational practice of influential liberals. The conception may
be wrong; I think it is. But it is a fuller,
much more practical, certainly less academic conception than that usually attributed to people
like Hare by radical critics.

It is rather~sad
that Hare’s actual readership is probably so very
different from that which he intends. He deserves
a better class of liberal reader than he gets.

The work of a radical moral philosopher would
presumably differ from that of Hare at least in
its range of practical concerns; its substantive
arguments; and its intended audience (say: jury
people rather than judges). I think it would be
less optimistic about the power of Reason than is
Hare (but then why write books?) and probably it
would be more sceptical of the viability of the
analytical distinction between moral philosophy
and morals – it would be likely to answer the
essay question ‘Is the principle of universalizability a purely formal principle?’ in the negative, though I don’t think it would have to in
order to count as a radical work.

The way in which Hare relates the (formal) principle of universalizability to the (substantive)
principle of toleration is something I should
like to comment on, both as illustrative of remarks in the preceding section and as relevant to
my own concerns.

Consider the following passage:

Suppose that somebody argues as follows: according to the universalist, when a man makes a moral
judgement he is committed to saying that anybody
who says something different about a similar case
is wrong; therefore, according to the universalist, toleration in moral matters is impossible.

In order to understand this matter clearly, it
is necessary to distinguish between thinking that
somebody else is wrong, and taking up an intolerant attitude towards him.

The universalist
is committed to a denial of relativism … he
holds that if anybody disagrees with me about a
moral question, then I am committed to disagreeing with him, unless I change my mind.

appears harmless enough tautology, and need hardly trouble the universalist. But the universalist is not committed to persecuting (physically
or in any other way) people who disagree with hin
morally. If he is the sort of universalist that


I am, he will realize that our moral opinions
are liable to change in the light of our experience and our discussion of moral questions
with other people; therefore, i f another person
disagrees with us, what is called for is not the
suppression of his opinions but the discussion ot
them, in the hope that, when he has told us the
reasons for his, and we for ours, we may reach
agreement. Universalism is an ethical theory
which makes moral argument both possible and
fruitful; and it enables us to understand what
toleration is, as we shall later see.

I don’t think this passage is a model of clarity;
I think it can be read as saying or suggesting
that the principle of toleration can in some way
be derived from the principle of universalizability, perhaps in a way which would flout ‘Hume’s
Law’ and perhaps in a way which would cast doubt
on the claimed formal status of the universalizability principle, or which would lead to an ideological claim for formal status for the substantive toleration principle.

It need not be so read.

but then it has to be said that Hare is wrong at
one point.

He writes ‘Universalism is an ethical
theory which makes moral argument both possible
and fruitful … ‘.

Now, whilst it is true that
universalism makes moral argument possible (we
are not obliged to agree to differ, as emotivism
would require if it were correct), it is fa~se
.that it makes argument frui tful, except in a most
trivial, tautologous way which Hare does not have
in mind, for he also writes ‘If he is the sort of
universalist I am, he will realize that our moral
opinions are liable to change in the light of our
experience and our discussion of moral questions
with other people’. But this realization can
only be based on evidence, or it is a matter of
(liberal/Enlightenment) faith.

It does not follow
from the thesis of universalisability, though
that thesis explains the logical possibility that
what Hare asserts is empirically liable to happen.

That Hare does or tends to jump from proving a
logical possibility to asserting it as an empirical fact is evident from the text of chapter 9,
in which he sets out to show the liberal how to
deal in argument with the Nazi.

He suggests that
but for a hard-core of ‘really intractable Nazis’

[p171] the rest will be motivated not by moral
ideals but by self-interest and for such a person
‘If his conduct is interpreted in this way, he is
open to arguments’ [p171]. Here ‘open’ can only
mean ‘logically open’ which is not the same as
’empirically open’.

It cannot and does not solve
the practical problem of the liberal faced by the
Nazi. For people logically open to argument in
virtue of the structure of their beliefs may nonetheless refuse to argue, fail to accept the outcome of an argument, fail to act on such an outcome etc. Hare recognises this (see, e.g., chapter 5 on ‘Backsliding’) but does not consider the
empirical consequences of such empirical facts.

For example, Clear Thinkers in the nineteen thirties, in whose steps Hare follows, were not (I
imagine) notably successful in stopping the spread
of Nazism and Fascism by separating the confused
from the fanatics whose logic was impeccable.

What has to be asked and found out is how successful they actually were, which means looking at how
they worked and with whom. Contrasts should be
made with the work of those who had different
strategies for halting the Nazis and Fascists and
their relative successes and failures.

At a minimum, if he were writing today, Hare would need to
read and comment on Reich’s Mass Psychology of
Fascism and What is Class Consciousness? I think
he could accept this, for there is no doubting the


seriousness of his intent (try pp177-85 of the
book if you doubt this).

On the other hand, the
astounding failure in a book so preoccupied with
Nazism, racism and even world war to discuss the
relation of moral and political philosophy, morals and politics, must be attributed to a structural weakness of Hare’s liberal-individualist
morality rather than to any personal failing on
Hare’s part.

Whilst Hare’s moral philosophy either proves
that rational moral argument is possible over a
much wider area than had previously been thought,
or (to put it relativistically) sets out to create
the conceptual conditions in which such argument
is possible, it does leave open the possibility
of rational disagreement. There are those who
disagree with ‘us’ whose logic is impeccable,
and whom Hare christens ‘fanatics’ when they
allow their ideals ‘to override all considerations of people’s interests even the holder’s own
in actual or hypothetical cases’ [p176]. These
people cannot believe in the liberal ideal of
toleration, ‘that is to say a readiness to respect other people’s ideals [or interests -TP] as
if they were his own’ [p177].

Hare defines the limits of this tolerance in
classically Millian terms [p178]. The liberal
‘tolerates other people’s pursuit of their ideals
provided that, where the pursuit of one ideal
hinders the pursuit of another, there shall be,
as in the cases of conflicting interests discussed
above, a just distribution of advantages and disadvantages.

It is only the last proviso which
prevents the liberal from allowing even the fanatic to pursue his ideals without impediment; but
the liberal is not required by his own ideal to
tolerate intolerance’ [p180].

This, in the context of a discussion of Nazism,
would seem to put Hare on the side of the International Socialists and other groups intolerant
of the National Front and wishing to smash it by
their own action if it isn’t banned by the State.

Interestingly, in the recent Socialist Worker
pamphlet Organise against the National Front, the
new Nazis, distinctions analogous to Hare’s are
drawQ between National Front sympathisers and new
members with some of whom ‘discussion is worthwhile’, and the ‘hard core fascist members of the
National Front’ for whom ‘only one argument is
successful: physical force’ [p9]. The pamphlet
is only less ‘philosophical’ than Hare’s book in
its greater concreteness – the National Front
rather than Hare’s sometimes indeterminate ‘Nazis’

and its sensitivity to the actual empirical possibilities of argument – whereas Hare tends to
relate toleration to the bare logical possibility
of argument.

(I am intrigued to know if the
author(s) of this pamphlet have read Hare, and
whether Hare ┬Ěhas read this pamphlet.)
To recapitulate.

I suggest to anyone reading or
re-reading Freedom and Reason that he or she focus
not just on tQe narrowly philosophical theses for
which Hare is famous (universalisability, prescriptivity), but on the detailed conception
and exemplification of a moral practice which he

I think Hare is wrong in substance and
form, but I do think his book could only have
come from the pen of an educator who had himself
been educated; and Hare tells us whereabouts in
the last sentence on page 183.

Trevor Pa.teman

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