Friday, 21 November 2008

Hare's Critical and Intuitive Levels 1

R.M.Hare, as a preference utilitarian, developed a method of defending utilitarianism by the means of a two level analysis - the critical and intuitive levels. In the previous post on Desire Utilitarianism versus Common-sense Morality we started an analysis, using the the most popular challenge against any utilitarianism, that of the murderous doctor wanting to save the lives of as many patients as possible - let us refer to this, from now on, as the "murderous doctor" argument. Here I wish to continue this analysis and use it to compare specifically how largely Hare's approach and Desire Utilitarianism agree. (Please refer to the previous post for the full statement of the anti-utilitarian challenge and references to Hare and Singer used here). Note this post is a prelude to that analysis.

The main problem with the "murderous doctor" argument is that it introduces an unsound assumption as to how any utilitarian analysis could work, that is it unreasonably stipulates isolating the targets of utilitarian analysis to only the doctor, his healthy and unhealthy patients and, without justification apart from stipulation, ignores the affects of utility on anyone else. Singer's indirect hedonist argument can be used here and show, at least for this specific argument, that this is unsound. Further, as it happens, Singer's argument can be generalised for any utility and still go through (note that this clearly is not necessarily the case for other hedonistic arguments in other scenarios, otherwise there would be no dispute over a utility function!). That is, without going any further one can reasonably conclude that the "murderous doctor" anti-utilitarian argument is, plain and simply, a straw man.

However that is insufficient to make Hare's point. It may be the case that all such other anti-utilitarian arguments are straw men, but that would be a highly contentious claim to make - and one I do not make and neither, I think, does Hare.However on one reading it could be construed that Hare's two level method is designed to show that all such arguments turn out in fact to be straw men. As Hare concludes:
But until your opponent produces actual cases, you should not let yourself be troubled over much with fictional ones. If the actual cases are produced, you will probably find that the critical discussion of them will leave you and the audience at one, provided that the discussion is serious.[my emphasis]
He is making the claim not that these are straw men, but they "probably" turn out after the fact (of critical analysis) not to be what they initially appeared to be. Rather than dismissing any such arguments as straw men, one finds when both sides approach the challenge on the same level (i.e. the critical level) that far from disagreeing, they most likely end up agreeing.

Whilst I agree with the use of Hare's the method in principle I have two issues. The first is that Desire Utilitarianism can, more naturally so to speak, apply or, rather, explain this (his) method and the second is there may still be genuine disagreement even after this analysis is applied, by this I do not mean that probable agreement failed in that case. In expansion to the latter issue it may well be that what we all - including our possibly very different understandings of the grounds of morality - intuitive accept as the morally right action is, in fact, wrong. Some readers may wonder how it is even possible for me to make such a point but then this highlights quite different underlying conceptions of morality. This is where I am going with this analysis and the these posts are just steps to getting there.

The next step will be to provide a proper Desire Utilitarian analysis of the "murderous doctor" and this will be the subject of the next post. Then we can compare and contrast this approach with Hare's two level analysis. We will then proceed to look at a better, if still fictional, anti-utilitarian argument and then finally examine how a moral intuition we all agree upon can be mistaken.