Philosophers: R.M. Hare
(1919-2002 CE)

[Life & Work] | [Links] | [Bibliography]

Hare was born in Backwell in Somerset (now Avon) in 1919. His upbringing and early life were conventionally English upper-middle class; he was a scholar at Rugby School, and from there went on, in 1937, to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was again awarded a scholarship, graduating in 1947 with a double first in Classics. The four-year degree was interrupted by the outbreak of war; in 1939, despite his pacifist views, he volunteered for service with the Royal Artillery. He served in the Indian Mountain Artillery until 1942, when he was taken by the Japanese as a prisoner of war for three years -- first in Singapore, and then working on the Burma-Thailand railway. This experience marked him both personally and professionally, the main effect being to strengthen his belief that philosophy, and especially the field of ethics, had a central obligation to help with people.s choices, to help them live their lives as moral beings -- not only in the relatively benign world of the professional philosopher, but in the much more challenging world outside academia.

On returning to England in 1945 he finished his degree, and was elected to a Fellowship by Balliol College. In 1963 he was made Wilde Reader in Natural Religion, and in 1964 was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. He remained at Balliol until 1966, when he was elected White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, which necessitated a move to Corpus Christi College. In 1983 he retired from his Oxford posts and became Graduate Research Professor at the University of Florida at Gainesville until 1994, travelling regularly between Florida and his home at Ewelme in South Oxfordshire, where he died in 2002.

Hare rejected the theory that our moral judgements are simply paraphrases of descriptions of the objects of those judgements, but he felt dissatisfied with the standard emotivist alternatives, which added only an emotional element. His work was very much influenced by the ordinary language approach to philosophy, and he took as the foundation of his theorising the way that moral terms are standardly used. Hare recognised that the primary rôle of moral judgements is to prescribe courses of action, and argued that these prescriptions are made distinctively moral largely by being essentially universalisable; that is, they don't refer to a particular individual, but apply to any and all moral agents (this is similar to but not the same as the notion of universality found in the work of Immanuel Kant). His approach has thus become known as prescriptivism.

Hare is also well known for his defence of a version of utilitarianism that draws upon both act and rule versions, and for his resulting two-level analysis of moral thinking. This involves the claim that people are capable of two types of moral deliberation, illustrated by two extreme characters. The "archangel" thinks critically and makes rational decisions using the (act-)utilitarian principle directly; archangels have "superhuman powers of thought, superhuman knowledge, and no human weaknesses":

When presented with a novel situation, he will be able at once to scan all its properties, including the consequences of alternative actions, and frame a universal principle (perhaps a highly specific one) which he can accept for action in that situation, no matter what role he himself were to play in it. ([1981] p.44)
This last point is crucial; the archangel doesn't suffer from partiality, either to self or to friends and family.

The rule-utilitarian "prole", on the other hand, thinks intuitively and acts according to rule-like dispositions. Proles are "totally incapable of critical thinking (let alone safe or sound critical thinking)" ([1981] p.45) They have all the human weaknesses (including partiality) lacked by the archangel, and to an extreme degree.

In real life, we are capable of (and need) both -- though we are not very good at the archangel-type reasoning. Which we use, and when, depends upon circumstances and our individual abilities.

Hare's later work included the application of moral theory to questions of practical ethics. He has also written on the philosophy of education.

+ One Hundred Philosophers (2004)
U.S.A.:     Barron's Educational Books
U.K.:        Apple Press
Australia: A.B.C. Books
The book covers the history of philosophy chronologically from Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE) to Peter Singer (b.1946 CE), with philosophers from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the U.S.A., about 60% getting a page, 40% two pages. Scattered through the book are brief introductions to such topics as African, Chinese, and Indian philosophy, scepticism, women in philosophy, mind and body, the philosophy of science, and moral philosophy. The book's divided into periods, each with its own introduction and timeline of other important events. There's also a glossary, suggested further reading, and an index.
(A more complete bibliography, compiled by Keith Burgess-Jackson)


  1. The Language of Morals (1952; Oxford University Press)
  2. Freedom and Reason (1963; Oxford University Press)
  3. Practical Inferences (1971; London: Macmillan; University of California Press)
  4. Applications of Moral Philosophy (1972; London: Macmillan; University of California Press)
  5. Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point (1981; Oxford University Press)
  6. Plato (1982; Oxford University Press)

    Collections of Papers

  7. Essays on Philosophical Method (1971; London: Macmillan; University of California Press)
  8. Essays on the Moral Concepts (1972; London: Macmillan; University of California Press)
  9. Essays in Ethical Theory (1989; Oxford University Press)
  10. Essays on Political Morality (1989; Oxford University Press)
  11. Essays on Bioethics (1996; Oxford University Press)
  12. Essays on Religion and Education (199?; Oxford University Press)


    (PAS = Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society)
  13. "Universalisability" (PAS 55 [1955]; reprinted in 8)
  14. "Geach: Good and Evil" (Analysis 17 [1957]; reprinted in 8 and in Foot [ed.], Theories of Ethics)
  15. "Descriptivism" (Proceeding of the British Academy 49 [1963]; reprinted in 8 and in Hudson [ed.] New Studies in Ethics)
  16. "Adolescents into Adults" (in Hollins [ed.] Aims in Education; reprinted in 8)

    Secondary Literature

  • Hare and Critics: Essays on Moral Thinking edd Douglas Seanor and N. Fotion (1990; Oxford University Press)
+ R. M. Hare
From Peter Singer's pages, containing Hare's own writings, secondary literature, reviews, obituaries, an interview, bibliography — indispensable.
+ R.M. Hare
Wikipedia article.
+ Richard Mervyn Hare
Italian introduction maintained by Matteo Berlanda for Quaderno Filosofi e Classici.
+ Sidgwick & Hare
Work by UCHII Soshichi (Kyoto University).

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