In devising a moral system, it is strategic to create multiple levels. This is because some aspects of the system may be argued against. For instance, some may detest parts of the method Hare devised in chapter six of his book Moral Thinking, to figuratively place yourself in the other person’s shoes, essentially, but if they contest any or all logical reasons for hypothetical scenarios, like what if it happened to them, we may still appeal to their linguistic intuitions alone, arguing on semantics concerning the obligatory ‘ought’. In the following pages we will cover the Amoralist whom is bound to participate within a system they can have no say in, as well as linguistic intuitions, and intuitions created from prima facie principles, then finally we’ll cover critical thinking. Each level above the amoralist is systematically constructed to bring a heightened level to applying moral principles. We’ll begin with the amoralist.

If a person refuses to consider the application of the moral principle to any situation that is not actual (i.e. hypothetical) we refer to this person as an “Amoralist”. They lack taking into account the hypothetical scenario of placing themselves into the shoes of the other person, so to speak, which is crucial since there aren’t likely to be identical actual situations. One could infer moral obligations through linguistics taught by their society, within which they are constrained to applying moral principles to actual situations because they are universal. The fact that a prescription applies to everyone universally means it applies to me also, thus I am obligated to act accordingly with my society, for when they place themselves in my position, with their preferences, they will determine what they would do, therefore what they expect me to do, thus what they should do in return.

The amoralist must accept prima facie principles blindly, since they’re unable to critically accept or deny each principle for themselves. This is because part of the process of accepting/denying prima facie principles, or the creation of, requires the application of hypothetical scenarios. Since the amoralist restricts their method to actual situations specifically, they are unable to place themselves within the shoes of the other person, but they can function within society by the prima facie principles taught to them, and when a principle doesn’t fit, they default to their preferences. Our preferences prior to prescriptions provide preset tendencies. The amoralist is capable of taking prescriptions into account since morality’s universalization is universal in having the same properties regardless of what individuals occupy the different roles.

Without taking into account any hypothetical scenarios, one could simply infer moral obligations from language itself. Prescriptions are the expressions of preferences in language (Hare, 1981, pg. 107). The expression of this language has inherited properties which play in moral functions, namely, logical relations between prescriptions and an obligation to conform to predetermined preferences i.e. prima facie principles. The logical relations between prescriptions is evident through inconsistencies in linguistic expression. Thus, the statement, “my nose will grow” is inconsistent with “my nose will not grow” and it is illogical for both states of the nose growing and not growing to be true. Therefore, it is a paradox for Pinocchio to say his nose will grow since it only grows when he lies. If he says it will grow then it won’t grow since it only grows if he lies, but if it doesn’t grow then he lied, thus it will grow, therefore he didn’t lie, etc. and so on.

To say, “I ought to”, or “they ought to”, we are saying everyone who is in this or that situation ought to do the same. This is what Hare means when he claims moral judgements are universalizable; or “entail identical judgments about all cases identical in their universal properties” (Hare, 1981, pg. 108). We devise principles such that the properties of the situation are universalizable while the positions occupied are exchangeable. One then could determine what they should do by considering the semantics of what is said.

If we prescribe:

(1) Let me do it to him;

we would have to add:

(2) Let it not be done to me in similar circumstances

in order to conclude:

(3) It is not the case that I ought to do it to him

The use of ‘ought’ in (3) implies the universalizability which encompasses myself within its scope. The realization that it could happen to me and what I would want in that position has an effect on my actions. If we changed (3) to say, “It is the case that I ought to do it to him”, then I also would have to say it ought to be done to me if I am ever in his position.

The prima facie principles found implied in the language we use are the linguistic intuitions that must be shared among all whom use the language and understand the semantics of ‘ought’, regardless of their stance on morality (Hare, 1981, pg. 116). However, moral duties are more authoritative than preferences because prescriptions are universalized.

Our intuition is the class of prima facie principles which we critically thought about and selected based on their acceptance-utility in actual situations. Not every parent is a role model and not every prima facie should be accepted and practiced. We must analyze prima facie principles one by one to determine for ourselves if we will accept the principle or not. These prima facie principles are taught to us while growing up, and from what we watch on television, instructions similar to rules of thumb for specific situations, though generalized.

In any given situation we first look for a prima facie principle to apply, if none is found we critically think about the situation to determine that which, in all cases just like this, should be done by anyone. Intuitions help to save time from critically thinking and serve as default in situation which will not allow time for critical thought. Moreover, no one is able to calculate every cause and effect taking part in the situation, thus are unable to comprise a prima facie that will apply to everyone universally. This is why intuitions i.e. accepted prima facie principles are more authoritative then preferences, prima facie principles are more generalized to work for the greater number of people whereas preferences look out for one’s own best interest. It is by adjusting a principle to fit with one’s preferences, then passing the principle to another that does the same, which slowly increases the universalizability of the principle until it is applicable to all that accept it.

As Homo Sapiens, the name of our species alone implies thought. In fact, one of the only facts we can know without a doubt is that we are a thinking thing. Then it comes at no surprise that we think critically, and often. We think critically about what prima facie principles to accept and which to deny. We critically think to create prima facie principles in the first place, in fact, we critically think about hypothetically being in someone else’s position to determine what prima facie principle to choose. We create these universal principles to prescribe for cases that are the same in all their universal properties but differ only in the individuals that play a particular role in the situation.

Knowing that prescriptions are universal, I know that if I were in the other person’s position, I will have preferences and presumably similar motivations. However, it is in contemplating this hypothetical scenario that arises internal conflict; for when hypothetically assuming the other position, and subsequently taking on the preferences and prescriptions that would naturally arise if actually in that position, both conflicting preferences are internal, thus intrapersonal. It is in choosing between these intrapersonal conflicts that we morally choose what is right, another task for critically thinking.

We critically think about the prima facie principles taught to us and decide if we should include the principle within our personal moral code or not. Furthermore, we critically think when creating prima facie principles based on their acceptance-utility, since said principles are expected to be accepted by everyone because these principles are universal. Lastly, we critically think when two or more prima facie principles come into conflict with one another in order to choose which of the principles should be applied, the result of which will determine which principle to choose if found in the similar situation a second time.

This multi-tiered system of moral reasoning obligates anyone who understand the meaning and uses the word “ought”, then focuses on the moral prescriptions learned from others, before arriving at the cusp of critical thinking. This last level, the pinnacle of Hare’s moral system, handles conflicting intuitions, authorizes each moral principle we subscribe to, and establishes new rules of thumb, so to speak. This is of course time consuming, so we rely on our moral code, i.e. our intuition, also known as our prima facie principles, to handle most cases in our day to day life. It is when we find ourselves in unfamiliar situations and needing to make a moral decision that we rely on critical thinking influenced by our moral code and personal preferences.

Hare, R. M. (1981). Moral Thinking. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

I’m a Computer Scientist and Philosopher, though I may write about anything. From blog posts to papers I wrote in college, this is a collection of my works.