Chapter 2: Moral terms, moral meaning and morality
R.M. Hare’s account of moral terms in language focuses on how a person who is applying moral concepts to a specific situation arrives at a conclusion as to what ought to be done. The questions at the beginning of the previous chapter, about the meaning of moral terms in laws, require us to turn this around and ask: What do we mean by the moral terms when we use them in general instructions? In other words: What is their intended meaning from a law maker’s viewpoint?The answer may be somewhat surprising. The implication of universal prescriptivism is that, if the legislators intend such terms to operate as moral terms, and not merely as code for a conventionally or otherwise denoted set of descriptive conditions, they must intend that the person directed to use them (judges and subjects) should understand them as requiring the adoption of prescriptions on grounds for action of the relevant types which can be universalized in a manner that is consistent with their other commitments or obligations they ought also to uphold. Whilst the legislators may have entertained certain notions about the expected application of such terms, they may, nevertheless, be taken to have intended the use of a process of reasoning that can result in judgments with quite a different outcome. Another way of putting this is that, with the use of moral terms in general instructions, there can be a difference between the intended meaning and the intended outcome.
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