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Core Ethics: Stuart Hampshire

Unlike other philosophers, Stuart Hampshire always took a different direction and perspective when developing his ideas. Hampshire’s literary ability and rich suggestiveness in his works have a broad appeal, especially on philosophical topics. Most of the works by Hampshire are based on theories of the philosophy of minds regarding development in psychology. Among the numerous works Hampshire published, one of them is “Fallacies in Moral Philosophy.” In his work, Hampshire insists that philosophers have distorted the philosophy of mind. Hampshire believes these philosophers have achieved this circumstance by thinking of individuals as passive observers only instead of self-willed agents.

Fallacies in Moral Philosophy” is more or less to what most individuals consider Hampshire, a critic. Hampshire begins the article and his arguments by reminiscing about Professor Richard’s article, specifically its title, in the form of a question; whether moral philosophy rests on mistakes. Hampshire believes he can answer the same question using different reasons. Hampshire criticizes numerous philosophers because most of them misunderstood moral philosophy. He takes a similar route, this time around, at the expense of Kant and his thoughts. Hampshire believes that undoubtedly Kant’s influence was great on philosophers to the extent of individuals failing to separate between “moral judgments and factual judgments” that the philosopher introduced (Hampshire, 1949). Hampshire believes that those concepts, alongside logical assumptions, influenced philosophers and led them away from good and primary questions for moral philosophy.

Kant’s influence was wide, and philosophers accepted it without questioning it, calling it the post-Kantian thesis. If one wants to understand and express the difference between sentences of facts and sentences of moral judgment regarding moral philosophy, he must employ absolute logical independence. Hampshire believes it acts as a cornerstone for understanding moral philosophy and solving its problems. Despite many post-Kantian philosophers developing different logical persuasions and giving different accounts of the logic, they almost agree on one thing about it, the defining problem of ethics. For instance, whereas Aristotle almost entirely concentrates on analyzing the moral agent problems, modern-day philosophers appear to lean towards analyzing the moral judge problems. Hampshire gives more differences between Aristotle and other modern philosophers characterized by judgments. Consequently, shifting moral philosophy to aesthetic criticism language – “the logic and language of criticism” – ignores features of moral judgments in its entirety during its primary characterization use (Hampshire, 1949).

Hampshire also explores another situation involving an individual who must make a decision when faced with a “difficult and untrivial” circumstance. We often find ourselves in such a scenario involving one arriving at a conclusion after carefully considering the specific issues. In such a case, Hampshire states that one expresses in the sentence “x” as the best action to take resulting from pure moral judgment. However, he also outlines the misleading circumstances that result from such scenarios depending on expressions, moral feelings, and attitudes. In this case, Hampshire suggests that under normal circumstances, the agent must have deliberated about the alternatives available to assert and justify his conclusion, specifically if one attacked it. Hampshire also believes that these characterizations regarding feelings or attitudes can suppress or ignore judgments during typical deliberation procedures. The other thing that post-Kantian philosophers have done is introduce “intuition” in deliberation, which should not be the case as it changes perspectives (Hampshire, 1949).

Some spectators will give sentences that contain moral terms and still have incomplete logical force. Such a situation happens when the sentences appear to associate more with the spectator’s (not agent) emotions towards a decision or action; hence the statements will not express the writer’s or author’s feelings or attitudes. Sometimes it makes it challenging to defend or justify such statements as the argument will heavily rely on the one used as an agent during practical deliberation. Failure to produce practical arguments regarding what could have been done portrays an individual being unable to make a genuine moral judgment but rather personal feelings hence misleading – using moral judgments without expression of feelings (Hampshire, 1949). Hampshire also suggests that the post-Kantian philosophers have an under-emphasized moral judgment on three logical doctrines, which contain fallacy in “derive” and “deduce.” These doctrines include difficulty in deriving value judgment from factual judgment. It is impossible for other arguments once one has determined facts of a specific situation and an ultimate moral judgment, which cannot be replaced or defended by any other arguments.

The last fallacy that Hampshire highlights are individuals’ confusion while clarifying ethical terms used and their definitions. He gives an example of two disputants arguing about capital punishment. These two individuals can agree on the effects of capital punishment from psychological, sociological, and other perspectives but cannot agree on whether to abolish it or not (Hampshire, 1949). However, both can claim to be making the moral judgment as long as it does not depend on personal feelings. Academic, moral philosophers focus on defining ethical expressions – right, wrong, or ought – however, Hampshire shifts moral philosophy from its concentration on the moral statements’ logical properties. Instead, Hampshire considers moral philosophy as the vital question of moral problems because of how they present themselves to individuals as practical agents.


Hampshire, S. (1949). The Fallacies in Moral Philosophy. Mind Association. Vol. 58(232), 466-482.


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