John Hare’s God’s Command, 4.4: “Foot and Hursthouse on Deductivism”

Foot gave three striking examples that can organize this section of the chapter: an example from vegetable life, from non-human animal life, and from human life. We will look at these, and then consider some additions to the theory by Hursthouse. But before turning to those: Hare’s main criticism is that Foot and Hursthouse treat our nature too much as a single united package, and they are too optimistic in their account of practical rationality as sensitivity to the reasons this package gives us. Our nature does indeed give us reasons (to act), but some of them are good and some of them are bad. So we need a way to discern which reasons given us by our nature we should follow.

4.4.1 “Too Much and Too Little”

Hare argues that our nature is both too much and too little to allow us to deduce conclusions about moral goodness. It is too much, because the promptings it gives us are a mixture of good and bad, and are therefore not a reliable source. Theologically this is a reading of the doctrine of the Fall: that we are corrupt in every part. But there is also a philosophical “translation” that Kant gave us of this theology. He says that we are born with both the predisposition to good and the propensity to evil. Our nature prompts us to both prudence (enlightened self-interest) and morality, and sometimes not even to prudence.

It’s not that prudence and morality are unconnected, but RMH agreed with Sidgwick that rationality does not itself tell us to take the step to universalization. The question remains of why, when prudence and morality conflict, we should choose morality. Do Foot and Hursthouse have the resources to answer this question, the “normative question” of the first chapter? If not, the appeal to nature will fall into the same pattern as the appeal to reason, or intuition, or the authority of one’s cultural norms. We will need to know which reason, which intuitions, which cultural norms, and now which promptings of nature we should follow.

Our nature gives us both too much and too little for the deduction of the requirements of morality. We have so far considered why it gives us too much. For the other half of this, the “too little,” there is in the same way a theological source and a Kantian philosophical (though still theist) translation. The theological source is the doctrine of sanctification, on one reading a restoration to righteousness by the work of the Spirit. One philosophical translation is in terms of Kant’s argument from grace. Since we are not able by our own resources to overcome the propensity to evil expressed in our fundamental maxim, we need God’s grace in order to live a human life pleasing to God. But we will not find in the facts of our nature, as Foot and Hursthouse construe them, either this kind of assistance or an example of this kind of life. In this sense, nature gives us too little for the deduction.

In the next post, we will turn to the first two of Foot’s examples, and then, in the last one from this chapter, her third example.