Volume 26, 2001
Moral Judgments and the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction
Hare shares with other critics an objection to the use of moral judgments in the method of reflective equilibrium. However, the reasoning behind his criticism
distinguishes it from the more common criticisms that the use of moral judgments is unwarranted because of their suspect origin. While these objections challenge the epistemic worth of moral beliefs, Hare’s objection goes beyond to also critique the deeper theoretical commitments of the method. Hare’s acceptance of a strict differentiation between the meaning and applications of words and consequent rejection of holistic justification follow from his acceptance of the analytic/synthetic distinction, while Rawls’s holistic method of theory justification requires a rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction. In this essay, I explain how Hare’s criticism of the method of reflective equilibrium and his acceptance of the meaning/application distinction result from his acceptance of the analytic/synthetic distinction and draw from this specific discussion more general conclusions regarding the implications of accepting or rejecting the analytic/synthetic distinction for the use of moral judgments in moral theory justification. I conclude that an acceptance of the distinction precludes the use of moral judgments, while its rejection leaves open the possibility that they could be used, if the issue of their epistemic status can be successfully resolved.