Front Page Titles (by Subject) Utilitarianism and Prescriptivism - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Utilitarianism and Prescriptivism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Utilitarianism and Prescriptivism
“Universalized Prescriptivism and Utilitarianism: Hare’s Attempted Forced Marriage.” Journal of Value Inquiry 13(1979):61–74.
Hare’s “universalized prescriptivism” holds that duty is a function of what action an agent would assent to having performed, after giving the desires of all affected parties equal attention or “weight.” This universalized prescription is questionable not only because it seems non-intuitive (or “anti-deontological”), but because it seems strangely anti-utilitarian as well.
First, by shifting attention to the satisfaction of desires, rather than interests, Hare seems to ignore the insight of earlier utilitarians (such as Bentham) that many of the desires of the “affected parties” can be non-utilitarian or even anti-utilitarian (for example: racist, ascetic, or even sadistic desires). He also ignores the fact that certain desires can be “rigged”—so that their diversity is either artificially diminished (via brainwashing) or artificially augmented (via unnecessary advertising).
Second, by shifting attention from actual consequences to the agent’s intentions, Hare fails to show how or why the universalizing of “impartial” desires would necessarily have to involve universalizing the “maximal” satisfaction of desires. Why couldn’t a person impartially or universally prescribe a satisfaction of desires at some midpoint (or “golden mean”) or even at a minimum satisfaction point? The only way Hare seems able to defend his notion of what “impartiality” must involve is to build more and more qualifications into his “ideal”—e.g. that the agent must be “omniscient” and have a “duty” to ignore his own moral reasons when giving prescriptions. But the more qualifications that are added, the more implausible it is that Hare is giving us a moral theory from a “value-free” analysis of what certain words must mean. Since there seem to be clear cases of people of moral excellence who do not seek to prescribe the maximum satisfaction of desires, Hare’s ethical conclusions only follow from a dubious, redefinition of “impartiality.”