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Third lecture: Professor Rom Harre: Are there Moral Hinges?

November 2, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

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Report digest by John Preston

In On Certainty, Wittgenstein uses examples of what he calls ‘hinges’ for working through epistemological issues that arise in resolving the grammatical errors G. E. Moore perpetrated in his uses of ‘know’, ‘believe’, ‘certain’, etc. Nearly all his examples are concerned with life in the material world of time, space and things. Wittgenstein’s later writings certainly display an overall and pervasive atmosphere of normativity, but are any of the implicit norms of hinge-practices moral?
‘Hinges’, like ‘concepts’, do not appear in propria persona anywhere but are realised in practices, and expressed in doppelganger propositions. This scheme fits into a progression in Wittgenstein’s thought of means for ensuring the orderliness of discourses: from logic, through grammar, to hinges.

Some hinge-practices are regulative, but some are constitutive of forms of life – and doppelganger hinge-propositions as expressions of norms fall into parallel types. Moral hinges are realised in hinge-practices that are moral, and are expressed in hinge–propositions that are empirical. Moral practices are person preserving, person enhancing, and permit autonomous choice of actions. Whether a hinge-practice is moral is shown by how that practice is contested.

What should we make of Hume’s Principle that an ‘ought’ cannot be deduced from an ‘is’ if the practice the axiological character of which we are considering has an empirical proposition as a doppelganger? Does not that make the root hinge a misbegotten being that is both normative and factual? Or perhaps the seemingly empirical doppelganger is covertly evaluative after all? However, the relation between hinge-practice and hinge-proposition is not deductive. If the practice is normative and the proposition is contingent and they are derived from a common hinge then Hume’s Principle is outflanked.

Professor Harré’s project is to explore the possibility that certain empirical hypotheses are the propositional doppelgangers of moral practices. His examples serve to test the hypothesis that there are hinges that escape Hume’s critical aphorism.

About the speaker

Rom Harré was for many years the University Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at Oxford and Fellow of Linacre College. Currently he is Distinguished Professor in the Psychology Department of Georgetown University in Washington DC, teaching there in the Spring Semester.

He combines this with the post of Director of the Centre for Philosophy of the Natural and Social sciences at the London School of Economics. He began his career in mathematics and physics, turning later to the foundations of psychology.

His research has been directed to the use of models and other kinds of non-formal reasoning in the sciences, as well as a long series of studies on the role of causal powers and agency concepts in both natural and human sciences.

His publications include, among others, Causal Powers (with E. H. Madden); Varieties of Realism; Modelling: Gateway to the Unknown; The Explanation of Social Behaviour (with P. F. Secord); and Wittgenstein and Psychology (with M. Tissaw).

Portrait of ROm HArre


November 2, 2009
5:30 pm
Event Category:


University of Hertfordshire
Department of Philosophy
University of Herfordshire, Hatfield AL10 9AB United Kingdom


Daniele Moyal Sharrock