Hume's Moral Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the. The relationship between facts and values—between Is judgments and Ought judgments—has precipitated major controversies in moral theory. I had a question about the is-ought problem that wasn't exactly rectified by [this thread on the same.
It seems one can ask "how am I rationally required to hold 'good' as a value, or to pursue it? Even if "oughts" depend on goals, the ought seems to vary with the person's goal. This is the conclusion of the ethical subjectivistwho says a person can only be called good according to whether they fulfill their own, self-assigned goal. Alasdair MacIntyre himself suggests that a person's purpose comes from their culture, making him a sort of ethical relativist.
Thus, without an objective "moral goal", a moral ought is difficult to establish. Anscombe was particularly critical of the word "ought" for this reason; understood as "We need such and such, and the only way to get it is this way"—a person may need something immoral, or else find that their noble need requires immoral action. For example, Canada might call it good to maximize global welfare, where a citizen, Alice, calls it good to focus on herself, and then her family, and finally her friends with little empathy for strangers.
It does not seem that Alice can be objectively or rationally bound—without regard to her personal values nor those of groups of other people—to act a certain way.
In other words, we may not be able to say "You just should do this". Moreover, persuading her to help strangers would necessarily mean appealing to values she already possesses or else we would never even have a hope of persuading her.
There may be responses to the above relativistic critiques.
Hume and Harris, 'is' and 'ought'
As mentioned above, ethical realists that are non-natural can appeal to God's purpose for humankind. On the other hand, naturalistic thinkers may posit that valuing people's well-being is somehow 'obviously' the purpose of ethics, or else the only relevant purpose worth talking about.
This is the move made by natural lawscientific moralists and some utilitarians. Institutional facts[ edit ] John Searle also attempts to derive "ought" from "is". This view is still widely debated, and to answer criticisms, Searle has further developed the concept of institutional factsfor example, that a certain building is in fact a bank and that certain paper is in fact money, which would seem to depend upon general recognition of those institutions and their value.
Their meanings cannot be stated in a true definition, but their meanings can be referred to instead by being placed with their incomplete definitions in self-evident statements, the truth of which can be tested by whether or not it is impossible to think the opposite without a contradiction. Thus, the truth of indefinable concepts and propositions using them is entirely a matter of logic. An example of the above is that of the concepts "finite parts" and "wholes"; they cannot be defined without reference to each other and thus with some amount of circularity, but we can make the self-evident statement that "the whole is greater than any of its parts", and thus establish a meaning particular to the two concepts.
These two notions being granted, it can be said that statements of "ought" are measured by their prescriptive truth, just as statements of "is" are measured by their descriptive truth; and the descriptive truth of an "is" judgment is defined by its correspondence to reality actual or in the mindwhile the prescriptive truth of an "ought" judgment is defined according to a more limited scope—its correspondence to right desire conceivable in the mind and able to be found in the rational appetite, but not in the more "actual" reality of things independent of the mind or rational appetite.
Thus, right desire cannot be defined properly, but a way to refer to its meaning may be found through a self-evident prescriptive truth.
One ought to desire what is really good for one and nothing else. The terms "real good" and "right desire" cannot be defined apart from each other, and thus their definitions would contain some degree of circularity, but the stated self-evident truth indicates a meaning particular to the ideas sought to be understood, and it is the moral cognitivist might claim impossible to think the opposite without a contradiction.
Is–ought problem - RationalWiki
Thus combined with other descriptive truths of what is good goods in particular considered in terms of whether they suit a particular end and the limits to the possession of such particular goods being compatible with the general end of the possession of the total of all real goods throughout a whole lifea valid body of knowledge of right desire is generated.
The linked source is a dissertation from an obscure thinker which claims that none of these approaches have gained widespread support as a solution to the problem, but it is fromand further research is recommended to the reader. The problem can therefore be bypassed with a simple if: Non-Overlapping Magisteria [ edit ] The concept of non-overlapping magisteria has been popularized most recently by Stephen Jay Gould.
This is the idea that science and religion are not in inherent conflict as they contribute to different areas of human existence and give meaning to life in different ways. Richard Dawkins criticizes Gould's position saying "it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without.
The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims. Einstein argued that science concerns itself with the what is side of Hume's law and religion concerned itself with what ought. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: Well Einstein redefined religion to make the conflict impossible. Hume certainly claimed that you can't get from "is" to "ought". But his scepticism went a lot deeper than that.
He also notoriously denied that you could get from "is" to "will be". There is no logical reason to suppose that the sun will come up tomorrow, and certainly no way to prove that it will.
But his radical scepticism about the power of logical reasoning didn't mean that he thought the future might not exist or even that the sun would not rise tomorrow. Similarly, to say that moral facts can't be deduced from physical ones does not mean that moral facts don't exist. It just says something about their relationship to physical facts; in particular, that their existence and character can't be deduced from the laws of physics.
To suppose that this is also an argument against their existence is to fall into the fathomless pit of physics envy, where Dan Dennett lurks like a giant sandworm to devour the thoughtless passer by.
What, after all, does his argument against consciousness do except show that it can't be deduced or even detected from physics and then claim this means it can't be real?