On the Is-Ought Relationship

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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prof
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On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by prof » Sun Sep 16, 2012 2:40 am

As you know, this is a Forum on Ethical Theory. A common understanding of what ethics is may be phrased this way: Ethics is the science of determining values in human conduct (what ought to be done.) In fact, that is the view of Dr. M. L. Mantel, a Professor Emeritus at The University of Miami. I have rigorously defined Ethics (embedding it in a meta-ethics which is formal Value Theory) in a thread here with the title "What is Ethics?" I said it is a perspective, a certain way of looking at an individual, regarding him or her as having uncountably-high value.

As argued in the following text, the set of our behaviors [our conduct] ought to correspond to our true Self [i.e. the set of property-names comprising our self-image, our self-identity.] In other words, we ought to overlap with our authentic Self; for if we do not - if the two sets of properties do Not match up - we will be living contradictions rather than integrated selves. A quotation would be appropriate here, before I present the logical analysis of how ought-statements can be reduced to is-statements.

“I'm skeptical about the initial Humean claim because I'm skeptical about how much of our assertoric discourse is really "purely descriptive." Hume and others are perfectly correct to say that one cannot validly derive something in a conclusion that wasn't in the premises, but there is a lot of covert value-judgment intertwined in our ordinary "factual" claims about the world, so much so that the logicians' ideal of totally distilling denotation from connotation frequently won't work, because by the time we've removed all axiological connotations from an assertion, we've changed its meaning.” ------------ Andrew Jeffery

In conventional Philosophy courses we are taught that one cannot get from “ought” to “is” or vice versa. Why? Well, because Hume said so. If he said it, it must be so. We have all heard “We can't derive normative statements from descriptive statements.”

Even though it is “impossible,” Robert S. Hartman - following in the footsteps of Plato and of G. E. Moore - did it. It may well be that what we learn in old textbooks is not always the last word on a subject; it gets dated over time.

Since "ought" is a value copula, it is appropriate to invoke some value- theory, as preliminary to arriving at a sound and reasonable definition of the term "ought."

At this point it would be appropriate to review the material in Chapters 2 and 4 (of Katz - ETHICS: A College Course, the document from which this post is excerpted): http://wadeharvey.myqol.com/wadeharvey/ ... Course.pdf so as to recall the axiom of value and be very clear about what fulfillment of an intension really means. Comparisons of two values must be comparisons of two entities which fall under the same concept. If the concept shifts, one is in danger of comparing oranges to toy elephants. [This can be done legitimately if the concept is “things” or maybe “commodities.” Then one may say, perhaps, “the former is better than the latter (as a commodity.”] The name sets the norm. One wristwatch is better than another if it has more wristwatch features than the other, all else being equal (and if the concept doesn’t shift.)


That is how we employ the term “better” in formal axiology. In the same way, the relation “better for” can be carefully defined .

The "ought" now based on the "is"

Better means: more valuable. To say '"x" is better for y than z is' means: x more fulfills the meaning of y than z does.

For example, Heifetz more fulfills the meaning "violinist" than Henny Youngman does. Therefore, Heifetz is a better violinist than Youngman. And it follows that a Jascha Heifetz violin concert is better for an audience of music lovers than a Henny Youngman violin concert is. We shall now employ the definition of "better for" as we examine the "ought"- judgment.

Saying: "x ought to R y" -- a paradigm for ought-judgments -- is, by Hartman's definition, an abbreviated way of judging that:

"it is better for x to R y than to S y or to R z (at time T)."

In this way, each definition is built upon a previous one -- a rigorous procedure. Given what x, y, z, R, and S are, an ought-judgment may be true, false or indeterminate.

An empirical inquiry is called for with respect to each such judgment. Thus the ought is in effect reduced to a series of is judgments.

If, as an illustration, I judge: Heifetz ought to play the drums all day," Heifetz here is x, drums is y, and play all day is R. Now this would be a false judgment which when expanded would perhaps read: It is better for Heifetz to play the drums all day than either for him to listen to drums being played or to play the violin all day.

Or, to say it yet another way: "It is the case that the meaning of playing the drums all day overlaps more with the meaning of Heifetz's life than listening to drums does or than playing violin all day does. . ." possibly a false is-judgment (most of the time.)
Heifetz himself decided on the meaning of his life, to be a concert violinist. We all ought to decide our own meaning.

If you thought the term “ought” functions as an imperative, as in : “You ought to go clean your room, kid!” you might reasonably ask at this point, How do you get from an indicative to an imperative, or vice versa? [Here is one way this can be done]:

“You ought to go clean your room!” =df. = “(Given who you are, and given what cleaning your room means) It is better for you to clean your room than not to -- or than to play some other game right now. And that is a fact.” And here are the reasons why it is better for you: 1) it would please your mother; 2)you will continue to get an allowance 3)you will enjoy more -- once you get used to it -- I predict, living in a clean, neat atmosphere 4) etc., 5) etc. [The latter points are illustrative and not part of the definition. Substitute reasons appropriate to the facts of the situation and the circumstances rather than taking these points literally.]
The former phrase [before the equals-by-definition sign] is shorthand for the longer phrase.
The former is in imperative form -- the latter is a set of descriptions of what is. Of course, the ought-judgment may be false; the facts have to be investigated to determine this.

In this example, the x is 'you'; the R is 'go clean' and the y is 'your room.' (The example was merely an illustration, not a comment on the nature of the universe.)

Sometimes the y is the null class.
In "Brian ought to relax" the X is Brian; the R is 'to relax.' That means: It is better that Brian relaxes than if he doesn't (or that he do something else), Whether that is more valuable, all around, is for a consensus of impartial observers to decide -- just as any other objective matter. Public confirmation is the criterion.....remembering what Bertrand Russell said in a moment of sarcastic humor: "Objectivity is a delusion shared by several lunatics at once."

The above explication is only one of several possible ways to base the "ought" on the "is." If I say "Brian ought to relax" it is like an Euler (or Venn) diagram: I am saying there is an overlap between who Brian is, and what relaxing is. It may be that only Brian -- or those who "know him better than he knows himself" -- can tell us if this proposition is true. Sound value judgments are based upon a knowledge of the facts. in the Algebra of Value, the ought was represented by a minus sign, indicating a gap between two states, the supposed ideal and the actual.

Comments? Questions? Discussion? Your views are most welcome.

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 2:46 am

Off-Topic comment: you are a prolific writer, I must say. Opening this forum now I see your threads half-way down almost ^^ But it's good, I like that you add discussion to this otherwise more neglected forum ;)

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by Impenitent » Sun Sep 16, 2012 4:35 am

preachers of ethical systems ought to be silenced

-Imp

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by prof » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:35 am

Impenitent wrote:preachers of ethical systems ought to be silenced

-Imp
Do you have any preachers in mind, Imp?

And can you back up what you say with a good argument? Or do you just shoot first and aim afterward?
Did this thread impress you as being 'preachy'??

May I inquire what have you contributed to ethical theory? Isn't that what this Forum is all about ...or am I wrong about that?

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by prof » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:40 am

The Voice of Time wrote:Off-Topic comment: you are a prolific writer, I must say. Opening this forum now I see your threads half-way down almost ^^ But it's good, I like that you add discussion to this otherwise more neglected forum ;)
Hi Voice

Thanks for your comments.

Did you notice that my posts are briefer now.... :wink:

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:42 am

prof wrote:Did you notice that my posts are briefer now.... :wink:
Still pretty long. But if it was shitlong to begin with then one hardly notices a little less scrolling ^^ :P

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by prof » Sun Sep 16, 2012 9:00 am

The Voice of Time wrote:
prof wrote:Did you notice that my posts are briefer now.... :wink:
Still pretty long. But if it was shitlong to begin with then one hardly notices a little less scrolling ^^ :P
I guess you didn't notice.

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by Impenitent » Sun Sep 16, 2012 12:25 pm

prof wrote:
Impenitent wrote:preachers of ethical systems ought to be silenced

-Imp
Do you have any preachers in mind, Imp?

And can you back up what you say with a good argument? Or do you just shoot first and aim afterward?
Did this thread impress you as being 'preachy'??

May I inquire what have you contributed to ethical theory? Isn't that what this Forum is all about ...or am I wrong about that?
I am not convinced one may derive an ought from an is...

besides, if one could proclaim any ought from any is, why not the one I perscribe?

(aside from the fact that the "is" is never fully observed or described)

playing with inadequate descriptions in a circular system does not lead to "truth"

you may try to turn off the alarm clock, but you'll have the same success as the Chinaman of Konigsburg...

-Imp

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 12:50 pm

Impenitent wrote:I am not convinced one may derive an ought from an is...
It's raining. I ought to find an umbrella. Magic...

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 1:09 pm

prof wrote:Sometimes the y is the null class.
In "Brian ought to relax" the X is Brian; the R is 'to relax.'
This seems to me faulty. In that sentence Brian is relaxing... himself. So there is certainly something he acts upon, and there is always something you act upon, whether it is specified or not. An action can be seen as a modification performed by some agent, but nothing modifies the void, so certainly something must be the object of modification.

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 2:57 pm

On the topic of the thread: you successfully derive an "ought" from an "is" by using the word "ought" as a pointer to the property "better" in your logic. However, the problem about this question is that it presupposes a consequentialistic worldview, and in the system of Immanuel Kant or Islamic Philosophers (preaching a Kantian system half a millennium before Kant himself) are not unifiable with such a system.

The existence of individuals whose passions have more value to them and which they are willing to die for doesn't seem unifiable with your system. For instance, if you had the choice between two different situations, both important to you but both contradicting each other, you might choose the one which fulfils one of your desires the most, however, you don't want to make that choice, because you want the other more. At this point your logic fails, your logic doesn't comprehend or is capable of operating with will as a size.

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by Impenitent » Sun Sep 16, 2012 4:56 pm

The Voice of Time wrote:
Impenitent wrote:I am not convinced one may derive an ought from an is...
It's raining. I ought to find an umbrella. Magic...
It's raining. I ought to stay inside. magic...

It's raining. I ought to obey the will of the priest. magic...

you are confusing moral mandates with practical reactions to external events

-Imp

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 5:08 pm

If ought = "better than", then surely a practical solution with zero contestants is an "ought", also if I had enumerated alternatives, one of them would've been an "ought".

I'm also inclined to know who is the authority to grant you this mandate? Is it not reason itself? If so, shouldn't you do this because it's the best thing to do to yourself?

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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by Impenitent » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:05 pm


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Re: On the Is-Ought Relationship

Post by The Voice of Time » Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:23 pm

Logical fallacies aren't science. They only tell what a few people thinks is fair or not in reasoning. Most of the fallacies are no more absolute than the rules of a Chess-game.

There's nothing wrong with equating ought with "better than alternatives", it's reinterpreting a word by burying the old meaning (which is/was rather limited).

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