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Monday, February 24, 2014


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Thanks, Bill. I'll have to give this some thought.

Jeffery Hodges

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In my memory left example from Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue:

1. He is naval captain

2. He ought to do what naval captain ought to do.

In this book MacIntyre give few such examples and notice that in case of functional terms such derivation is quite simple (which is one of center themes of MacIntyre's ethics).


I haven't looked at MacIntyre's book in a long time, but the example you give is intriguing.

Call the naval commander 'Tom.' Qua naval commander, Tom has certain duties. These are tasks he ought to perform. But the 'ought' is not categorical, but conditional: it is conditional upon Tom's being a naval commander. There is no necessity that Tom be a naval commander

As I understand the nonderivability of 'ought' from 'is,' however, the claim is that categorical normative statements cannot be derived from factual statements.


1. Almost all people want the respect of (some) others and will receive respect if they show respect.


2. We ought to show others respect.

How does that follow?

I think Bill has nailed the correct response in both cases. Bill's response to MacIntyre's example cited by Milos is also on the mark. So I guess I do not have much to add. My question is: what should we conclude from the fact that normative statements cannot be validly inferred from descriptive ones? Is this enough to refute naturalism about morality?

Consider this example: theoretical terms (and the laws within which they are couched) cannot be reduced to observational terms. Thus, a physical law-like statement involving theoretical terms cannot be validly inferred from a collection of observation statements. Does this show that physical laws are not naturalistic?

Thanks for the comment, Peter.

I'd have to think about it, but it seems that one who thinks that norms can be inferred from facts commits what Moore calls the naturalistic fallacy. Said fallacy is in the close vicinity of Moore's Open Question argument. Off the top of my head, the nonderivability of norms from facts would seem to refute naturalism about morality.

The point you make about physical law statements refutes a regularity theory of laws, and thus perhaps empiricism about laws, but not naturalism about laws. But let's not get involved in this mess.

We ought to stick to putative CEs to the nonderivability of norms from facts. There is Searle's famous argument from 1964, and the MacIntyre examples.

Thank you Dr Vallicella for your comment. I will try to reconstruct MacIntyre's approach as I understand it. MacIntyre, as I understand his work (and some other philosophers, Peter Geach and G. E. M. Anscombe from example) try to reestablish Aristotelian approach to ethical theory (you certainly know this but I must make some introduction :).

Hume said here is not valid derivation from factual to normative statement. But MacIntyre and some other thinkers show that there can be but under some conditions. Those conditions are that man actually always is in some specific function (there is no some abstracted person as Tom, but Tom in some specific social funcion). But if we accept wider Humian and Kantian conceptual network such derivation become much harder even impossible. Maybe my reading of these writers are is on wrong trail, but I have made mistake in good faith.

I believe that Ms. Anscombe first in analytic philosophy (I've got good link about this but unfortunately I lost it.

[P. S. I must add one personal note, it can be published or not. I am not philosopher but I really enjoy in your blog last few months, practically I read few posts every day. I feel gratitude and respect for your efforts.]


You are right: if we add the Aristotelian background, then the derivation becomes possible. See my latest post where I explain this as best I can. I want to thank you for referring me to MacIntyre. I had his book in my library for 30 years or so but only today really studied parts of it.

Thank you for reading my blog. I'm glad you find it helpful. Where are you located?

English is a very difficult language. "I read a few posts every day" not: "I read few posts every day."

Tom has few books: He doesn't have many.

Tom has quite a few books: He has many books.

What a crazy language!

Speaking of English as a crazy language . . . the English subjunctive can be hard to pin down. Take this example:

"2. If we want to maximize human flourishing, then we ought to support democratic regimes."

Bill, you say that "2" is in the indicative mood. I don't quite see what you mean. The "if-clause" is indicative, but the "then-clause" looks subjunctive to me. This might be easier to see if we replace "ought" with "should":

"2. If we want to maximize human flourishing, then we should support democratic regimes."

The word "should" is here the subjunctive of "shall," isn't it? It expresses a situation that does not exist and of which there remains some doubt as to whether or not it will exist, I think. Compare:

We shall support democratic regimes.

We should support democratic regimes.

The first is indicative and expresses certainty that a situation (i.e., support of democratic regimes) will exist. The second is subjunctive and allows doubt that a situation (i.e., support of democratic regimes) will exist.

I don't know that this affects your argument, but it's a point that needs some clarification, at least for me.

Jeffery Hodges

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Indicative conditionals:

If Mary didn't cook the dinner, Tom did.

If Oswald didn't kill Kennedy, someone else did.

If we want to maximize human flourishing, then we should support democratic regimes.

Subjunctive (counterfactual) conditionals:

If Mary hadn't cooked the dinner, Tom would have.

If Oswald hadn't killed Kennedy, someone else would have.

If we had wanted to maximize human flourishing, then we ought to have supported democratic regimes.

>>It is controversial how best to classify conditionals. According to some theorists, the forward-looking "indicatives" (those with a "will" in the main clause) belong with the "subjunctives" (those with a "would" in the main clause), and not with the other "indicatives". (See Gibbard (1981, pp. 222-6), Dudman (1984, 1988), Bennett (1988). Bennett (1995) changed his mind. Jackson (1990) defends the traditional view.) The easy transition from typical "wills" to "woulds" is indeed a datum to be explained. Still, straightforward statements about the past, present or future, to which a conditional clause is attached — the traditional class of indicative conditionals — do (in my view) constitute a single semantic kind. The theories to be discussed do not fare better or worse when restricted to a particular subspecies.<< SEP entry on conditionals

But none of this is necessary, Jeff, to understand the point I am making against you.

You're welcome, I am happy to help in this interesting discussion. Thank you for correct mistake in my use of English. I am from Belgrade (Serbia).

In one earlier comment I mention that Anscombe in analytic philosophy first to undermine view that there is no correct derivation from factual to normative statements. This few lines from article Language, Truth and Logos (http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/681/full) can be of some interest:

One corrosive source of indifference about such distinctions is an old dogma, perhaps falsely ascribed to David Hume: that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is". Which can suggest the following: if anyone offers an inference to a moral conclusion from agreed facts, either the conclusion doesn't follow, or, if it does follow, the premises must state not just facts but also ethical presumptions as contentious as the conclusion. Anscombe undermined this assumption in an early essay, On Brute Facts, which was as simple as succinct. She imagined the following sequence of descriptions: "The grocer had the potatoes brought to my house and left there"; "He supplied me with potatoes"; "I owe him such-and-such a sum of money" - to which John Searle was explicitly to add, "I ought to pay him such-and-such a sum of money." Anscombe notes that none of these descriptions entails its successor: at any point, for all that is stated, something untoward might exclude the ordinary inference. And yet in normal circumstances (which couldn't be spelled out exhaustively) the inference goes through.

I believe that Hilary Putnam also wrote on this subject but I have not read those works.

But consider these:

If we want to maximize human flourishing, then we shall support democratic regimes.

If we want to maximize human flourishing, then we should support democratic regimes.

In the first example, "shall" allows for no uncertainty, given the "if-clause," and both clauses are indicative.

In the second example, "should" allows for some uncertainty, even given the "if-clause," and the "if-clause" is indicative, whereas the "then-clause" is subjunctive.

I just want to clarify this point completely -- I still have to think about your more central argument.

Jeffery Hodges

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