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Sunday, December 20, 2020


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Hello Mr Vallicella. This isn't related to the post above, so sorry. But I want to ask, what do you think of Existential Inertia? What are the arguments you would present against it?
Generally, this comes to the distinction between existence and essence. I think this has sense, but do you think that one can object it in purely Aristotelian terms?

Mariel C,

Thanks for your interest, but this will have to wait. I am too busy with other projects. Merry Christmas.

It seems to me the sentence 'I ought to drink the water' is a small linguistic trap, since this 'ought' is at an individual level, not the normative 'ought' that corresponds to universal application. There is no moral value or impulse for me to drink the water, it's just that it's very likely that I will do so, based on consideration of my physiological needs, and the fact that my higher brain will (probably) react to the instinctive stimulus to quench my thirst. But that assumes I am not day-dreaming about something that takes my mind off such impulses, or even attempting to prove my own free will by not drinking the water...


'I' in this context is not functioning as a first-person singular pronoun referring to Mr Richter, but the way 'one' functions. If one wants water, etc. then one ought, etc.

Bill you are apparently using “normative” in a strictly moral sense, which is particularly understandable from a Kantian perspective, deriving the “should” of morality from the purely rational. But I am using “normative,” “should,” and “ought” in a more general sense, common to sociology and certain fields of philosophy, and it’s not strictly moral. For example, it’s common to speak of statistical “norms” in the sense of what’s “normal.” And there is the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive norms: what’s normal behavior vs behavior people should do, even if it’s not the the descriptive norm, e.g. mask wearing. It’s the prescriptive norms that I consider “normative.” In general I consider any “should” or “ought” claim to be normative, regardless of whether the claim expresses a moral “should” vs a non-moral “should.” For example, in playing chess, one says, “you should/ought to have taken the bishop on your last move,” implicitly meaning “given that your goal was to most efficiently win the game, the best move was to take the bishop, and that is what you should have done.” In fact, I take every “should” or “ought” claim to be implicitly elliptical with a hidden reference goal or standard—one supplied by context. So in the context of playing proper chess, “I should keep the white bishop on the white squares.” Yet if I were being attacked, and the white bishop is the only useful object within reach, then perhaps “I should throw the white bishop at the attacker’s face.” In my sense, the moral should is just a special case—a subset—of all shoulds, just a context in which the understood end or goal is to behave morally. Hence, I really don’t distinguish between a hypothetical or conditional should vs a categorical should: in my sense all shoulds are hypothetical and relative to some end. So looking at it this way, a claim that John’s doing x is MEU rational, a factual claim, implies the conclusion that John ought to do x (assuming the end of being MEU ration). So putting a rationality claim in the premise of a valid argument on my view, by definition, imports normativity into the premises.

This conception of normativity also addresses Thomas’ point.

However, that said, thinking about the matter my way does seem to trivialize the is-ought issue, if one regards the ought as purely moral. Nevertheless I still think is can be derived from ought as follows. Again, consider the following argument:

1. Above all else I want to drink a cup of water asap.
2. There is exactly one cup of water within my reach.
3. Therefore, I ought to drink that cup of water.

Note that there is no mention of “rationality” MEU or otherwise in the premises. Yet if we elliptically understand the ought in the conclusion to be the ought of MEU rationality, then the argument is valid and given the truth of the premises, the truth of the conclusion necessarily follows: ought from is! (But so far not a moral ought.)

Of course what’s going on here is that the premises spell out a circumstance in which by definition MEU rationality requires John to drink that cup of water. Much like:

1. John is an adult man.
2. John is unmarried.
3. Therefore John is a bachelor.

That’s also a valid argument with John’s bachelorhood is implied by the premises, and a new concept not mentioned in the premises is deduced.

But suppose we agree that by definition it’s immoral to gratuitously torture a person for personal pleasure. Now consider the argument:

1. John likes to cause gratuitous pain and suffering to Smith for purely his own pleasure.
2. John’s capturing Smith and involuntarily pulling a tooth in some circumstance C would cause Smith gratuitous suffering.
3. Therefore John ought not to pull Smith’s tooth in C.

Even understanding the ought in the conclusion as purely moral, since like the bachelor case the immorality is by definition established by the premises, that seems to be a clear case of deriving ought from is. Or for Thomas’ sake we can generalize the premises and conclusion so no particular individual is mentioned , )

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