We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Nico Metten on the tacit philosophy that must underlie David Friedman’s consequentialism

I am reading the latest piece at Libertarian Home by Nico Metten, a man whose thoughts and thought processes I am coming greatly to admire. I am only a tiny bit into this piece so far, but already I have read this very lucid observation, which I think is worth passing on:

A prominent libertarian advocate of consequentialism is David Friedman. Consequentialists argue that it is useless to deal with philosophy or morals, as these are very unclear and subjective. What matters are the outcomes of certain policies. As long as the outcomes are ok, the rest does not matter so much. People like David Friedman simply don’t seem to want to deal with philosophy and morals. They are uncomfortable with it. Because of that, they only deal with what they consider more objective, which in this case is economics.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with people getting into libertarianism through economics. Economics seems to play a major role in exposing the state and it can make a lot of converts. I myself have learned a lot from economists when it comes to questioning the state. Labelling this approach as consequentialist however suggests that this follows a distinct philosophy. And here I am not so sure.

To me it seems impossible to be a pure consequentialist. I would agree that results matter. However, how do we know which results are good results? It seems in order to evaluate results, one first will need an evaluation tool. This evaluation tool logically needs to come before the actual consequences and is therefore not consequentialist itself. If this is true, then consequentialism as a stand alone philosophy seems logically impossible. But how come intelligent people like David Friedman can think that they are consequentialists? Friedman clearly must have an evaluation tool. I think the reason for this is that his evaluation tool is completely tacit. It is there, but Friedman is not consciously aware of it.

Good point. I have certainly been vaguely aware of this point, rather as Metten says that Friedman must have been. But I have never read it spelt out quite so clearly and so explicitly. Or, if I have, I wasn’t paying attention.

I am now reading the whole thing.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

100 comments to Nico Metten on the tacit philosophy that must underlie David Friedman’s consequentialism

  • Matt Moore

    When libertarians say they are consequentialist, they just mean they have a value system that isn’t solely about maximising individual freedom. This is the important distinction within libertarianism. Almost always they mean they are utilitarian, which I expect that Mr Metten would accept as a valid philosophy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    If i may blow my own brass instrument, i made this point myself on Samizdata; during a dispute i had with Perry dH, iirc.

    I don’t think that David Friedman is averse to moral philosophy: as i understand, he claims that (a) his moral intuitions (broadly speaking, Lockean) agree with his consequentialism; and (b) he has had more success with consequentialist arguments than with appeals to moral intuitions.

    Actually, there are different sorts of consequentialism, depending on what set of values is used to evaluate the consequences. Utilitarianism, to which i do not subscribe, is only one of them, adopting the greatest happiness for the greatest number as a figure of merit.

    While i have always been broadly consequentialist, the consequences that i seek have changed over time. Initially, i valued economic efficiency most of all. Later, i came to value the feeling that i deserve my income, a feeling which is best served by the free market. Most recently, my main concern has been limiting the power of coercion that the ruling class has over me: i judge every political change by the change in the power of the ruling class.

  • Jason

    I would have thought anyone who espouses a system with an ultimate aim – be that liberty, freedom, justice or whatever – could only ever be a consequentialist; for example the right moral act is the act which serves to maximise the liberty of the greatest number of people (or whatever formulation you prefer – that’s just paraphrasing Bentham, I think).

    As soon as you get into the intrinsic morality of an act, rather than its outcomes, you start getting into the mindset of those who seek to rule because they know better than the ruled. It would be very easy to produce a thought experiment to test whether one’s instincts are liberal or illiberal – such as this one:

    http://clever-bitch.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/jim-and-indians.html

  • CaptDMO

    Nico Metten on the tacit philosophy that must underlie David Friedman’s consequentialism.
    Oh COME ON!
    CaptDMO-on Everybody KNOWS that….sh1t happens.

    The DANGER of giving Freshmen a thesaurus is they MIGHT become Sophomores.

  • Jason

    Gah! Pointless repition with ‘liberty, freedom…’ humble apologies.

  • Utilitarianism is perhaps consequentialism with tacit rule: “people are happy with the outcome”. In many forms of it, a majority is required to be happy with the outcome. Rawls can be read as “the least privileged are more happy with the outcome”. Bentham believed in a “felicific calculator” – which he was never able to define.

    One problem (of many) with utilitarianism is that the dead don’t count. My desire not to be murdered matters – until I am, after which the murderer’s desire not to be hung for the crime matters and the desire of others still alive not to be murdered matters, but my opinions no longer matter. In utilitarianism, Steyn’s remark that “The future belongs to those who show up for it” can be amended to “The future belongs to those who arrange that dissenters don’t show up for it”.

    Thus I agree that you need a moral / evaluative rule to ensure that consequentialism is not self-referential, otherwise the consequences need only be good for those who arranged the consequences to be good for them, and for the rest to have no voice from being dead, or “justly” prevented from exercising an “oppressive” power, or whatever.

    The grain of truth in consequentialism is that consequences test theory. The left is about theory (or, one could say, arrogance): these policies will have the intended effects because my brilliant mind has evaluated my enlightened theory to prove it will be so. The right are more about outcomes: these policies will not have the desired outcomes, despite what theory says, because they’ve been tried ten times before and had perverse self-defeating side-effects every time.

    Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions” addresses this issue of having similar goals but very different ideas of how to reach them. If you like lucid observation and have not read it, I recommend it for Christmas.

  • John B

    If I have understood David Friedman’s ‘philosophy’, one shared by many libertarians, it is that outcomes cannot be predicted, designed, assigned, evaluated in advance, controlled nor able to be decided which one is ‘best’ because of insufficient usable knowledge.

    There is abundant evidence from history to back this up, but of course it does not prevent the ‘fatal conceit’ of those who think this time round they have cracked it and will succeed where all who have gone before failed.

    Mr Friedman’s ‘philosophy’ such as it is, is laissez faire… that is to say, not to have a ‘philosophy’.

    Humans like to make sense of the random, so it is natural for someone to imagine an ‘evaluation tool’ (what that?) where none exists, instead of Adam Simth’s ‘invisible hand’.

    Morals, philosophy evolve and at a given time likely are a result not cause of outcomes.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    I haven’t decided if I’m a consequentialist or not. Probably not, because I arrived here by intuitively independently inventing the non-aggression principle. Can it be a coincidence that the non-aggression principle leads to the best possible consequences? I suspect it all boils down to a tautology: that what we consider the best consequences (maximum liberty) come inevitably from what we consider the best morality (non-aggression) because only aggression impedes liberty. That this also maximises wealth is probably also a logical outcome.

    In other words: I wonder if there is no possible self-consistent universe in which maximum-liberty non-aggression leads to less wealth, so no possible cases of good morals leading to bad consequences to give meaning to the dilemma.

  • There is physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and maths and the rest is just not worth the toss. End of. It is all utter bollocks after that. I knew someone who got a degree in “Social Policy”. What the piss-flaps is that? And a BSc at that! Social-fucking-Policy!!! What the cunt’s worth is that? I mean abysmal sh’ite. More Sh’ite than an Ayatollah from Qom. That Sh’ite.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Libertarianism is in the how not the why.

    I can give a tramp some money, or I can force someone else to give the tramp some money. The consequences are the same, the difference is in the making of those consequences. It does not matter if giving money to a tramp is worthwhile or not, if it’s you and your money, that is it, the consequence and the evaluation is of the moment.

    The bottom line is control of people, and any libertarian will know that once you start controlling people then it will not end well, because it never has.

  • One cannot get an ought from an is, as David Hume pointed out some time back, and I have never suggested that you can. But one can use a positive argument to show someone that a particular conclusion, such as abolishing minimum wage laws or legalizing drugs, follows from the normative views he already holds. While nobody, so far as I know, can show what normative views people should have, the normative views they do have overlap heavily. There are few people who believe that human misery is a good thing, for instance.

    The approach I have long supported is to use positive arguments to show people that the normative views they already hold imply libertarian conclusions. That makes more sense than trying to convince people of libertarian normative views, given the lack of good arguments to show people what normative views are correct. It is doable if, as I believe is the case, libertarian policies produce results superior, as judged by the normative views of most people, to the results produced by alternative approaches.

    I hope that makes my position clear. So far as the source of my own normative views, see Chapter 61 of the third edition of _The Machinery of Freedom_.

  • JohnW

    One cannot get an ought from an is, as David Hume pointed out some time back

    And he was dead wrong – wrong on perception, wrong on abstraction, wrong on conceptualisation, wrong on free will, wrong on identity, wrong on existence and wrong on consciousness.

    I quote from Ayn Rand: ‘In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”’

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sigh. Listen carefully, class.

    You can ONLY “get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.'”

    Because the very concept of “oughtness” implies some sort of goal or objective or state of affairs or value that you wish to achieve or maintain. And that you hold said goal, etc., is itself a fact.

    In order to satisfy that wish, one must act in accordance with a whole bunch of facts of reality, or of what you believe or understand or assume to be the facts of reality.

    For instance: I ought to go to the Post Office later. [I want my Christmas cards at least to be postmarked prior to Christmas, and I don’t want my insurance payments to be late so I lose my insurance (!). Two FACTS about what I want to achieve (or avoid), and implied fact that the achievements are affected by the realities of the Post Office operations, and of date and time.]

    Or: I want to live as God has outlined in the ethical strictures of the Mosaic Code, so I ought to follow those as best I can. (To achieve this involves a whole string of “oughts” and the “is’s” from which they derive.)

    Or: I want to live as God wants me to live, so I ought to follow the Mosaic Code, which is, ultimately, the source of our knowledge of Right and Wrong. [N.B. — Don’t get funny ideas, Class. Personally I am an atheist.]

    In other words, the very concept of “oughtness” implies the existence of a reason for the “ought.”

    We very very very commonly say “I ought to do X” with no explanation of why that is. This is either because in context the reason for the “ought” is clear: I ought to go to the P.O. today [because it’s important that I get certain stuff mailed today], or because at some level we will feel unsatisfied (“uneasy” in von Mises’ terms) if we don’t do it, though we may not be able quite to articulate this. “I ought not to hang up on this Yay-Hoo.” (Why not? Because one doesn’t hang up on people, even Yay-hoos. Why not? Because….)

    Now.

    I do not know of my own knowledge whether Mr. Hume actually made the oh-so-often-stated claim, let alone why he did so (in what spirit) if indeed he did so. So I decline to argue on the basis of “Hume said.” However, there is a half-baked conception of what “ought” means that does unmoor the idea from any fact or presumed “fact” except that of its existence, which is totally independent of anything else: No criteria given as to WHY one “ought.” “Ought” is just Out There, free-floating, no reason why one OUGHT to obey “ought” except the existence of the putative “ought” itself. “Why ought I to…?” has no answer, by this conception of “ought.”

    This is pure Platonism. This “free-floating “ought” exists out there in the Universe and we Ought to obey it because we should, or, you might say, “Because we OUGHT to obey it.”

    “Since when isn’t because a reason?” as the mother says to her recalcitrant child in the old joke.

    Such a thing is, of course, a pure fantasy, regardless of how one arrives at it.

    And one notices that it is this DEFINITION of “ought” that makes it underivable from facts.

    It makes of “oughtness” a mirage, something that can never be reached (intellectually understood, here) because it only gives the appearance of something real, of the lake in the middle of the desert, of the puddle down the highway on a bright sunny day after a month of drouth.

    Such an “ought” does not mean anything like what people mean when they use the word, except when they are conducting an (acknowledged or tacit) debate, or trying to philosophize.

    And now, I ought to blow this pop stand and hit the Post Office. So I will. :>))

  • Snorri Godhi

    We ought to mention David Friedman more often on Samizdata, so that we can hear his comments more often.

    This latest comment is especially valuable because it will irritate Paul Marks by mentioning Hume, and also because it has brought out of the woodworks a quote from Ayn Rand which, on reflection, proves Hume’s point. (Not that i expect Objectivists to reflect.)

    You can expect more from me tomorrow, after i finish reading Nico Metten’s essay. Julie might be the target of some scathing sarcasm for taking Hume lightly.

  • Laird

    I must be remembering wrong, because I thought Hume’s point was that you can’t get an “is” from an “ought”, not the reverse.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh my. Did I err, Laird? Surely not. It’s unthinkable! :>(((

    Sigh. Very well.

    OK, I have Looked It Up. The Great Foot decribes “Hume’s Guillotine” at

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem

    commencing thus:

    The is-ought problem, as articulated by Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711–76), states that many writers make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and that it is not obvious how one can coherently move from descriptive statements to prescriptive ones. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume’s law, or Hume’s guillotine.

  • JohnW

    This is the best thing Hume ever said:

    “To begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review frequently our conclusions, and examine accurately all their consequences; though by these means we shall make both a slow and a short progress in our systems; are the only methods, by which we can ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stability and certainty in our determinations.”

    But to really understand why Hume is correct and to what degree you need Ayn Rand.

  • Nico Metten

    @David Friedman. Thank you for clarifying this David. I agree with you, tactically it can be very convincing to meet people where they are. In fact, I say explicitly that arguing through economics can be very convincing. I learned a lot from reading The Machinery of Freedom and have recommended it to many people.

    But my article is trying to make sense of libertarian philosophy and the point I was trying to make is that consequentialism is not a real philosophical viewpoint. It simply rejects philosophy as not very useful. And there is no clash between deontology and consequentialism as it is ofter portrayed by many libertarians. I think everyone is always both whether tacitly or explicitly.

    I would add however that I think philosophy is useful. If, as you say you want to meet someone at his values, then it is useful to understand these values first. And that is what philosophy is trying to do.

  • I agree with David Friedman’s explanation of his approach in the comments above. (If I understand him correctly) the decision to pay attention to consequences is indeed a moral rule: deciding to care about what truly happened as opposed to what was asserted must happen (and therefore is claimed to have happened, and don’t argue) is deciding to care what is true. This is also compatible with moral rules generally: preferring some outcomes to others imposes a duty of care to notice what actually happened.

    By contrast the deemphasis on philosophy and morals is tactical. Firstly, there is in fact much overlap on goals: for example, both we and hardline socialists say the aim is economic growth, not economic decline. Secondly, if you can show the minimum wage discriminates against the poor, you can avoid the harder propaganda task of persuading its supporters that noone has a ‘right’ to a bureaucrat-set minimum wage (harder in fact, if not in logic). It is usually in much more cynical contexts that people quote the adage “Effective propaganda consists of exploiting popular emotions, not vainly endeavouring to destroy them” but it is a truism (i.e. true as regards which task is easier) and is just one of those observable consequences that we can note and (whenever our morals allow) use. A book, a pamphlet, a talk, or a manifesto, addressed to the unconverted, are all only so long. What do you put in it? What do you start it with, as the hook to keep the doubtful reading? If I’ve understood David aright, he’s just saying that the observable consequences of past efforts give clear advice on that point.

  • So (finishing my post above), the two points I make above can be combined: present a moral rule – caring about what is true (what actually happens) – as the introduction to, or the morality of, a consequentialist analysis focussed on some issue(s) where the goals are shared between speaker and audience.

  • Snorri Godhi

    In reply to Laird:
    Hume did indeed claim that one cannot derive an ought-statement from is-statements _alone_ (ought-statements CAN be derived from is-statements _in combination_ with at least one ought-statement).
    Don’t take the Foot’s word for it: read A Treatise of Human Nature, Book iii, part i, section i: Moral Distinctions Not Deriv’D From Reason.
    You can jump to the last paragraph if Hume’s writing style (not yet matured when he wrote the Treatise) annoys you.

    Not sure whether one can derive is-statements from ought-statements: i’ll have to think about it.

    I note, however, that even if the latter is not, strictly speaking, a logical fallacy, in practice it is about as pernicious as the other.
    Marxism has probably been by far the most pernicious doctrine based on deriving an ought-statement from an is-statement: communism IS the future, therefore we OUGHT to work towards communism.
    But how many times have we fallen into wishful thinking? for instance: a religion OUGHT to be peaceful, therefore Islam IS peaceful.
    Neither of these examples is a strictly logical fallacy, perhaps. The Marxist example starts with a premise which is not only an is-statement, but also demonstrably false. The second example also starts with a questionable premise.

    There is an increasing number of issues in this thread that i’d like to discuss, i just don’t have the time right now.

  • Christine. London

    In order to identify ‘self’, as Ayn Rand would define ‘self’, you need first to identify the cause of ‘self’ in the human sense: a life-form with the power of volition.

    This is controversial at present as there exists a residual conflict between those who hold that Nature (genes) rule and the social utopians who are on the side of Nurture. The competition vs cooperation question is the justification for our present compromise of a ‘mixed economy’ model which permits our leaders to define the future direction of technology and pay for their ill-informed peccadilloes with tax payers money.

    The genetic determinists and the social utopians are both wrong; you cannot separate Nature and Nurture, as current genetic engineering research is demonstrating.

    The fact that organisms combine Nature and Nurture throughout life, within their species specific constraints, and that Man has brought this to a fine art in his development of free will, should give the genetic determinists and social utopians pause. But, it won’t – until enough brave academics are prepared to challenge the received wisdom and risk losing their grants.

  • Snorri, Islam means “peace” in the sense of “submission”. This is quite different from how I or (I suspect you) mean it. The Brits could have had peace (unless they were Jews, homosexuals, socialists or people like me) in 1940. Instead we chose to fight. Is/ought matters not a tinker’s cuss. We also stood against the Kaiser and the Soviets. We stood simply because it was the right thing to do. I am going to Poland for New Year. Does anyone honestly think I’d be doing that if it wasn’t for NATO? If it wasn’t for men and women standing against the horror that was the Soviet Union? Go to Poland or the Czech Republic and just ask what they think about Putin or why they joined NATO at their first option. And we have Maggie, Ronnie and the rest to thank. Mitterand and Kohl played supporting roles but we were strong and they were weak. Ask the Israelis about the MiG-23 vs the F-16. Approx. 100-0. Ask the Syrians.

    Or fly through MiG Alley with me sometime. You are welcome to fly wing to my lead (or vice-versa). But you better get 4-1. Then you can be in my flight anytime.

  • Paul Marks

    David Friedman – if one can not get an “ought from an is” then your consequencialism falls.

    If one should not say “that person has neither planned or committed an aggression, therefore we should not kill them” because this is taking an “is” (“this person has neither planned or committed an aggression”) and getting an “ought” (“therefore we should not kill them”) from it – then pointing to morally bad consequences will not work either.

    For example, “this person has neither planned or committed an aggression – therefore we should not aggress against them” is not really fundamentally changed by having the words “BECAUSE THEY WILL SUFFER” added to it.

    Nor is “because they will suffer” really want the decision is about anyway – after all the guilty suffer when we punish them (unless we take Jeremy Bentham’s demented position that being imprisoned and forced to work is not suffering – that there is actually positive utility from it). We try to avoid punishing an innocent person because they are innocent – NOT because “they will suffer” (the guilty also suffer – and rightly so).

    And….

    One is still getting an “ought” (we should not aggress against them) from an “is” (they will suffer).

    If one is not allowed to get “ought” from “is” then the criminal justice system collapses – and not just the formal one.

    Take John Locke’s example of two strangers (from different cultures) meeting in the wilderness (no government).

    Normal moral reasoning (the insight of moral knowledge) goes like this……

    “This stranger is not aggressing against me, and there is no evidence that he will do so – therefore I ought not to aggress against him”.

    But that is getting an “ought” (“therefore I ought not to aggress against him”) from an “is” (he “is not aggressing against me, and there is no evidence that he will do so”).

    Adding the words “because he will suffer if I aggress against him” (the consequientialist move) does not really add anything different here.

    Leaving aside the ban on getting an moral “ought” from an “is” (which normal people do every day) there are two other things to be considered.

    Moral Philosophy (Ethics) rests on two things.

    Our ability (with effort) to know moral right from moral wrong.

    And (again with effort) to CHOOSE to do what is morally right against our desire to what is evil – in the grim war that we fight within ourselves (in a thousand ways – great and small) every day.

    If either of these two principles is false, if we can not know (no matter how hard we try) what is morally right and what is morally wrong, or if we can not CHOOSE (EVER – no matter how hard we try) to do what is morally right against our desire to do evil……..

    Then Moral Philosophy (Ethics) collapses – totally collapses.

    The “freedom” offered by the totalitarians – the “freedom” from the terrible burden of moral CHOICE (from individual moral responsibility) because “the LEADER told me to it” is an evil “freedom”.

    The correct response to those who try and take moral and legal “Positivism” from the university and apply it in real life, is to shoot (or otherwise destroy) them.

    And that remains true even if their intended innocent victims do not include one’s self.

    For example say one has blue eyes and the Positivists are only trying to exterminate brown eyed people.

    One does not fight the totalitarians because it is one’s personal interests to do so (it may not be – indeed they may offer a share of the loot taken from the dead brown eyed people) one fights them because they are trying to murder the innocent.

    The “is” is that the intended victims are innocent of an aggression (a violation of the bodies or goods of others) and the “ought” is that one should try to save them.

    I remember going to a talk by Erik Brown.

    He interviewed all the guards at Belson before they were executed (eight guards per day) – it did not matter what the guards said, they would be executed regardless – and they all know that.

    All of them (without exception) admitted that they knew what they had done was wrong (morally wrong) and that they could have chosen NOT to do what they did.

    Sometimes, some “scientific philosiophers” do seem to have a problem with the obvious.

    We make a CHOICE – every day in a thousand ways (large and small).

    And there is no good reason to tolerant those who say “they did not know” what they did or intend to do was an evil violation (“I can not get an ought from an is – I did not know that the “is” that the brown eyed people are innocent leads to the “ought” that I ought not to kill them”) or “I could not help murdering them – everything I do is predetermined, choice is an ILLUSION”.

    Indeed I can get quite “bigoted” in dealing with such people. And I make a deliberate, and considered, choice to be “bigoted” in relation to them.

  • Paul, are you taking the mick? If you make a “deliberate, and considered, choice” you are very clearly not being “bigoted”. You are simply being correct. You are right. I have downed tools when asked to do something morally obnoxious to me. I have also done things I did not like but were not that abysmal to me. A lot of people know what I do and I get asked all the time about what I have seen of porn-stashes on HDs. Guess what? I look at what I have to. No more, no less. I have no interest in and HDs other than my own. Now, that might be seen as a moral position. It ain’t exactly. Now, if I came across a bit of Gary Glitterish stuff I’d be possibly on the phone to the rozzers but I haven’t. An awful lot of dull pictures of Denmark or Dorset which are only criminal artistically. Frankly the contents of other people’s HDs don’t interest me apart from technically.

  • Laird

    Snorri (and Julie): Thank you. I stand corrected. [I should know better than to intrude into formal philosophical discussions here; I’m woefully out of my depth.]

  • Snorri Godhi

    Glad to see Paul join the fray! and Merry Christmas to everybody, by the way.

    There are a few points that i wanted to make, which might as well be made in reply to Paul.

    If one should not say “that person has neither planned or committed an aggression, therefore we should not kill them” because this is taking an “is” (“this person has neither planned or committed an aggression”) and getting an “ought” (“therefore we should not kill them”) from it – then pointing to morally bad consequences will not work either.

    I cannot speak for David Friedman, but speaking for myself: if somebody, let’s call him Paul, says: “that person has neither planned or committed an aggression, therefore we should not kill them”, then, being human, i understand that there is an unspoken premise: “innocent people ought not to be killed”. The inference then becomes a syllogism:

    major premise: “innocent people ought not to be killed”;
    minor premise: “this person has neither planned or committed an aggression”;
    conclusion: “we should not kill this person”.

    Note that, while the minor premise is an is-statement, the major premise is an ought-statement: the conclusion is not deduced from an is-statement ALONE.

    You recently wrote a comment about tacit knowledge; well, the major premise is an example of tacit knowledge; which means, incidentally, that it seems unlikely that we shall ever be able to write down a complete list of major premises.

    Our ability (with effort) to know moral right from moral wrong.
    And (again with effort) to CHOOSE to do what is morally right against our desire to what is evil – in the grim war that we fight within ourselves (in a thousand ways – great and small) every day.

    This is a minor point, but unless one works in the police or “social” services in Rotherham or a similarly sick town, then it is unlikely that one has to choose between good and evil more than a few times a year. Actually, even in the case of the guards at Belsen which you mention, it could be argued that they made a few moral choices when they started work, and then they just went through the motions.

    If either of these two principles is false, if we can not know (no matter how hard we try) what is morally right and what is morally wrong, or if we can not CHOOSE (EVER – no matter how hard we try) to do what is morally right against our desire to do eviL

    I’d argue for exactly the opposite: normally (not including guards at Belsen, “social” workers in Rotherham, or Belgian colonialists in Congo), we cannot choose to do evil: we feel an irresistible compulsion to do the right thing.
    As Hume wrote, while the moral sentiments give a weaker feeling than the base passions, the former are actually stronger, in that they normally win the inner fight.

  • Snorri Godhi

    NickM @12:01: Sorry, but you missed my point.

  • JohnW

    I have prov’d, that reason is perfectly inert, and can never either prevent or produce any action or affection.

    All he had to do was perform an abstraction and form a concept [see: Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology] but he can’t do that because he’s Hume.

  • Snorri Godhi

    A stand-alone full version of the Philosophers’ Song:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9SqQNgDrgg
    Sorry but i don’t know how to embed videos.

  • Paul Marks

    No Nick – it is a decision of mine to be nasty (if you do no like the word “bigoted”). People who deny (and I am NOT saying that David Friedman is one of them) that we can know what is morally right from what is morally wrong, or that we can not choose to do what is right against our desire to de evil, should not (not) be treated with respect. No aggression against them – but no “we are all scholars seeking after truth – which we just see differently” stuff either.

    They should not be in left in doubt – if they choose to take the position of bad-guys they should be treated as such. They should not be treated as people who just happen to take a different point of view – they should be left in no doubt they are not welcome in the company of human beings. No one should aggress against them (as long as they keep their evil, for that is what it is, to the level of theory – and do not try putting into practice), but they should be made very unwelcome. “Shunned” or “sent to Coventry”. Disapproval should (not “should not”) be “paraded” to stand J.S. Mill (in “On Liberty”) on his head (by the way J.S. – I know why you did not want disapproval “paraded”, Mrs Taylor…..). After all that is exactly what THEY DO – indeed they go further and try and break up the meetings of speakers with whom they disagree (which is an aggression).

    When they try that physical attack the reaction should not be shocked sadness – it should be “Game On” (and they should be kicked out – physically).

    My criticism of people such as Noah Porter (19th century Yale) and James McCosh (19th century Princeton) is how GENTLE they were.

    Being nice, being gentle speech, is WRONG when dealing with the this sort.

    Take James McCosh’s treatment of the 18th century “philosopher” Johnathan Edwards.

    McCosh (almost as an afterthought) gently disagrees with the conclusions of Edwards – but only after showering the man with complements and saying what a profound thinker he was.

    J. Edwards was not a profound thinker – he was a scumbag.

    He was the sort of preacher who tells little children (in great detail – loving detail) about the torments of Hell and then…….

    And then tells the same little children that it is Predetermined who goes to Hell – and that all their actions are Predetermined, so they are going to Hell whatever-they-do.

    And when the parents complain?

    Easy – just say that your own preaching was predetermined was a series of causes-and-effects from the start of the universe.

    Why teat someone like with the respect they do NOT deserve?

    Why not just kick the **** out of them – and if they complain say “oh but my kicking the **** out of you was predetermined, by a series of causes and effects, since the start of the universe”.

    O.K. I am not really suggesting kicking the **** out of determinists – but one should certainly not EMPLOY them, especially not to teach the young.

    One does not show how “tolerant” one is by employing these people – it is a stupid and, in the end, self destructive, thing to do.

    “But Paul – J. Edwards graduated from Yale and helped found Princeton”.

    Yes James McCosh – but if you employ people like that they will not employ people like you when they get control of the place.

    And a Noah Porter would not get a job if they turned up at Yale today.

    Apart from, possibly, being allowed to clean the toilets. So much for “tolerance”.

    And what about the STUDENTS?

    Is it O.K. for children in schools and students in universities to be taught that they can not tell moral right from wrong? And that they could not choose between them even if they could tell the difference?

    What sort of citizens will that produce?

    Well we know the answer to that question – look a Yale (and the town it is in and the State it is in) today.

    Of course it is all nonsense – in reality (if they really try) they can tell moral right from moral wrong, and (again if they really make the effort) they can choose to do what is right against their desire to do evil.

    But that is a battle (every day – a terrible battle) – the job of Moral Philosophy is to HELP us in this internal war, not UNDERMINE us by telling us it is all hopeless.

    So when someone such a “scholar” turns up for a job and demands “respect” and “fair treatment” – one replies as follows…..

    “You would not give ME respect and fair treatment – you would not give me a post. So it would be dumb of me to let you in here. And, more importantly, you would seek to undermine the moral character of the students – to shove in them the idea that they can not be moral or that morality does not really exist. So SLING YOUR HOOK”.

    That most likely is “bigoted” or at least nasty – but it is also the right thing to do.

    And it is the same with politics.

    There are a thousand (or so) leftist universities – but only an handful of conservative ones.

    So when a leftist “scholar” turns up at (say) Hillsdale looking for a job – one tells them “sling your hook”.

    And if they complain about the “violation of academic freedom” (in the hypocritical Richard Ely tradition) one replies as follows.

    “How many conservatives are employed at the the thousand or so universities that your kind control? And I do mean apart from the cleaners and security guards?”

    And, please note Nick, they are crawling out of the humanities and social sciences – they want EVERYTHING.

    What has the physics department done to promote “Social Justice” and moral relativism (forget that these two doctrines are in contradiction – the left do not notice).

    Nothing?

    Too interested in mathematics and experiments?

    Better-change-that.

    And they are.

    When “scholars” come out with their B.S. – it has to be treated as B.S. (no polite language for the “distinguished academics”) otherwise everything, including physics, will end up in the same mess that such subjects such as English Literature are already in.

    This is conflict – war by other means.

    We do not have many universities left.

    Play nice with people who are not nice – and “not many” will turn into “none at all”.

    And it the same in schools.

    Not just the government schools are rotten – many private schools teach the same leftist stuff.

    Why?

    Because people do not get out their inner Dr Johnson – kicking and “because it is – and there is an end to it” and all.

    Note to American parents – you know all that money you are paying for the expensive “education” for your children?

    Perhaps it would be a better expression of your love to actually take the time to have a look that the textbooks they are being fed.

    And if the excuse is “they need to believe this leftist stuff to get into a good college” perhaps you should consider exactly what a “good college” is supposed to be.

  • Paul Marks

    “Ought from an is” is not that difficult – for normal life we do it every day (“this person IS not guilty, therefore I OUGHT not to punish them” and so on). It is “is from an ought” that is difficult.

    For example the leftists ought not to exist – the world would be much less bad without them.

    However, they do exist.

    Kant thought that the logic (in the sense of the laws of reasoning – not mathematics) of the human mind applied to the physical universe – that what ought to be true was true (is from an ought).

    With Newton and so on – that, just about, works.

    But as you know Nick it does NOT work with later physics.

    Take a beam of light fired off – one person chases after it (as fast as he can) and another person does not.

    It ought to get away from the first person at a slower rate than it gets away from the second person (the person who is not chasing after it).

    But Maxwell (long before Einstein) tells us that the beam of light gets away from both people (the one chasing after it and the one who is not) at the same rate.

    That is very irritating, very irritating indeed, but there we go.

    The physical universe is an odd place.

  • Paul Marks

    S.G. – you are wrong

    We do not face the choice between good and evil “a few times a year” – we face the choice (in many ways) many times a day.

    Nor is evil an “irresistible” thing – if it was “irrestible” then it would be unjust to PUNISH evil actions, only because we could resist, and fail to do so, is it just to punish us.

    If Mr Hume said different then Mr Hume was wrong.

    By the way the doctrine is not just wrong – it is also evil.

    I am in some ways an evil man – certainly I have done evil things, things I can and should not have done.

    However, I do not seek refuge in the lie (for it is a lie) that I “did not know” or the lie (for it is a lie) that “I could do no other”.

    Someone who does must never be placed in a position of trust.

    None what-so-ever.

    And friendship is a position of trust.

    One shold not be in state of friendship with people who play silly games about these matters.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Sorry for hogging this thread but there is much that i feel compelled to say.
    I’d like to offer an argument for the is/ought dichotomy which is independent from Hume’s arguments — as far as i remember them, which is not much.
    NB: this is only a sketch of a proof.

    I start by noting that logic cannot add content: your conclusions cannot contain any more information than what is in your premises (unless you are deluding yourself, or a charlatan).
    The obvious inference is that, if none of your premises has normative content, then your conclusions cannot have any normative content, either.
    QED.

    Incidentally, my understanding of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy is analogous: if none of your premises has factual content, then your conclusions cannot have any factual content, either. Take geometry, for instance: if any of the axioms has factual content, then at least some of the theorems also have factual content, and therefore can be falsified. Since there is no observation that can falsify geometrical theorems*, it follows that geometry must be analytic, not synthetic.

    * Actually, there is debate about that, but Einstein was on my side, and that’s good enough for me.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul:

    We do not face the choice between good and evil “a few times a year” – we face the choice (in many ways) many times a day.

    Please speak for yourself.

    Nor is evil an “irresistible” thing

    Nor did i say it is.
    To oversimplify, i said that GOOD is an irresistible thing.
    Repeat with me: GOOD IS AN IRRESISTIBLE THING.
    THAT is what Hume said. (To oversimplify.)

  • Alex

    All the advocates of freedom argued amongst themselves on the philosophy and finer points of their mostly shared beliefs, meanwhile evil ideologies quietly spread unchecked by logic or reason. That was how freedom died in the early 21st century.

  • I make my own moral decisions. Tomorrow I am going up to Gateshead. I don’t want to but… I shall. I am now looking at the cat who puked on the floor yesterday. I could kick him to death right now. I will not. I would much prefer not to have a cat that pukes and not seeing my mother and brother. They are not nice people and I am so tired. I just wanna sleep. I am so very tired.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, at December 23, 2015 at 11:17 am — Taking off from your remark about deriving an “is” from an “ought,” as a side-note but pertinent to the main discussion:

    The dictionary-definitions of “ought” point out that “ought” is also used to indicate expectation: “I left two hours ago and it’s normally a 10-minute drive, so I ought to be there long before the party starts.”

    That’s not the definition of “ought” we’re discussing, of course, but it is something we ought *g* to watch out for in discussions such as this one. It is easy to stray into the area of “ought” as “I or we expect that…” by mistake.

    Of course, the expectation also may turn out to be wrong. As in Paul’s example of the man chasing the photons.

    It seems to me the discussion is strictly about “ought” in the sense of “what it is right to do.” (This already implies the question: Right according to what standard?” The existence of the standard (or the belief in its existence, at any rate) supplies the first “is” from which the “ought” is derived.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: am i correct that your latest comment is a shorter repetition of what you said in your first comment in this thread?

    Anyway, if you follow my link (to Hume, not to Monty Python), you will find that Hume wrote 7.5 pages of cogent argument about the fallacy of deriving normative statements from factual statements ALONE, without _ever_ using the terminology which confuses you. Only the last paragraph offers an _independent_ argument, which last argument led us to adopt the is/ought terminology.

    Normative statements can be written with “is”, as in “it is right to do X”, and factual statements can contain an “ought”, as in your example. In other words, what the dictionary says is irrelevant.

    —-
    BTW i noticed another problem with Paul’s reply to me:

    if [evil] was “irrestible” then it would be unjust to PUNISH evil actions, only because we could resist, and fail to do so, is it just to punish us.

    As i said, it is GOOD that is “irresistible”; but what if evil is irresistible? would it be just to punish people? Yes, definitely: punishment is for deterrence, and as long as punishment has deterrent effect, it is just to punish people, even if they could not possibly resist temptation: it is other people who will be deterred, by making an example of those who have already chosen evil. That, i claim, is the consistent consequentialist view.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes, Snorri, well. As I say, I am not sufficiently familiar with Mr. Hume to engage his particular argument, nor how to take what he wrote (that I haven’t read, or have read and forgotten in the decades since I read it); so thanks for the pointers to reading him. For instance, for all I know he might have been trying to tease people into deeper thinking, or he might have wanted to be taken at face value, or he might have wanted to point out the problems of skepticism and done so by writing out the arguments of the skeptic as if they were his own (this is a rather standard style of exposition or explication, by the way).

    However I am quite sufficiently familiar with logic and concepts to engage the proposition that is stated, informally, as “you can’t derive an ought from an is”; I have done this to my satisfaction if not to yours.

    The problem is not that there is chain of syllogisms, each including some “ought” as one of its premises, so that the entire argument will become an exercise in question-begging. The reason is that every “ought” (in sense 1, as explained in my last posting) “implies some sort of goal or objective or state of affairs or value that you wish to achieve or maintain,” as I said in my first posting. Sorry for the repetition, but I can’t put it better than that. There is nothing in that formulation, which I believe is correct, that suggests the prior existence of an “ought” (within the domain of the discussion that is). What is required is the wish or desire to achieve whatever-it-is, even if the particular individual cannot entirely articulate the wish even to himself.

    Whatever the morality or moral code of a person is, the “oughts” of morality derive FROM the code, rather than forming the basis or foundation for it.

    The real issue is not the origin of the “oughts,” but rather of the values the person holds. He doesn’t hold a value because he “ought” to hold it; rather, he ought to do or not do such-and-such BECAUSE OF the values he holds and the way the facts of reality will help or hinder him as things unfold, in his attempt to act in accordance with his moral code.

    As to my last posting: Its purpose is to note the other main usage of “ought” that is common today, so as to avoid confusion when arguing about “ought” in one sense by recognizing that the other sense exists and that it is easy to be arguing, partly at least, on the basis of the other sense without realizing it.

    The final paragraph in my last posting above does summarize my earlier argument, although it doesn’t help that as usual I have failed to close parentheses. But that is not what the comment is about.

    And yes, “the” dictionary is quite definitely the preferred place to start when meanings of words are part of the issue, as they are here.* That’s because it provides a starting point where everyone is using a word in the same way; and if there’s disagreement, that fixed origin makes it easier to locate the points of disagreement.

    *Except, sometimes, when a word is used in a technical sense. For that, one repairs to a dictionary of technical terms for the appropriate discipline.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Whatever the morality or moral code of a person is, the “oughts” of morality derive FROM the code, rather than forming the basis or foundation for it.

    Well, the moral code, to the extent that it can be put into words, is just a list of normative statements. So you are back to Hume: you cannot derive normative statements from factual statements ALONE.

  • JohnW

    If chickens had the power the choose their habitat they ought not to choose the life aquatic.
    Life underwater is not good for chickens.

    Humans, who all have free will, can choose to live as chickens or fish or trees but they ought not to.

    Why?

    Because A is A. What we are determines what is good for us – don’t eat poison.

    Rand’s rebuttal of Hume stands.

    ‘In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”’

  • Snorri Godhi

    In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality

    There are no such philosophers.

  • JohnW

    There are no such philosophers.

    You are mistaken.

    From Protagoras “Man is the measure of all things” to Hobbes and Hume and even Kant mankind has laboured under the constant, sceptic refrain – “The merit and demerit of actions frequently contradict, and sometimes control our natural propensities. But reason has no such influence. Moral distinctions, therefore, are not the offspring of reason. Reason is wholly inactive, and can never be the source of so active a principle as conscience, or a sense of morals.” [Hume, Treatise on Human Nature.]

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, you write,

    Well, the moral code, to the extent that it can be put into words, is just a list of normative statements.

    Well, that is a common understanding of the term “moral code,” so I perhaps might have put it better: Granted.

    But the point is that a moral code, meaning now the list of “oughts” and “ought-nots” that we accept as guides to moral conduct, presupposes the objectives, goals, values, etc. that we wish to achieve or maintain, and their priorities or rankings, together with the facts of reality that are pertinent to achieving or maintaining the general goal or value.

    Given my belief that the non-initiation of force and coercion are counterproductive to humans’ living their lives as they themselves, as individuals, will; and given my belief that to achieve a condition in which this idea is realized by the several individuals making up some society S; and given that I therefore think it important to do what I can to achieve this state of affairs; I conclude that one thing I can reasonably expect to do to further that project is to argue against errors of logic that seem to me to impinge on that furtherance.

    So, my guide to conduct in this area can be summarized, in short form, as:

    I ought to argue against a certain class of logical errors which lead to erroneous epistemological conclusions.

    The fact (!) is that the word and concept of “ought” are inventions to express the idea that if X is desired, and given that Y is the situation (Y is another set of facts, the “facts on the ground”), then Z is probably the conduct to follow in order to achieve (or maintain) X.

    If X is desired, and given that Y is the situation (Y is another set of facts, the “facts on the ground”), then one ought to do Z.

    See how much shorter that is? But it means the exact same thing as the Long Form, which has no need of the word or the concept itself of “ought.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    To stress it again: What needs to be questioned is why one holds the values or objects he does, and why he ranks them as he does.

    Since my first belief in the example above is, “I believe that humans’ living their lives as they themselves, as individuals, will [i.e. as they wish and intend to do],” implies that that condition is a value you hold.

    So the logical question to ask is,

    Why do you believe that?

    That’s the question to be asked, but it’s not our topic here.

    . . .

    Since I hope that all Samizdistas have a Merry Christmas (or else a highly enjoyable 12/25), and since I would like all of you to know that, I ought to say to you all:

    Merry Christmas to everyone,
    and a Happy New Year!

    and so, I do say it. 😉 :>))))

  • Snorri Godhi

    JohnW: my apologies, i did not catch that “ultimate” in the Rand quote. All philosophers, of course, accept that there is a relationship between facts and NON-ultimate ends and values.

    Anyway, i wanted to comment on Objectivist ethics. I do think that it deserves to be taken seriously … unlike Objectivist epistemology 🙂
    As i understand it, the violation of the is/ought dichotomy is very limited: there is an “ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life” (from your first quote), which is a normative statement derived from facts alone, and then there are subordinate ends and values which are derived from the ultimate value, in conjunction with additional facts. Only the ultimate value is derived from factual statements ALONE.

    I note that, despite your dismissal of Hobbes, this is actually very close to Hobbes’ position. (Also Spinoza’s and perhaps some later philosophers.) I know Hobbes only a bit better than Rand, but it seems to me that the main difference is that Hobbes did not say that
    A: one’s own life OUGHT to be one’s ultimate value
    he said that
    B: one’s own life IS one’s ultimate value.

    The first problem i see with Objectivist ethics:
    If you think that there is no difference between A and B, then why do you dismiss Hobbes?
    OTOH if you claim that there is a difference between A and B, then we are back to Hume: how do you derive B from A?

    There are other related problems which maybe we can discuss later.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie:

    a moral code […] presupposes the objectives, goals, values, etc. that we wish to achieve or maintain, and their priorities or rankings

    Objectives, goals, values, and their rankings, to the extent that they can be put into words, are all normative statements; therefore, we are back to Hume: you are not deriving normative statements from factual statements ALONE.

    I have already communicated my best wishes above, but i thank you for reciprocating.

  • Alisa

    And a very Merry Christmas to you 🙂

  • JohnW

    If you think that there is no difference between A and B, then why do you dismiss Hobbes?

    Though he intends well, Hobbes starts off on the wrong foot like Hume – but let’s stick with Hume.

    Well, because, as you have pointed out, Hume resorts to “feelings” and “sentiments” and “sympathies” and “desires” and “conventions” as if they were irreducible well-springs and rivals to reason.

    If you had said to Hume that Rand thought man’s sentiments and desires too were the mere consequences of reason he may have agreed to a point but he would have denied any universalist prescriptions. Virtue, for Hume, was a product of society – he would prefer the virtue of life in England rather than the virtue of life in France or Spain – or among savages – but in the final analysis the “good,” according to him, is a social product and societies’ conventions just differ.

    That is not what Rand says. She is far more individualistic.

    She says man has a specific nature, like a chicken or a fish or a tree, and what is good for one type of life-form is assuredly not good for another. The type of life-form determines the type of the thing that is objectively good for that life-form.

    But while “man’s life” is the standard of good for Rand she does not mean mankind collectively but as each individual pursuing his own life as a”man qua man” i.e. as a rational animal with all that that requires and entails.

    “Man, rational?” says Hume, “you gotta be kidding!” Certainty is out and good and evil are mere “names that signify our appetites and aversions, which in different tempers, customs and doctrines of men, are different,” to quote Hobbes.

    Having said that, Objectivists are not particularly anti-Hobbes or Hume – it’s what comes after them that counts – and what comes after them is a horror beyond description.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, in all sincerity I don’t understand how you are using the word “normative.” If I say “I want to paint my house heliotrope,” then I’m expressing a wish or desire. The FACT is that I hold this wish or whatever. There’s nothing “normative” about the statement, unless one believes that STATING this true fact of reality is actually stating that “I ought to” paint my house heliotrope. There’s nothing “normative” about the wish itself either, unless one believes that to HAVE a wish (or a plan, or objective, or value, or intent) already constitutes an “ought,” in which case one is stating not just that the fact implies some “ought,” i.e. that an “ought” certainly IS derived from the fact(s), but that the fact and the “ought” are the same thing, just expressed using different words.

    In which case we’re discussing a non-issue.

    But I don’t see why wanting to paint my house heliotrope (or any other color) means I ought to paint it at all. (By the way, an aside: I didn’t say I wish my house were heliotrope. I said, ‘”I want TO PAINT” my house heliotrope.’ Mention only to point out looseness of everyday speech.)

    However, it’s true that statements of fact all by themselves don’t imply anything about what “ought,” “must,” or “should” be done: In strict logic, one must also include a definition of “ought.”

    And to do that in a way that is correct according to my conception of the meaning of the word, and unambiguous, complete, clear, and concise, is beyond my powers at 10 p.m. on Christmas Night, so there I leave things for now…although I know I’m using the word in the sense of being obliged to do (or not do) something, or in a less forceful sense meaning that “it would be best to” do (or not do) something; in this case it’s obvious that the word implies that there exists a criterion by which one will decided to do or not do something.

    I would be very interested to know your own strict definition of the word “ought” in its meaning as we are using it here, if you care to give it.

    Or perhaps you are tired of the topic by now, and would prefer to just let it go. I don’t want to keep flogging a dead horse, after all.

    And again, I hope you have had a happy Christmas. :>)

  • Snorri Godhi

    I knew that you guys could not resist keeping this discussion going!
    … but to be honest, neither of your replies is relevant.

    Instead of answering the yes/no question that i posed, i.e. whether A and B are logically equivalent to him, John can do no better than tell me what Hume said, and get it wrong; as though i needed confirmation that Objectivists only read Objectivist literature.

    (BTW i made a mistake yesterday:
    how do you derive B from A?
    should have been:
    how do you derive A from B?
    since A is the normative statement and B the factual statement.
    I should add that A and B are not logically equivalent to me: if you think they are, then you understand A differently from the way i do.)

    As for Julie, she starts by saying that she does not understand what “normative” means to me; as though my saying that moral codes, goals, and values are all normative, were not enough of an explanation. Then she forgets about lofty moral codes, goals, and values, and comes to earth to discuss wishes.
    Julie, you’d do yourself a favor by reading and re-reading Hume at my link.
    And forget about definitions, OK? thinking that definitions can solve real problems (other than problems of definition, which is not what we are dealing with) is a pernicious idea.
    Thinking that we need a definition of “ought” is particularly misguided, since normative statements can always be rephrased without an “ought”.

    (NB: i did give advance warning of my scathing sarcasm … and i am restraining myself!)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Having said that, i am happy to keep this discussion going, because it has led me to some thoughts about Hobbes, Hume, and Rand, which i ought (eh!) to put down in writing, and if i write them, why not share them with intelligent people?

    Allow me to start with the wikipedia (eh!) classification of ethical issues:
    meta-ethics
    normative ethics
    applied ethics
    moral psychology and descriptive ethics.
    The first 3 fields are part of philosophy, the last 1 or 2 fields (wikipedia lists them as 2 distinct items) are not: they are part of psychology and sociology.

    Thinking back about what i have read, Hume does not appear much concerned with normative or applied ethics: his main concern seems to be with moral psychology, i.e. the values that we actually hold, instead of the values we OUGHT to hold. In other words, Hume did not think he was doing philosophy, but psychology … except that the word “psychology” had not yet been coined. The title of his Treatise (of Human Nature), supports my interpretation.

    By far the most interesting parts of Hume’s “ethics”, however, are the parts on meta-ethics, such as the is/ought dichotomy.

    Note that neither meta-ethics nor moral psychology are normative: i don’t remember reading anything by Hume about what we OUGHT to do, except in his political essays. (NB: i am far from having read everything Hume wrote, and i remember even less.)

    Similarly, Hobbes’ “ethics” (in The First Part (Of Man) of Leviathan) was actually moral psychology, as far as i remember. In particular, his idea that “one’s own life is one’s ultimate value” (to put my words into his mouth) is clearly descriptive, not normative. It is in the Second Part (Of Common-wealth) that Hobbes starts talking normatively, about politics … or so i have heard: i have not read it yet, and it’s a low priority.

    And now a concession to Objectivists: Hume is my Prophet in meta-ethics, Hobbes is more interesting than Hume in descriptive ethics, but if either of them wrote anything of interest in normative ethics, i don’t know about it, and therefore it must be much less interesting than NAP; and Ayn Rand was the first to articulate NAP (afaik), and therefore she was a greater normative ethicist than either Hume or Hobbes, notwithstanding her flaws in epistemology and meta-ethics.

  • gongcult

    I’ ve solved it all. If an “OUGHT” cannot be derived from an “IS” if it is incompatible with an”IS” it ought not to be a moral concern. Because we need and ethics bound by reality. If there’s no relation between the desired and the possible-state -of -affairs we are all gasbags . Too late to wish you a Happy Christmas or Boxing Day , but perhaps we will have a good New Year’s…

  • Julie near Chicago

    You know, Snorri, by pure happenstance a couple of days ago I ran across a series of eight lectures that Prof. Daniel Robinson, of whom I’d never heard, delivered at Oxford back in 2013, in which he goes into the thought of Hume and of Thomas Reid. The title of the series is “David Hume and Thomas Reid’s Critique,” and I’m finding it quite interesting. Dr. Robinson is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown. Of course, whether his understanding of the gentlemen’s thought is correct, I cannot say; I’ve certainly noticed that every philosopher I know of has elicited at least one “professional” or extremely well-educated and serious amateur philosopher who takes him as meaning X, and agrees; another who also takes his meaning to be X, but vehemently disagrees; and, of course, two more experts who take him as meaning the opposite of X, one of whom agrees and the other of whom disagrees.

    This is certainly the case with both Hume and Kant (Dr. Robinson also has a series on Kant, which I’ve downloaded).

    So, I’m finding the lectures interesting and engaging, and I thought you might be interested to see them if you haven’t already. The URL for the playlist starts with the usual [UT].com, followed by
    . . .

    /playlist?list=PLBHxLhKiPKxBuGhbDKwahBLVhiUVTf9Ts

    . . .

    As for Julie, much as she enjoys discussing these things and is interested to learn your position, because you are a bright guy who shares some interest in the issue; and much as she does not necessarily melt like a tender snowflake, or like the Wicked Witch of the West deluged with a bucket of water, when subjected to criticism far more “scathing” even than yours, she does find a discussion without insults far more pleasant than the other kind.

    Anyway, as far as I can tell you’ve avoided my question altogether. You wrote,

    “As for Julie, she starts by saying that she does not understand what “normative” means to me; as though my saying that moral codes, goals, and values are all normative, were not enough of an explanation. Then she forgets about lofty moral codes, goals, and values, and comes to earth to discuss wishes.”

    To me this is somewhat snarky, so I do feel free to give it back a little bit: Your way of dealing with my question is to substitute an insult for the requested information. Therefore, sigh, let us parse.

    In answer to your first sentence, I say that I do not understand what “normative” means to you because you seem to regard as “normative” both flat, declarative statements of real facts and the conclusions as to appropriate conduct that follow from them.

    “I have X as a goal” or “X is my objective” or “I value X” or “I intend/plan/hope to achieve X” — these are all statements of fact, statements in which I declare my attitude or state of mind or wants or wishes with regard to X. I am reporting here, not implying anything about what I will or may or might do in order to satisfy the want or wish (yes, WISH) expressed in the report.

    “I like vanilla” is a declarative statement of fact. “I ought to pick tomatoes today” is a “normative” statement, by which I mean a statement about what is appropriate conduct or behaviour or action, in some particular situation, or some particular context of discussion.

    Upon consulting the serious OED, the print edition of 1933 with addenda through I think 1971 or so, I find definitions as follows:

    NORM: “A standard, pattern, model, type.” [NOTE: “Common since ca. 1855.”]

    NORMATIVE: “Establishing or setting up a norm or standard.”

    As a matter of fact, in my quote way above (on 12/23 at 1:28 a.m.) from the Great Foot on “the is-ought problem,” we see this:

    “…a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be)…..”

    “I like vanilla” or “I want to paint my house heliotrope” is a statement of fact. It does not, by itself, “establish” or “set up” any norm or standard.

    And that, Snorri, is exactly how I’ve understood the word; according to you, flat statements of that sort at least ARE normative, which is why I asked what you yourself mean by the word.

    It is true that in mundane conversation we often take such statements as indicating that we plan to or intend to or feel we “should” or “‘ought’ to” do something or other; but that’s actually reading something into the statement that’s not there, and in mundane conversation squabbles often result because one guy says “I like the black one” and the other guy says, “I’ve told you I hate the black one. Why do you insist we get that one!”

    Moving on. Your second sentence quoted includes this delightful piece of snark:

    “…[S]he forgets lofty moral codes, goals, and values, and comes to earth to discuss wishes.”

    Excuse me, I’m sorry to have confused you by using the common literary (and also conversational) device of using a single word taken from a list of words already given to stand for the whole list, in order to save time, space, wear and tear on the fingertips, and putting the reader or audience to sleep.

    From my comments:

    1. 12/24 at 10:44 p.m.: “…the list of “oughts” and “ought-nots” that we accept as guides to moral conduct, presupposes the objectives, goals, values, etc. that we wish to achieve or maintain,

    2. 12/26 at 4:13 a.m.: “…to HAVE a wish (or a plan, or objective, or value, or intent) ….”

    3. Same comment, a couple of paragraphs down: “…I didn’t say I wish my house were heliotrope. I said, ‘”I want TO PAINT” my house heliotrope.'”

    I think, Snorri, that your enthusiasm for disputatious argument sometimes overcomes your capacity for careful, close reading. (I have a bit of trouble with this myself.)

    And with that, let us shake hands and try hard to keep the Urge to Snark in check in our future conversations.

    . . .

    Meanwhile, I wish you a pleasant holiday week.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: sorry about the snarking, but it is just my style. Let me point out, however, that i did not snark at you: i snarked at what you wrote, which is different. Sometime i embarrass myself by snarking at what i myself wrote when i was younger and more foolish.

    WRT the substance of what you wrote today (Samizdata time).
    For me, a wish (or, strictly speaking, a statement of wish) is not normally a normative statement. To become normative, one should have, in addition, a moral rule that says: it is good to satisfy wishes. (I do not say: one ought to satisfy wishes, because there are always trade-offs involved, and one ought not to satisfy wishes when to do so involves overwhelmingly bad consequences.)

    So you are right: “i wish to paint my house” in whatever color is indeed a factual statement, about the speaker’s mental state. But one cannot derive any normative statements from it, so you still cannot derive a normative statement from factual statements ALONE.

    Now, let’s have some more sophistry. You could interpret “Julie wishes to paint her house” as “Julie thinks it would be good to paint her house”. That is still not a normative statement, because it says something about Julie’s beliefs about what is good: not about what is, in fact, good. Another way of putting it: statements about wishes are descriptive ethics, or moral psychology; they are not normative ethics.

    On the other hand … you could say that the statement above is still normative **for Julie**, because if Julie thinks it good to paint her house, then, barring impediments, she’ll paint her house. We are getting into difficult issues here, but it should be OK: your wishes are normative to you and descriptive to me, and my wishes are normative to me and descriptive to you. You can deduce other normative statements from your wishes, but not from mine; and i can deduce normative statements from my wishes, but not from yours. Hume is still untroubled.

  • JohnW

    Instead of answering the yes/no question that i posed, i.e. whether A and B are logically equivalent to him, John can do no better than tell me what Hume said, and get it wrong; as though i needed confirmation that Objectivists only read Objectivist literature.

    Not only did I answer your question explicitly – in bold type – but I stated the source of your mistaken assumption and I emphasized the crucial point that you omitted.

    Nothing could be further from Rand than Hume, Spinoza and Hobbes!

    Ayn Rand is not a psychological egoist!!

    You are starting from the wrong point. What you need to do is go back to Rand’s metaphysics in “Objectivism the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” and read the first six chapters. Only then will you understand what Rand means by the simple word “man.”

    It ain’t the same as Hume or Hobbes.

    As an important supplement, David Kelley’s “The Evidence of the Senses” provides a historical background to important aspects of Rand’s metaphysics especially in contrast to Hume [and Hobbes viz sense-perception] who simply picks up from errors inherent in Descartes. Then re-read “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” followed by “Atlas Shrugged” and a careful reading of “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

    “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law; where no Law, no Injustice. Force, and Fraud, are in war the two Cardinal virtues. Justice and Injustice are none of the Faculties neither of the Body, nor Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions. They are Qualities, that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude,” is emphatically NOT IN ANY WAY reconcilable to Objectivism.

  • Snorri Godhi

    John:

    Instead of answering the yes/no question that i posed, i.e. whether A and B are logically equivalent to him […]

    Not only did I answer your question explicitly – in bold type – […]

    I see nothing, in bold type or otherwise, that can be interpreted as a yes or a no.

    Nothing could be further from Rand than Hume, Spinoza and Hobbes!

    And how would you know?

    Actually, thinking about what Paul Marks wrote, i realized that it is hard for me to think of 2 philosophical systems more different than Hume’s and Hobbes’. One can always find similarities by looking hard enough, i suppose.

  • Paul Marks

    We can, with effort, know the difference between moral right and moral wrong. And we can, also with effort, choose to do what is morally right against our desire to do evil – in the fight that each of us is engaged in (every day of our lives) between good and evil within ourselves.

    Nor is moral right and wrong a calculation of “pleasure and pain” as utilitarians (such as the late Jeremy Bentham) would suggest – for example in the case of rape we do NOT try to calculate the pleasure of the rapist or rapists and compare that pleasure to the pain of the victim or victims (to try and work out whether the pleasure was greater than the pain).

    To proceed in such a way would be a “category mistake” – a confusing of pleasure with moral right.

    It is not the consequences, at least not in terms of pleasure and pain, that decide whether an action is morally right.

    Again this is a confusion (a category mistake) of “good” as in pleasure (“this feels good” as in “I gain pleasure from this”) with moral good – moral right.

    It is unfortunate that the English language uses the same word “good” for two very different things – the feeling of pleasure and moral good (moral RIGHT).

    We all feel the lure of “dark pleasure” (for example the delight in the suffering of our enemies) – but that is not a reason to give in to the lure of dark pleasures.

    On the contrary, we should do what is morally right – even if it causes us great pain (rather than pleasure) to do so.

    As for those who claim that basic moral right and moral wrong are different in different “historical stages” or “cultures – societies” or “races”.

    This is what Edmund Burke accused Warren Hastings of believing – “geographical morality” (that it was O.K. to do in India, to Indians, what it would be wrong to do to English people in England) and what Mr Hastings denied he believed – claiming that he had used loose language and did not really mean what Mr Burke thought he meant.

    Had Mr Hastings really believed that plundering and abuse (torture and so on) were acceptable as long as one did it to people of a “different historical stage” or a different “culture-society” or of a different “race” then Mr Hastings would have been GUILTY.

    And so is anyone else who takes such a position – for example National Socialists (“race” theory excuse for terrible crimes) and Marxists (“class” theory excuse for terrible crimes).

    If they put their relativist beliefs into practice, and actually commit terrible crimes in line with their evil beliefs, the only answer such criminals deserve is that of “the common hangman”.

    Nor are National Socialists and Marxists some sort of other species – I repeat we ALL have moral good and moral evil within us (I certainly do) we struggle with this every day of out lives.

    This is the human condition.

    The danger of the evil-and-false doctrine of relativism is that it gives us an excuse (“race”, “class”, “different culture”, “different historical stage” – whatever) to give in to the evil within ourselves.

  • JohnW

    You said that “he [Hobbes] said that B: one’s own life IS one’s ultimate value.”

    I replied directly in bold type that Rand said that “the standard of value is one’s own life as a ‘man qua man’ i.e. as a rational animal with all that that requires and entails.”

    Hobbes and Hume are both arch nominalists who reject universals – hence their view of what a man is has nothing in common with Rand, a point which she emphasises in Virtue Of Selfishness.

    This is just patently obvious – no one with any familiarity with Ayn Rand’s writing could make such a glaring error.

    You need to follow my advice above and go back to the beginning.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, What snarking? 😉

    Also, apologies for going AWOL yesterday. ‘Tis the season to be sneezin’, and unfortunately it’s not done with me yet.

    I think we’re largely in agreement as to your first three substantive paragraphs. Could get into whether the statement “X is good” (or, “to me, X is good”) is a moral statement strictly speaking. For instance, “Coffee ice-cream is good” is not to me a moral statement and doesn’t even suggest, let alone advise, and certainly does not require (see OED def. below), a moral (or “normative,” or prescriptive”) act or class of acts. In careful speech or writing, I wouldn’t go so far as to say, as a blanket statement, “It is good to satisfy wishes.” (Aside: I think there are very, very few blanket rules that deserve the name.) Your parenthetical caveat, of course, is quite right, and highly pertinent.

    Snorri! You swiped my line! “…[T]here are always trade-offs.™” *g* Indeed so.

    Skipping down for the moment, the (or “a”) problem is that the bald statement “Julie wishes to paint her house” says nothing about whether her wish is strong enough to motivate her to do it. (There’s a question of nice distinctions here, by the way; it could very well be that “Julie wishes to paint her house, but she knows darn well it would NOT “be good to paint her house,” for at least one of these reasons: (a) She hates painting houses, so the actual statement isn’t even true [painting her house would NOT, for her, be a good, i.e. enjoyable, fun, pleasant, or fulfilling or satisfying activity, although she thinks she’d like the results]; (b) Even if she were willing to do the work, she can’t afford either the time to do it or the cost of the paint; (c) If she painted her house, she’d paint it the color she prefers, heliotrope, and you should hear the neighbors, the Homeowners’ Association, and the Zoning Board the day she does that — or, alternatively, the County Assessor would be clear that the painting is grounds for raising the assessed value of the property, and up goes her property tax.)

    So “Julie wishes to paint her house” doesn’t even necessarily imply that “Julie thinks it would be good to paint her house.” Let alone that that second statement isn’t even a normative (or better, in my view, a prescriptive) statement.

    I assume, by the way, that here you are using “wishes” in the encompassing sense, to represent that long string: “I wish to…” may mean merely “I wish to” in its face-value meaning, but it also stands for “I have a wish, goal, objective, desire, plan, or intent to, etc….”

    By the way, leaving aside the issue of the “best” way to state things, I assume that when you say “Julie thinks it would be good to paint her house,” what you’re getting at would probably, in normal everyday conversation, be stated as “Julie thinks she ought to paint her house.” Or, perhaps, “Julie thinks she’d like to paint her house.” Or, again, “Julie wishes somebody would paint her house.”

    This is getting deep into the weeds … necessary for serious philosophy, even serious amateur philosophy; but somewhat toward the edges of the immediate issue.

    So, I deny that my wishes (plans, intent, objectives, goals, etc.) are even prescriptive for me, let alone for you or for “society” in general. To state them is to make “descriptive,” declarative statements about my state of mind, not prescriptive, let alone “normative,” ones about anybody’s actions. They suggest goals to pursue or actions to take, but they don’t require or demand that one must act in accordance with the suggestions in order to be acting morally. It’s the dread “ought” or one of its fellows “must,” “should,” etc., depending on the connotation one gives these different terms, that follows from the declaration of my “wishes”; and that is where the prescriptive, or normative, conclusion comes in. But where did it come from?

    It came from the definition of ought (etc.). The word “ought” (etc.) is the label we put on the concept of the action apparently required in order to further or achieve some goal or objective or intent, given actual facts (i.e. the circumstances or context of the action).

    Per the OED as referred to above, the word “ought” nowadays is

    The general verb to express duty or obligation of any kind; strictly used of moral obligation, but also with various weaker shades of meaning, expressing what is befitting, proper, correct, advisable, or naturally expected.

    Here endeth today’s input — I’m having trouble achieving “clear, complete, and concise.” I’m glad to see that the discussion is still alive. :>)

  • Snorri Godhi

    To Paul Marks if he’s still reading this, if not i might repeat these questions in another thread when he talks about these issues again, which he often does.

    My questions are meant to be sure that we both understand our differences, although these differences cannot be resolved here.
    1. Do you accept that there is a difference between consequentialism and utilitarianism.

    2. Do you accept that there is a difference between:
    commonsense free will (which most people believe in, including yours truly and, i suspect, most modern philosophers who do believe in free will);
    and metaphysical free will (which you, Johnathan Pearce, a lawyer friend of mine, and last but not least William of Ockham believe(d) in).

    3. Do you accept that there is a difference between:
    Hume’s theory that humans have an (almost) irresistible urge to do good;
    and the theory that you attribute to pretty much everybody except yourself, that humans have an irresistible urge to do evil.

    Further questions might occur to me later.

  • Snorri Godhi

    JohnW:
    Your latest short comment helps to clarify your previous 2 long comments.
    However, you have STILL not answered my yes/no question, whether A and B are logically equivalent to you.
    If you do not like the way i phrased A and B (not that it makes any difference in logic), i’ll rephrase them:
    A’: one’s own life as a man qua man OUGHT to be a man’s ultimate value
    B’: one’s own life as a man qua man IS a man’s ultimate value.

    Now, are A’ and B’ logically equivalent to you? YES or NO?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: you should not give me a license to keep snarking, because i abuse it.

    Actually, i’d probably do so anyway. Your latest comment is an easy target, since you say both

    I deny that my wishes (plans, intent, objectives, goals, etc.) are even prescriptive for me, let alone for you or for “society” in general. To state them is to make “descriptive,” declarative statements about my state of mind, not prescriptive, let alone “normative,” ones about anybody’s actions.

    AND

    It’s the dread “ought” or one of its fellows “must,” “should,” etc., depending on the connotation one gives these different terms, that follows from the declaration of my “wishes”

    So, ought-statements do and do not follow from wish-statements, within a single paragraph of yours.

    Anyway, i don’t understand why we are wasting time on wishes, instead of discussing moral codes, goals, and values: the latter ARE unquestionably normative, and equally unquestionably, you can derive other normative statements from them.

    I note, however, that you have softened your line substantially since you stated

    Listen carefully, class.
    You can ONLY “get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

    (Which, incidentally, is as condescending as i am snarking.)

  • Mr. Ed (Arkengarthdale, Richmondshire)

    Snorri G:

    the theory that you attribute to pretty much everybody except yourself, that humans have an irresistible urge to do evil.

    I think that you are misrepresenting Paul’s position there. He strikes me as fairly consistent (in the decades that I have known him) in asserting that every human has to be wary of the urge to do evil, if you like Lord Acton’s dictum ‘All Power Corrupts’ etc., or Gandalf (albeit a fictional non-human device) and his wariness of having the Ring, lest it corrupt him. I have never regarded Paul as seeing himself as immune from such temptation, indeed far from it, it troubles him that he has any urge to do evil.

    Many humans wholly overcome the inner ‘orc’, many vote Labour all their adult lives, some steal, rob, kill or seek political power.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Mr Ed: i am always amazed to learn that somebody has been following an internet dispute that has been going on for over a week, without taking part. To some extent, it is gratifying to know that somebody is listening; even though, vain as i am, i am gratified enough when i hear my own voice.
    Also interesting to know that you and Paul go back a long time.

    Coming to the subject at hand: i did not say that Paul has a theory that humans have an irresistible urge to do evil. I said, or rather implied, that he attributes such a theory to everybody who does not share certain philosophical assumptions with him; which is an awful lot of people.

    Incidentally, after Paul said that he has to resist temptation every day, i asked myself what i could do every day (without a serious risk to my life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness) that i would consider evil. All what i could think of, is shoplifting. But i am never tempted to shoplift: resisting a temptation that i don’t have, is pretty easy.

    I am also puzzled that Paul does not seem to accept that a person who does the right thing every time, is just as predictable as a person who does the wrong thing every time. For instance, it is totally predictable that i will not shoplift tomorrow.

  • JohnW

    A’: one’s own life as a man qua man OUGHT to be a man’s ultimate value
    B’: one’s own life as a man qua man IS a man’s ultimate value.

    Now, are A’ and B’ logically equivalent to you? YES or NO?

    Theoretically – yes. Existentially – no.

    Why? Because man is an animal possessing a VOLITIONAL consciousness.

    Nature determines the facts but it does not determine our choices.

    Nature, however, does determine the consequences of our choices and sadly much of mankind’s history has been the record of the consequences of a whole series of bad choices.

  • Alisa

    I have finally read the article, and I must say that I was nodding in agreement all the way through it – very well done. Also, thanks for the reference to Jan Lester – I found this article he wrote very useful as well.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri,

    “I note, however, that you have softened your line substantially since you stated

    Listen carefully, class.
    You can ONLY “get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

    (Which, incidentally, is as condescending as i am snarking.)”

    Oh, it wasn’t intended to be condescending so much as a rather humorous swipe or Snark, in its own right. But the humor was, and the Snark was not, aimed at the readership here.

    My main aim in starting as I did was to alert readers that I was about to complain.

    One tries to keep in mind that an English gentleman (nobleman?) never insults anyone, except on purpose.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, you wrote:

    you say both

    …I deny that my wishes (plans, intent, objectives, goals, etc.) are even prescriptive for me, let alone for you or for “society” in general. To state them is to make “descriptive,” declarative statements about my state of mind, not prescriptive, let alone “normative,” ones about anybody’s actions.

    AND

    It’s the dread “ought” or one of its fellows “must,” “should,” etc., depending on the connotation one gives these different terms, that follows from the declaration of my “wishes”

    So, ought-statements do and do not follow from wish-statements, within a single paragraph of yours.

    You’re making the error of assuming that a statement implies its converse. Ought-statements do follow from “wishes,” the use of which word to label an entire category of our mental-emotional complexes I have already explained, but it is not the case that every wish implies an “ought.”

    In real life, as I sit here typing, I am wishing at this very moment for some Brie, but it does not follow that I “ought” to acquire some. Other facts on the ground also feed into the decision as to what I ought to do. And one of them — the crowning arch in the structure of facts from which (what von Mises would categorize as “felt unease”) — is the definition or meaning of the word “ought” itself.

    What I “ought” to do in any given situation or about any given issue is determined by the facts of the situation or issue. These facts include my estimation of their relevance to deciding on my course, and they include my wishes (in the narrower sense this time), wants, needs, desires, what I believe I would find most satisfying or filling in alleviating the said “felt unease,” what I would find UNsatisfying or unpleasant or even hurtful to me in any given course of action. All those personal evaluations, made as I consider different angles on the thing, are statable in declarative sentences, as FACTS. So they feed into to the derivation of the final “ought” at which I arrive.

    There’s no particular reason to use the words you at whose minimal use you carp; in fact for the most part they would probably obscure the discussion even more. And the discussion, or the part of it that I engaged, is as to the basic flaw in the idea that ‘you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”‘

    We can tell this idea is flawed because if it were true, there would be no way to ground “ought” in any fact of reality. But then, the putative “ought” could not be used as a guide to conduct (including, certainly, “moral” conduct), because it would have no dependence on the facts of reality, that is, it would not allow us to take any cognizance of the facts of reality in choosing our courses of action.

  • Snorri Godhi

    One nice thing about arguing with an Objectivist, apparently, is that i can be as snarky as i like, without causing any offense. I am taking full advantage of this.

    The straightforward interpretation of JohnW’s latest comment is that he does not understand what “logically equivalent” means. Once again, he answers a different question from the one i posed: the question he appears to answer is whether A’ and B’ are both true.
    That leads me to suspect that Objectivists are unable to give answers to any questions, unless the answers are already in the Objectivist literature. Possibly, they do not even understand questions which have not been posed in the Objectivist literature … but that is deep into snarking territory.

    All the same, Happy New Year to John and to anybody still lurking here.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: we have been in agreement that wish-statements are descriptive, not normative, since a few comments ago.
    Where we differ is in whether we can infer normative statements from wish-statements. I categorically deny that we can. To infer normative statements from wish-statements, leads to a pernicious form of moral relativism. (There are non-pernicious forms.)

    I also categorically deny that we can ground normative statements “in any facts of reality” — unless you mean MORAL reality, which has NOTHING to do with empirical reality.

    As for this:

    […] it would not allow us to take any cognizance of the facts of reality in choosing our courses of action.

    You are obviously confusing
    * normative statements cannot be derived from factual statements
    with
    ** normative statements cannot be derived from factual statements ALONE

    And happy 2016 to you too!

  • JohnW

    I did answer the question you posed. Repeatedly. You asked if the two statements were logically equivalent.

    I answered yes, they are equivalent in one sense but not in another.

    I then explained why.

    This is simple CSE-level English comprehension not philosophy.

    And no, I’m not in any way offended by your comments – I have some familiarity with these sorts of discussions.

    So try harder.

    Happy New Year!

  • JohnW

    Did you know Snorri feeds toadstools and white spirit to children?

    Some “misguided” people think that due to the facts concerning the properties of toadstools and white spirit plus the facts concerning the biology of children means he ought not to do that but he disagrees.

    Some people ask if it is true that Snorri actually does that. Is it a fact because if it isn’t people ought not to spread false rumours.

    But again Snorri disagrees.

    In fact Snorri thinks he is very clever.

    Some people think he ought to pull the other leg.

    As an aside, I do find it somewhat “ironic” that those who are morally offended by the comments of Paul Marks – who has killed no one – do not seem to be equally morally offended by the pointless murder of 1.5 million children by the Nazis.

  • A1) Consuming toadstools and white spirit is dangerous to certain types of living beings.

    B1) Children are a type of living beings for whom consuming toadstools and white spirit is dangerous.

    [C1) One ought not put children in danger. Therefore…]

    D1) Snorri ought not give toadstools and white spirit to children.

    A2) John is telling lies about Snorri.

    B2) Telling lies about someone can damage their reputation.

    [C2) One ought not damage innocent peoples’ reputations. Therefore…]

    D2) John ought not tell lies about Snorri.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rocco: thanks for pitching in.
    In addition to leaving out the hidden assumption, there is another fallacy that John has committed, which i shall leave as an exercise to the reader.
    But hey, at least John tried to use logic! in his previous comments, AND in the Ayn Rand quotes, it was all proof by assertion.

  • JohnW

    Oh, feeding toadstools and white spirit to children is “dangerous” is it? “Dangerous” to their fashion sense? “Dangerous” to their toy collection? “Dangerous” to the customs of the people next door?

    Snorri and Rocco – you are mistaken. The illicit substitution fallacy does not constitute a defence of your position.

    I did not say “dangerous” – toadstools and white spirit are deadly to children.

    Given facts about poisons and the facts about children means you ought not to mix the two.

    Why?

    Because it is contrary to your nature as a man qua man.

    So Rand is right.

    And so, for the record, is Paul Marx. There is no wiggle room here. Every is implies an ought. Every fact has implications for evaluation.

  • My apologies, John.

    A) Toadstools and white spirit are deadly to certain classes of living beings.

    B) Children are a class of living beings to which toadstools and white spirit are deadly.

    [C) One ought not kill children. Therefore…]

    D) Snorri ought not feed toadstools and white spirit to children.

  • JohnW

    [C) One ought not kill children.

    Why?
    Is it a matter of social custom, religion, or whim? Hume says it is.
    If you are a Brit you should hang but if you are a citizen of ancient Carthage that’s fine.

    Rand says no it is not OK in either Britain or Carthage – it is contrary to man’s nature as a man qua man.

  • More radically and more comprehensively, then:

    A) A is A. (Man has a specific Nature.)

    B) Man has Free Will. (Man can act contrary to his nature.)

    C) It is contrary to Man’s Nature to kill a child.

    [D) Man ought not act contrariwise to his Nature. Therefore…]

    E) Men ought not kill children.

  • JohnW

    The syllogism is a test of the validity of the inference [from Aristotle] not the truth of the major or minor premises. Many untrue conclusions can follow from perfectly valid inferences in the premises. However, the syllogism is also useful for highlighting the core of an argument through simplification.

    So yes to A, B and C but D should read:

    D If man chooses to live as man qua man he should not kill the innocent.

    You do not have to live as a man qua man – you may prefer to exist as an animal or a plant but A is A. Your choice not to live as a man qua man is a choice to suffer and die.

    You will NOT be living as a man qua man – with all that that requires an entails.

  • Fine. Replace my premise D with your premise D if you like. But then the conclusion, E, doesn’t follow. Sort of defeats the point if you ask me, but do whatever you want, bro.

  • JohnW

    E does follow from man qua man.

    Man qua man is a trader not a lion. More men means more traders.

    Rational egoism requires a theory of concepts, perception, free will, value, self, purpose, consciousness – it is not the same as Hume or Hobbes.

  • Well if you smuggle your conclusion into your premises you shouldn’t be surprised when you get the result you wanted, I suppose.

    Snorri, I applaud you for banging your head against this particular brick wall for as long as you have.

  • JohnW

    Smuggle?

    I stated “man qua man” up front and emphasised it repeatedly!

    Smuggling is, however, exactly what Hume does on a colossal scale with regard to existence, identity, entities, causality, concepts, perception, free will, value, self, purpose, and consciousness.

    If it’s not an “impression” it’s “invalid,” according to him. So, by this view, man is less than a higher animal and more like an insect.

    Is Hume a monster?

    He would be if he took his own philosophy seriously, but fortunately for him he didn’t:

    I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

  • Yes, smuggle. Your “man qua man” is “a man acting as he ‘ought’ [according to you and Ayn Rand] to act”.

  • JohnW

    Because what a living thing is determines the type value it requires to maintain its life.

    Man’s survival depends on the use of his reason. Cognition demands you make evaluations. If you choose to live as a human being rather than imitate the actions of a plant you have to think conceptually and to think conceptually you have to value. There is simply no other way.

  • OK:

    A) A is A. (Man has a specific nature.)

    B) Man has Free Will. (Man can act contrary to his nature.)

    C) It is contrary to man’s nature for him to eg., kill children.

    [D) If men want to live as men and not as, say, lions or plants, they ought not act contrary to their nature. Therefore…]

    E) Men ought not kill children.

    So you still haven’t derived ‘ought’ from ‘is’, John.

  • JohnW

    C) It is contrary to man’s nature for him to eg., kill children.

    Why is it contrary to man’s nature? What is bad about random acts of mass murder? Is it just a matter of the social consequences or because God commands otherwise or is it something else?

    The Greeks had various theories but none of them are the same as Rand’s.

    Rand says reality, in combination with the decision to remain in reality, i.e., to stay alive — dictates and demands an entire code of values.

    Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil).

    The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality.

    The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live.

    The principle choice we all face as men is the choice to think or not to think. It is the choice to be or not to be. But thinking on the human level requires a process of evaluation. It is simply not possible to think conceptually independently of evaluation. Cognition demands it.

    Hume overcomes this insurmountable problem by denying the legitimacy of conceptual thought, along with reality, perception, entities, identity, causality etc..

    Hume’s philosophy is, to quote Bertrand Russell, indistinguishable from literal insanity.

    So Hume is not particularly interesting for the originality of his thought, the Greeks had said similar, but for the era in which he lived and what came after him.

    I am not particularly anti-Hume – I rather enjoy him because he brings clarity to previous errors and can see where going wrong.

    Plus he is not German.

    But he is not the genius you think he is – far from it.

  • Right, so:

    A) A is A. (Man has a specific nature.)

    B) Man has Free Will. (Man can act contrary to his nature.)

    C) It is contrary to man’s nature for him to eg., kill children.

    D) Men must have an entire code of values that is in harmony with their nature as men qua men and stick to it religiously if they wish to remain in reality.

    [E) Men ought to wish to remain in reality. Therefore…]

    F) Men ought not kill children.

    And once again you’ve not derived ‘ought’ from ‘is’, John.

  • JohnW

    D) Men must have an entire code of values that is in harmony with their nature as men qua men and stick to it religiously if they wish to remain in reality

    …as man qua man?

    Leaving aside the “religious” bit – yes.

    At least, it would help if they tried!

    [E) Men ought to wish to remain in reality.

    Absolutely not.

    Wishing is totally irrelevant [ which is where I disagree with Julie.]

    It is literally impossible to sunder human cognition from the process of evaluation.

    You cannot form any concept without evaluating your abstractions.

    In addition, cognition apart from evaluation would be purposeless. It would be a mere, passing desire for “knowledge” of any random association as an end in itself i.e. as “pure knowledge,” a knowledge of nothing for no reason.

    Evaluation apart from cognition, on the other hand, would be similarly pointless and non-objective; it would be the mere whim of pursuing an “I wish” not based on any “It is.”

    You would be stuck in a realm of imagination and fantasy like Hume, a paralysed sceptic, not cognition.

    If you wish to live you ought not to jump out of a plane without a parachute, but it’s the facts that determine that ought not the wish.

  • Rand says reality, in combination with the decision to remain in reality blah blah blah A is A etc etc

    So:

    A) A is A. (Man has a specific nature.)

    B) Man has Free Will. (Man can act contrary to his nature.)

    C) It is contrary to man’s nature for him to eg., kill children.

    D) Men must have an entire code of values that is in harmony with their nature as men qua men and stick to it if they decide to remain in reality.

    [E) Men ought to decide to remain in reality. Therefore…]

    F) Men ought not kill children.

    Surprise surprise, once again you have failed to derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’.

  • JohnW

    [E) Men ought to decide to remain in reality. Therefore…]

    No. There is no ought prior to the choice to live for a volitional consciousness.

    “Ought” does not entail a divine command nor a categorical imperative.
    If you want to live you ought to think.

    E) Men ought not kill children because it is contrary to life as a man qua man.

    If
    you wish to live you ought not to jump out of a plane without a parachute, but it’s the facts that determine that ought not the decision.

  • You (ie Ayn Rand, ie the woman who does all your thinking for you) brought up “the decision to remain in reality”, bro. That’s your premise, just like all the other premises I’ve used are your premises.

    And I haven’t the foggiest what you think you doing with these hypothetical statements. But I’ll tell you what you’re not doing, bro: Deriving a norm from empirical facts.

  • And BTW, John, if you want to use your E) the argument fails because, like I mentioned before, you’re smuggling your conclusion into your premises (and it’s also in contradiction to your “no duties” position: if there are no duties, no divine commands or categorical imperatives, then there is no duty for a man to live as a man qua man).

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rocco: i have given up on trying to follow your debate, but have given it a cursory reading, and this strikes me as an important insight:

    Well if you smuggle your conclusion into your premises you shouldn’t be surprised when you get the result you wanted, I suppose.
    […]
    Your “man qua man” is “a man acting as he ‘ought’ [according to you and Ayn Rand] to act”.

    (The quote joins together 2 comments of yours, of course.)

    I take this opportunity to explore the logical connections between the 4 propositions which i listed earlier:
    A: one’s own life OUGHT to be one’s ultimate value
    B: one’s own life IS one’s ultimate value.
    A’: one’s own life as a man qua man OUGHT to be a man’s ultimate value
    B’: one’s own life as a man qua man IS a man’s ultimate value.

    (But first, a remark: my primary motivation is once again to put my thoughts in writing.)

    Proposition B seems a reasonable assumption on Darwinian grounds: if one’s own life is not one’s ultimate value, then survival becomes unlikely, and therefore organisms that are still alive must have placed a high value on their own lives.

    Proposition A, however, does not follow from B. Indeed, to assume that it does, is to assume away the is/ought dichotomy. Then one could also say that, because the Khmer Rouges killed millions of people, it follows that they ought to have killed them.

    Incidentally, i must reread Hobbes to check whether he erroneously inferred A from B.

    What about proposition A’? where does it come from?
    * Not from B’, because B’ is blatantly false; though it depends on what one means by “man qua man”, of course. Ayn Rand herself did not live as woman qua woman, in my arrogant opinion: she smoked, and she preferred Rachmaninov to Bach, which is ridiculous for someone who praises “reason”. (Not that i don’t value Rachmaninov, but only when i feel irrational.)

    * Not from A, because (quite apart from the fact that A remains unproven) the obligation to survive can, and does, come into conflict with the obligation to live as a man qua man.

    * Finally, not from B: if one cannot infer A from B, then a fortiori one cannot infer A’.

    The answer seems to be that A’ is nothing more than smuggling the desired conclusions into the premises — in particular, smuggling the NAP into the premise that one ought to live as man qua man; because the NAP certainly does not follow from A or B, but it does follow to A’, at least as “man qua man” was meant by Rand.

  • JohnW

    What is an is?
    You cannot infer the meaning of the word is by a simple demonstration of a relation between terms – that’s what Hume does when throws out definition and meaning.
    What you have to do is define the referents, but Hume cannot do that because there are no referents according to him – he doesn’t even exist. All that exists is his sensualist naming procedure guided by the sentiments of his spleen, thus “the lunatic who believes that he is a poached egg is to be condemned solely on the ground that he is in the minority” not that the lunatic is wrong or mistaken [to quote Russell].

    Let’s make it simple.
    Kant says: treat every man as an end in himself.
    Rand says: treat every man as an end in himself.

    Are those two statements equivalent or even similar?

    Obviously not.

    The form is identical but the contents are polar opposites. There is no “smuggling” involved – the differences are stated plainly and openly in their respective ethics, epistemology and metaphysics.

  • JohnW

    And I haven’t the foggiest what you think you doing with these hypothetical statements. But I’ll tell you what you’re not doing, bro: Deriving a norm from empirical facts.

    Free will is a fact implicit in every act of introspection and extrospection. If you choose to live you ought to live as a man qua man.

    If you wish to live you ought not to jump out of a plane without a parachute, but it’s the facts that determine that ought not the decision.

    If you think you can jump out of a plane without a parachute you are welcome to try but I would not advise it.
    In light of all the facts it is the sort of thing you ought not to do.

  • JohnW

    What about proposition A’? where does it come from?
    A’: one’s own life as a man qua man OUGHT to be a man’s ultimate value.

    It comes from the definition of value in The Virtue of Selfishness:

    It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

    In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”