Monthly Archives: July 2013

The is-ought problem

IMHO the is-ought problem is inflated beyond usefulness or validity. If morality can be said to be objective then obviously it is something. “Ought” then specifies a judgement about what one needs to do in order to behave in a way that is moral.

The problem comes when people perform category errors such as assuming that because something is natural it is moral, or that because something is legal it is moral or visa-versa. What I mean to say is that it’s not actually an is-ought problem, it’s a problem of conflating topics and confusing ethics and/or morality with some other subject that may or may not be at all related.

Further, both “is” and “ought” apply to multiple subject matters. A person ought to save money so that they’re not broke if something horrible happens and they end up out of work. Saving money is providing for emergency situations. Likewise, a person perhaps ought to tell the truth in order to be considered moral and trustworthy. Telling the truth is a way to garner trust and that at least seems to be a big part of what the word “moral” means (and therefore is).

In the end, morality is something. What we need to establish is what is generally meant by “moral” and what, if any actual rules can be extracted from that definition. Perhaps there are none and it’s all a subjective preference based on culture and personal, emotional views. Maybe there are and we can conclude that there’s an objective, definite difference between people who behave morally and those who don’t no matter what their personal preference might be. Either way, this has nothing to do with “is” or “ought”.

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