June 19, 2010
A buddy of mine often reminds me of how much he likes short posts, so here's a quick one on a philosophical classic: the Is/Ought distinction.
In my experience, the person who says, "You ought to do X" in response to some desire Y is saying something that reduces to, "I believe that if you do X, you shall fulfill desire Y." Example: your desire is to go surfing, and your neighbor offers you a ride to the beach. If you take the ride (X), you'll likely fulfill the desire to go surfing (Y). One might say you ought to take the ride. This is ought in the pragmatic sense.
What would make "you ought to take the ride" true? In my opinion, it is the juxtaposition of 1) the fact of a desire to go surfing, and 2) the means of fulfilling that desire.
However, in my experience, the person who says, "You ought not X" in response to some desire Y is saying something that reduces to, "Even though it would fulfill your desire Y, X is not the right thing to do." Example: you desire your neighbor's goat, and when your mother discovers your intentions, she uses the tool of condemnation to plant within you an aversion to stealing. IOW, she says some variant of, "you ought not X." This is ought in the moral sense.
In your opinion, what would make "you ought not steal your neighbor's goat" true?