Sunday, September 28, 2003

I kick David Hume's ass

I'm about to leave this PC-bahng, but I think I solved the long-standing Humean ought/is conundrum. David Hume famously claimed that one cannot logically derive an "ought" from an "is." In other words, there's no rational foundation for ethical action. As Aaron Krowne points out:

Assume C is "You have a child, and that child is hungry," and R is "You should feed the child." Why? The conventional answer at this point is [that] the child needs food to survive. So we can rephrase the problem: C2 is "You have a child, that child must be fed to survive, and that child is hungry." Why then, does C2 imply R? Why should we feed the child? We find that typically we have exhausted those we are interrogating, and we will get an answer like "Because it is right to provide for one's child" or "Because it is wrong to allow a human to die when we can prevent it." Both are themselves "oughts." Ultimately we have found that only an "ought" can lead to our initial "ought" for this particular case.

The "ought from is" problem is unresolved. The reason it is so interesting, and so often glossed over, is [that] all ethics rests upon it. Ethics is in fact a set of rules of the "C implies R" form. Much conflict arises between people and groups of people because the problem is either not known, not understood, or otherwise dispensed with-- all without being solved.

I think the problem's been envisioned incorrectly. It's not a matter of deriving ought from is. "Ought"s are "is"es!

Simple Aristotelian syllogism:

Premise: All things that exist, concretely or abstractly, are in the realm of "is." This includes concepts.
Premise: "Ought"s are conceptual.
Conclusion: "Ought"s are a subset of "is."

Et voilà.

I don't know whether this trick has been tried elsewhere; I invite you to pick it apart. You'd probably have to start by picking apart what I mean by "concept" and "exist." That's what I'd do, anyway.

Hee hee.

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