[ExI] About bullet-swallowing

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Sat May 24 14:01:27 UTC 2008

On 23/05/2008, Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:
> At 02:11 PM 5/22/2008 -0500, I wrote:
> > >You can't get an ought from an is, and if you try, it
> > >makes you look like a crackpot.
> >
> >Well, you can, if your "ought" is prudential.
> A philosopher friend not on this list comments:
> And Hume never claimed you can't get an "ought" from an "is". What he
> claimed was rather more subtle - you can't get an "ought" without
> something like a desire involved, and he complained that you can't
> get an "ought" from an "is" without some kind of explanation of how
> you did it - which he thought that moralists and philosophers often did.
> Clearly, he thought that there's no way to derive oughts from, as it
> were, neutral is's about how the world, well, is - with no reference
> to desires (including fears, hopes, goals, etc) - and this seems to
> be right.... Nor do I see that he'd have had a problem with "We all
> (or overwhelmingly most of us) desire to run our society in such a
> way that people are happy (or at least suffering is reduced); if we
> participated in a social practice of valuing such and such
> dispositions of character, considering them to be virtues, praising
> them in others, etc., our society will operate so as to make people
> happy (etc); so, we ought to participate in a social practice of
> valuing such and such dispositions of character, etc." Indeed, his
> developed moral theory seems to be along these lines. This means that
> we have reasons to think about what we really desire and to
> investigate what social practices actually will satisfy those desires.

To illustrate:

(a) torturing people is bad;
(b) if increasing the sum total of human unhappiness is bad, then
torturing people is bad.

Tempting though it is to affirm (a) as an absolute truth on a par with
scientific truths, it's wrong to do so. On the other hand, (b) is OK.

Stathis Papaioannou

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