Categories
christianity ethics philosophy science

ought thought

A quick thought about the is-ought distinction.

I still hold that you cannot derive an ethical ‘ought’ from a scientific ‘is’. I also think we cannot derive oughts from philosophical kinds of is.

Here’s what I mean. It could be suggested that an ought can simply be inferred directly from what something is. For example, it could be argued that if someone IS a firefighter, scientist or lifeguard, they OUGHT to fight fires, study nature, or guard lives. There are important and hopefully obvious problems with this, and it has everything to do with the ‘if’ at the beginning of the example.

For example, it would be just as true to say that IF someone IS a thief, rapist or a liar, they OUGHT to steal, rape or lie. (note I’m aware that I’m appealing here to popular ethical mores or the moral zeitgeist)

The first thing to observe is that the ‘oughts’ in the above examples are not prescriptive (and thus proper to the field of ethics). They are like saying that if a shape IS a polygon, it OUGHT to have multiple sides.

The other thing to observe is that the ‘is’s in the above examples are not self evident let alone ‘scientific’. What’s more, humans can possibly have multiple and even contradictory ‘is’s. I.e. A man who IS both an arsonist and a firefighter.