Monday, October 14, 2013

Hypothetical Imperatives

In my last few posts about morality, I've been pretty confident about my conclusions. From here on out, it will start getting more speculative. Some of my ideas may have merit, some may not. Please, tell me what you think about what I got right, and what should be changed.

In my last post, I asked how you could derive "ought" from "is". For a certain type of "ought" that's not hard at all. That type of "ought" that is a course of action to accomplish a given goal. For example, if  your goal is to lose weight, you ought to eat less fat. It is possible to empirically observe and test that to see if it effectively achieves the goal. This type of "ought" is called a hypothetical imperative and it's existence is the logical consequence of the existence of goals.

But is that the type of "ought" we're interested in? If we're talking about morality, shouldn't we be talking about something that's objective, and independent of individual goals?

One way of being independent of individual goals is to relate to all goals. If there were such a course of action, you would clearly want to follow it, because it would be a way to achieve your goals, regardless of what your goals are. But it's clear that there is no course of action to accomplish any goal. No matter what course of action you propose, you can come up with a goal counter to it. For example. you can't say that you should never steal to accomplish any goal, because that doesn't effectively achieve the goal of stealing.

Another way of being independent of individual goals is to not relate to goals at all. But in that case, why should you follow such a course of action? That approach seems to fall headlong back into the problem we're trying to answer. There's no apparent way to derive such an "ought" from an "is".

So are we back where we started? Unable to connect morality to reality? Well, not necessarily. We failed to find a special kind of "ought" that in independent on individual goals. But we did find the hypothetical imperative, which is a kind of "ought". Maybe it's the only "ought" we need. Maybe morality can be built entirely out of hypothetical imperatives. Again the question remains: How?

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