To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: "Jeremy Bowman"
Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 18:29:41 +0100 Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Evolution of morality Phil Roberts Jr. suggests that > 'Ought's are entailments or predictions > of causal hypotheses. -- I don't see why the hypotheses in question have to be causal, but the idea that there is a special connection between hypotheses and "oughts" is reminiscent of Kant. Philosophers since Hume have disagreed over the correct way of understanding "oughts", which seem to prescribe behaviour rather than describe facts. Kant argued that most "oughts" express "hypothetical imperatives". That is, they prescribe behaviour that promotes some prior, implicitly understood goal. IF someone has that particular goal, THEN he has a reason to behave in the manner prescribed. Kant seems to have called this sort of imperative "hypothetical" because of its "if-then" justification. The idea is that "on the hypothesis that an agent wants to achieve such-and-such, then he ought to behave thus". Kant contrasted these situation-dependent "oughts" with the supposedly absolute MORAL "ought", which is non-hypothetical in the sense that it is binding on everyone no matter what. Personally, I think that is very confusing terminology. Various sorts of "ought" can emerge from conditional ("if-then") statements, but we're not interested in most of them. The "ought" we can get from a causal law (such as "what goes up must come down") is not an "ought" prescribing behaviour, but rather an "ought" expressing what we are warranted in believing. For example, suppose we throw a ball up into the air, and then apply the law "what goes up must come down". We might SAY "the ball ought to come down", but we do NOT mean that the ball is OBLIGED to come down, morally, prudentially, or in any other way. We mean that we are entitled to EXPECT it to come down -- i.e. we had better believe that it will come down. I would argue that the "oughts" we are interested in do not have much to do with conditional (i.e. "if-then") statements, or hypotheses, or causal laws, but rather that they have an intimate connection with GOALS. For example, games have an "object" or main goal, and "oughts" prescribe what players of the game must do to win. For example, chess involves trying to corner the opponent's king, and players of chess are bound by that "ought" -- otherwise, they are not really playing chess. As far as I can see, that "ought" is paradigmatic, yet it has nothing to do with any casual hypothesis. (If you like, consider the "ought" expressing the object of a wholly imaginary game.) Jeremy Bowman