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