Thursday, April 02, 2009

Hypothetical vs Moral Ought

In an earlier comment, Luke wrote:

In the last two posts it seems you're trying to bridge the gap between a hypothetical oguht and a moral ought, but I don't see how you do it.

There is, in fact, a link between hypothetical ought and moral ought. Moral ought is a species of hypothetical ought. It is a hypothetical ought that applies to using the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.

Let me explain.

Hypothetical ought is the ought of means and ends. It says, "If your end is X, and Y will bring about X, then you ought to do Y."

There is no rationality of ends. At least, there is no rationality of ends as ends. If X desire that P, there is no sense in which P "deserves" to be the object of a desire or that having P as the object of a desire can be "right" or "wrong" it self.

However, every end is also, at the same time, a means. We cannot evaluate the desire that P according to whether this P inherently deserves to be the object of a desire. However, we can evaluate the desire that P according to whether the desire that P will fulfill or thwart other desires.

In other words, can promoting a desire that P be a useful way to fulfilling other desires? Or, at least, a useful way to remove things that might thwart those desires?

Here, we are talking about hypothetical oughts. If (other desires that exist), then it makes sense to promote a desire that P or inhibit a desire that Q.

However, these hypothetical oughts, as opposed to other hypothetical oughts, are specifically applied to ends (or maleable desires). These are the only types of oughts that are applied to ends - though it applied to ends as means, not to ends as ends.

Moral oughts are hypothetical oughts that apply to people generally that say, "You people have many and strong reasons to promote a desire that P, or inhibit a desire that Q."

As it turns out, the common social tools for promoting or inhibit maleable desires are praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. So, a moral claim is a claim that people have hypothetical-ought reasons to apply the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promote or inhibit particular desires.

In saying that a person morally ought not to perform some act A is to say that people generally have hypothetical-ought reasons to apply the tools of condemnation and punishment against people whose desires are such that they will tend to perform acts of type A.

1 comment:

faithlessgod said...

Well I wrote my last comment not realising Alonzo had already posted this, thanks netvibes :-(

Anyway Luke I just want to note that these hypothetical oughts over ends (as means) not only include moral oughts but also, amongst others, prudential oughts - the scope then being only the desires of the agent. So one can say that whilst the agent seeks to fulfil the more and stronger of their desires this might not be their most prudent action.

There are other oughts such as team and in-group oughts that work this way too.

All these oughts (considering ends-as-means) can also be evaluated against moral (universal) oughts as well.

Hence, for example, there can be a clash between a prudential and moral ought - but only if the agent has not internalised the moral ought.