Ought, is, and logic

Kant

young Immanuel Kant

Last month I published an essay on alleged empirical evidence that Kant’s idea that ought implies can (OIC) is false. To refresh your mind, the paper I discussed was published by Vladimir Chituc and co-workers, who claimed that — because a good number of random folks say that someone ought to do X when it is plain impossible for X to actually be carried out — then Kant’s famous dictum from the Critique of Pure Reason: “The action to which the ‘ought’ applies must indeed be possible under natural conditions,” must be wrong. I suggested instead that the folks used as subjects by Chituc and colleagues simply didn’t understand basic logic. An epic Twitter battle ensued.

Much of the exchanges ended up being among yours truly, Vladimir Chituc himself, Wesley Buckwalter (a philosophy postdoctoral student), and Moti Mizrahi (an assistant professor at Florida Tech).

One of the strangest arguments advanced by my critics (Buckwalter in particular) was in response to an obvious question I posed: please provide any case at all, outside of ethics, where ought does not imply can (e.g., you ought to defy the law of gravity). They couldn’t, obviously, so they argued that, you see, ethics is a special domain, with its own logic…

Speaking of logic, Moti actually published a paper in Philosophical Frontier against the OIC principle, arguing by counter-example, in the old fashioned way of philosophers. You can check it here. Turns out, in fact, that a mini cottage industry has developed over the past few decades of philosophers challenging Kant on this point (here is a good summary of the literature), an industry that has so far failed to convince the majority of practicing philosophers, who stubbornly insist in teaching the principle at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

But there is more. After having been accused of daftness and even of simply stomping the ground rather than providing arguments (remember, Twitter “arguments” are limited to 140 characters at a time), I was even given formal logical proof that the OIC is wrong. This was published by Paul Saka in the American Philosophical Quarterly, and it surely ought (ah!) to be convincing. After all, it’s logic, right?

You could go through the 13 pages of formal logical argumentation, but I wouldn’t bother, if I were you. This, I hasten to say, is not because Saka’s reasoning is incorrect (though, as all formal logic, it quite crucially depends on the particular assumptions being made about what Kant may or may not have meant; also, having been published in 2000 it too has so far failed to sway the majority of practicing philosophers). Rather, it is for two other reasons.

First, because it is just as easy (thank Google!) to find equally tight logical proofs that the OIC is correct. One such is provided by Harry J. Gensler in his book, Formal Ethics (particularly sections 3.3 and 3.4, pp. 43-48). I have no more reason to think that Gensler is a bad logician than I have to doubt Saka’s abilities, but the two reach diametrically opposite conclusions. So there.

The second reason is more important, and it is the real topic of this post. I think it is a mistake to look for proof (or disproof) of the OIC because it is not meant (or it ought not to be understood) as a principle of formal, but rather of informal logic.

The distinction is well established in philosophy, and in fact typically philosophy departments teach two types of logic courses: those that largely deal with formal logic (i.e., the sort of thing that can be done exclusively using formalisms and symbols) and those having to do mostly with informal logic (also known as “critical thinking”).

To make the distinction concrete, consider the difference between logical fallacies of the formal vs informal variety.

Here is a typical formal logical fallacy, known as affirming the consequent:

P1. If P then Q
P2. Q
C. Therefore P

Even if both premises (P1 and P2) happen to be true, the conclusion, C, does not logically follow. To see this, let us establish that P = “it rained” and Q = “the sidewalk is wet.” While it is true that if it rains then the sidewalk is going to be wet, one cannot infer from the fact that the sidewalk is wet that it rained, since it may have been made wet by someone who sprayed water on it in order to clean it (as it often happens in New York, where I live).

Contrast the above with an instance of informal fallacy, the argumentum ad hominem:

P1. Joe is known to be an unreliable car salesman

C. You shouldn’t buy a car from Joe

If understood as a formal argument, i.e., as something that is formally valid, the above won’t fly. Just because Joe has conducted shady deals in the past it doesn’t necessarily follows that it will swindle you on the current deal.

And yet, you’d certainly be a fool not to take the possibility into consideration and look for a more reputable dealer, or at the very least being extra careful in scrutinizing whatever car Joe is attempting to sell you.

Indeed, Maarten Boudry, Fabio Paglieri and I have written an entire paper, published in Argumentation, in which we propose that so-called logical fallacies are not fallacies at all, but rather instances where a given course of action (e.g., to distrust Joe the car salesman) may or may not be reasonable, given background conditions, conditions that need to be investigated and properly evaluated, pretty much case by case. Here is the abstract of the article:

“Philosophers of science have given up on the quest for a silver bullet to put an end to all pseudoscience, as such a neat formal criterion to separate good science from its contenders has proven elusive. In the literature on critical thinking and in some philosophical quarters, however, this search for silver bullets lives on in the taxonomies of fallacies. The attractive idea is to have a handy list of abstract definitions or argumentation schemes, on the basis of which one can identify bad or invalid types of reasoning, abstracting away from the specific content and dialectical context. Such shortcuts for debunking arguments are tempting, but alas, the promise is hardly if ever fulfilled. Different strands of research on the pragmatics of argumentation, probabilistic reasoning and ecological rationality have shown that almost every known type of fallacy is a close neighbor to sound inferences or acceptable moves in a debate. Nonetheless, the kernel idea of a fallacy as an erroneous type of argument is still retained by most authors. We outline a destructive dilemma we refer to as the Fallacy Fork: on the one hand, if fallacies are construed as demonstrably invalid form of reasoning, then they have very limited applicability in real life (few actual instances). On the other hand, if our definitions of fallacies are sophisticated enough to capture real-life complexities, they can no longer be held up as an effective tool for discriminating good and bad forms of reasoning. As we bring our schematic ‘fallacies’ in touch with reality, we seem to lose grip on normative questions. Even approaches that do not rely on argumentation schemes to identify fallacies (e.g., pragma-dialectics) fail to escape the Fallacy Fork, and run up against their own version of it.”

Why is this pertinent to the OIC? Because the best way to understand it is as a statement in informal, not formal, logic. I’m not just making this up to deflect criticism. On p. 50 of the above mentioned Formal Ethics the author cites a much older entry in the literature, going back to 1954, by William Frankena:

“Ought implies can need not be construed as asserting a strict logical implication. It may plausibly be understood as saying: (a) moral judgments ‘presuppose’ or ‘pragmatically imply’ that the agent is able to act; or (b) the point of uttering moral judgments disappears if the agents involved are not able to act; or (c) it would be morally wrong to insist that an agent ought to do a certain action, if he is or is thought to be unable to do it.”

All three interpretations are eminently sensible and entirely bypass any (formal) proof or disproof of OIC. I particularly like (b), as to insist that someone ought to do X if it is in fact impossible to do X amounts to stomping one’s foot, which, I have been told on Twitter, is not a good argument.

It is also well worth noting that none of the above papers (except for the one by Chituc and collaborators, of course) — either pro or against OIC — depends at all on empirical data. Whether we should think of OIC as a statement in formal or informal logic is a philosophical, not empirical, question. If we do consider it a statement in formal logic, whether it can be formally proven or disproven to be valid is a matter for formal logic, not empirical data. Which reinforces my original contention that to attempt to “show” that OIC is invalid by see how a bunch of people with no philosophical or logical training use ought language is a non starter.

The more general point here, which goes well beyond the OIC, is that formal logic is of rather limited value when it comes to human affairs (works like a charm with computers, though!), because human decisions are “logical” (in the sense of being rational, sensible) depending on a number of assumptions and background conditions whose variability defies any attempt to find the sort of silver bullet mentioned by Maarten, Fabio and myself.

As for the OIC itself, it seems perverse — to paraphrase Frankena — to blame someone for failing to do what he could not possibly do, and I would hope that this principle is clear in the mind of judges in courts of law, if not in those of more or less experimental philosophers. One could say that ought may or may not imply can, depending on what specific meanings and logic one adopts. But if we are talking ethics, it surely ought to.

78 thoughts on “Ought, is, and logic

  1. ejwinner

    So I see that the Commissar for Anti-Moral-Realist Purity has interjected, attempting to spoil the discussion by censoring any comment that suggests that saying “ought” is somehow prescriptive rather than descriptive.

    It should be noted that such attempted ‘criticism” (censoring) is predicated on the assumption that certain forms of Positivism, New Atheism, and scientism themselves contain within them a moral reality concerning what people ought to believe.

    The truth of the matter is, we cannot avoid speaking moral “oughts” (not just practical “oughts,” like “‘ought avoid putting your hand in the fire, if you don’t want to get burned,’ but like: ‘ought not betray your beloved spouse with a one night stand’). Such prescriptions – and that’s clearly what they are, however we might try to rewrite them to make ourselves feel more “free” – are embedded in our social reality, in our sense of ourselves, in language itself. We need to make these statements, not by dint of moral necessity, but by our ontologial status as human beings – in other words, they will come out of our mouths whether we will them or no.

    The fact that they are pre-determined ontologically is no argument for strict determinism, any more than the ontological (because biological) necessity to breathe. Bonobos groom each other; humans engage in ethical discourse.

    The truly scientific attitude here would be to accept this and get on with it. Denying it will get you no more freedom, no greater atheism, no more convincing scientism. It will just lead to confusion.

    As for the case Massimo makes in the OP, I would think it obvious. However, currently, so many people want the discussion of ethics to end – or be delivered somehow over to science – that it is to be expected that strenuous efforts should be directed to such ends.

    Yet these won’t do. Ethics arise – inevitably – from socialization; thus the human is not only the social animal, but always also the ethical animal. One can no more stop ethical discussions (some of which, for technical reasons, will sound “moral-realistic” to untrained ears) than one can stop our breathing.

    For whatever reasons – for a myriad of reasons * – you will always feel the need to prescribe the behavior of others. Stop trying to attain the high ground here – there isn’t any.

    —–
    *Religious or anti-religious, political or anti-political, ideological, “scientific,” logical, social, parental, ‘personal’ (‘gut feeling”), theoretical, aesthetic, humanitarian or anti-humanitarian. You were born human; you are social in your inheritance; the behavior of others concerns you; you will speak to others what it is you believe they ought to do. You can’t avoid this – live with it. And let philosophers reflect on it, that’s what they’re trained to do.

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  2. Robin Herbert

    Hi synred,

    Here is what he says in “Critique of Pure Reason”:

    “But, in another respect, the same cause belongs also to the series of phenomena. Man is himself a phenomenon. His will has an empirical character, which is the empirical cause of all his actions. There is no condition—determining man and his volition in conformity with this character—which does not itself form part of the series of effects in nature, and is subject to their law—the law according to which an empirically undetermined cause of an event in time cannot exist.”

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  3. Philosopher Eric

    Thanks for giving us another crack at this one Massimo, and even though a Twitter mob seems to have taken the assist here. So these people are still quite convinced that their survey is a great demonstration that ought does not imply can? I personally find this hilarious, though it surely isn’t funny to those who are worried about public perceptions of what philosophers do.

    Also job well done for having them decide that ethics must then exist under its own domain and associated variety of logic. I love it when dualism becomes resorted to as the only other plausible solution! Furthermore the distinction you made between formal logic, which runs our computers, and informal logic, which runs us, seems like a great principal for us to keep in mind. If there are all sorts of things which wet the sidewalk in reality, for example, then let’s make sure we don’t let formal logic trick us into believing otherwise.

    I love your conclusion:

    “One could say that ought may or may not imply can, depending on what specific meanings and logic one adopts. But if we are talking ethics, it surely ought to.”

    Others above have also noted the arbitrary nature of human definitions, though in academia there does still seem to be tremendous tendency to look for “true definitions.” Observe that our encyclopedias display this by addressing “What is…” life, space, consciousness, and so on. (Yes I am an “iser,” but I say let’s ban the is regarding definition.) Thus we shouldn’t technically be asking “Does ought imply can?” in any kind of ultimate sense. If someone who we want to understand uses the “ought” term, we can simply ask that person what they mean by it. Their response will be true by definition, and regardless of their argument’s effectiveness. Lately I refer to this as a first principal of non-normative epistemology.

    Furthermore apparently the second such principal gets to informal logic, or the critical thinking which you addressed in your mentioned paper with Maarten Boudry and Fabio Paglieri. It would seem that there is only one process by which anything conscious, consciously figures anything out — it compares what it thinks it knows (evidence), against what it’s not so sure about (theory). Though I certainly wouldn’t use a term like “silver bullet” to assess how these two principals may ultimately help, we do seem to have great practical need for such formal understandings today.

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  4. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    If a landlord fully understands that his tenant is penniless with no prospect of getting any money, then it would make no sense to say “you ought to pay your rent”.

    Whether that is true depends, once again, on what one means by “ought to”. I’m fairly amazed at the number of declarations about “ought” statements by people who are not telling us what they even mean by them.

    If “you ought to pay the rent” is an expression of disapproval of the non payment then it does indeed make sense to express that disapproval. Loan sharks the world over do so, not because that affects the amount of money they might be handed in that instant, but because it affects the amount of money they may be handed over succeeding days. I can refer you to various Dickensian novels about this side of human behaviour.

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  5. garthdaisy

    Seems like this is all definition preference. Ought implies can if you define all of the relevant words in your argument such that it does. And ought does not imply can if you define all of the relevant words in your argument such that it does not. But I highly doubt anyone but an academic philosopher would ever engage in the latter argument. The former seems to be common sense.

    As an incompatibilist the whole idea of ought then becomes moot since it is most likely the case that no one “can.” But this includes people who make ought claims so it’s not their fault either. Psychopaths can’t not be psychopaths and telling them they ought not be is a delusional fantasy. The only thing that could possible save us from them is our compassion for their inability to “can.”

    What was it Kant said?

    “There is no condition—determining man and his volition in conformity with this character—which does not itself form part of the series of effects in nature, and is subject to their law—the law according to which an empirically undetermined cause of an event in time cannot exist.”

    Is he not saying here that in fact no one “can?”

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  6. Coel

    Hi ejwinner,

    So I see that the Commissar for Anti-Moral-Realist Purity has interjected, attempting to spoil the discussion by censoring any comment that suggests that saying “ought” is somehow prescriptive rather than descriptive.

    Of course moral oughts are prescriptive! They are prescriptions that derive from the speaker’s feelings and preferences. (It is objective moral prescriptions that don’t exist; the delusion of a value without a valuer.)

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  7. brodix

    Logically it does seem to be a minor conceptual fallacy; Looking for an objective standard in a subjective context, but it does pretty much go to the heart of much of what is wrong with society and why the wheels are coming off the train in such dramatic fashion. That we all assume some cultural foundation, when the reality is such that not only isn’t there an objective moral system, but if there wasn’t conflict over morality, it couldn’t evolve in the first place. Like lots of things, it is the resistance which helps to form the structure.

    Argue on. There are no absolute moral systems, but there are contrasting ones.

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  8. Massimo Post author

    All,

    Glad you guys are enjoying this follow up, though most people here seem to be missing the main point of this post, which wasn’t meant as simply a second attempt at punching the original empirical paper, but rather to use it for an exploration of the differences between formal and informal logic, and how treating everything in formal logical terms leads one to absurdities.

    Anyway, ej, there is no censoring going on here by anyone, since the only person who can censor things on this blog is yours truly. And I’ve used that power extremely rarely (Dan would argue too rarely…). If you think someone is simply stubbornly repeating th same thoughts or re-hashing well worn arguments you have the most powerful option of them all: ignore him.

    Similarly, Eric, there is no “mob” here, just a few people whose ideas are by now very well known and with whom other people whose ideas are very well known keep talking past. Again, I suggest dropping it after a couple of rounds.

    Garth, I’m not sure where you and others get this absolute metaphysical certainty about determinism (I’m working on a post on causality, so there will be ample room for discussion on this), but it seems to me that invoking the determinism trump card is a no starter. If strict determinism is true then *none* of the discussions we are having, on *any* point whatsoever, makes sense, because one can always retort: but the universe is deterministic, so really this is the only way things may have turned out.”

    Try it out: should I be concerned about the possible election of Trump to most powerful man I the world? Well, regardless of my concern, whatever is meant to happen since the Big Bang will happen anyway, so no, I shouldn’t be concerned. But then again, if determinism is true I don’t really have a choice as to whether to be concerned or not, so what’s the point of worrying about it? And so forth.

    As a result of this, I will ban insistent talk of determinism on this blog, unless the OP is specifically about these matters. So, everyone, just stop going “meta” and stick to the specifics topics under discussion. Cheers!

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  9. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    Whether that is true depends, once again, on what one means by “ought to”. I’m fairly amazed at the number of declarations about “ought” statements by people who are not telling us what they even mean by them.

    Perhaps, but if you had read carefully you would have realised that I am not one of them.

    If “you ought to pay the rent” is an expression of disapproval of the non payment then it does indeed make sense to express that disapproval.

    I have already pointed out the different shades of meaning here.

    If you are really going to claim that “I disapprove of the fact that you did not pay me and now cannot pay me” and “You ought to pay me” are synonyms, then I guess we can go no further.

    As I said, he could say “You ought to have paid me”, and that expresses the disapproval. “You ought to pay me” is a recommendation of a course of action. That recommendation is meaningless in the circumstances.

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  10. Robin Herbert

    Also, if loan sharks say “You ought to pay me” when you have no money and no possibility of getting any, then they are a good deal more polite than I imagined them.

    I pictured them more as saying things like “Pay me or I will break your legs”, and when it has become apparent that you have no capacity to pay they don’t say anything,, just break your legs.

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  11. Robin Herbert

    Hi Massimo,

    …but rather to use it for an exploration of the differences between formal and informal logic, and how treating everything in formal logical terms leads one to absurdities.

    Yes, we are getting a little off topic. But ironically we are presenting an example of informal reasoning that appears to be getting us nowhere.

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  12. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    I have already pointed out the different shades of meaning here.

    Well, no. You have indeed distinguished between “You ought to pay me” and “You ought to have paid me”, but in neither case have you told me what you mean by them.

    I agree that there is a difference in meaning. I could, for example, construe the two statements as meaning: “I disapprove of the fact that you are not paying me”, and “I disapprove of the fact that you have not paid me”.

    Or they could be: “I would like you to pay me” and “I would have liked you to have paid me”.

    If the meanings are along these lines then the loan shark could appropriately say either or both without either being nonsensical.

    But it is still the case that no-one has given a straightforward and clear meaning of the term “you ought to” such that it necessarily only holds if the person can.

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  13. Robin Herbert

    HI Coel,

    Well, no. You have indeed distinguished between “You ought to pay me” and “You ought to have paid me”, but in neither case have you told me what you mean by them.

    Sorry, not going to play the game of endlessly repeating myself because you can’t be bothered to read what I said.

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  14. Philosopher Eric

    Actually Massimo, I wasn’t talking about a mob right here. I was trying to humorously imply that “a Twitter mob” had acousted you, thus giving us a second look at this one. Of course you are correct that we talk past each other from time to time here as well, and need reminders not to.

    I agree with you about determinism. I don’t really know that Trump won’t be elected, given that I don’t have the perfect insight about our (presumedly) determined universe. Thus it would be our pathetically small perspectives which brings us such apparent freedom in a determined universe.

    One way for a person to get on topic here would be to address the two non-normative principals of epistemology which I’ve presented above. Their purpose is to help us humans better model our world through “informal logic,” also known as “critical thinking.” I’m quite proud of them actually.

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  15. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    What you previously said was:

    … as I use it and understand it, I am approving of or recommending actions that are possible.

    That definition of “ought” as including “iff can” then makes OIC trivially true by definition. Which is fine, if that’s how you construe the word “ought”, but equally you might presumably have no objection to someone who construes the word as simply: “I am approving of or recommending actions”.

    How people in general construe the concept “ought” (and thus whether OIC holds) is then an empirical matter; which is fine by me (that being the central point I was making above).

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  16. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    You don’t have to presume, let me quite the full sentence, part of which you cut and paste: “Look, anyone is free to use words as they wish, but as I use it and understand it, I am approving of or recommending actions that are possible.”.

    To me it seems pointless to recommend or approve impossibilities and fantasy scenarios and I am unfamiliar with that usage. But you can use it that way if you wish.

    How people in general construe the concept “ought” (and thus whether OIC holds) is then an empirical matter; which is fine by me (that being the central point I was making above).

    Then we are making the same point, that was the purpose of my examples.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. garthdaisy

    Massimo,

    “Garth, I’m not sure where you and others get this absolute metaphysical certainty about determinism”

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that I have metaphysical certainty about determinism? I don’t, and I have told you so several times. Please note what I actually said in my most recent post. Here it is.

    “As an incompatibilist the whole idea of ought then becomes moot since it is most likely the case that no one “can.”

    Note that I did not say “as a determinist” I said “as an incompatibilist.” This means if determinism is true I believe it would not be compatible with notions of free will. Also note that I said “most likely the case” when referring to the idea of determinism.

    Just like you, I am technically agnostic on determinism. But if it is true, and I think it most likely is the case that none of us could have done otherwise, then moralizing makes no rational sense to me. And neither does worrying about whether or not the Donald is going to be prez. In the words of the late great Bill Hicks, “It’s a ride, man,”

    Like it or not that’s how I see the world and operate in it. For example, I don’t worry one tiny bit about getting banned for talking about determinism or free will. I will go to a philosophy blog where these most important philosophical subjects are not banned by the blog owner. I have apologized in the past for tone issues but their wasn’t one in my last post so I offer no apology here. Please stop threatening to ban me, Massimo, because I do not care if you do. Just do it next time you feel the “will” to do so.

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  18. Massimo Post author

    Garth,

    You may claim not to be a determinist, but plenty of your comments betray the fact that you are not at all agnostic on the matter. Which, of course, is your privilege.

    As for threatening to ban you, first off, my threat was generic, not specifically addressed at you. Second, yes, you have apologized several times in the past for your tone, and then got right back to it in the next comment.

    In general, of course, I will act on bans, toward you or anyone else, at my pleasure, since this is my blog.

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  19. brodix

    Massimo,

    “The more general point here, which goes well beyond the OIC, is that formal logic is of rather limited value when it comes to human affairs (works like a charm with computers, though!), because human decisions are “logical” (in the sense of being rational, sensible) depending on a number of assumptions and background conditions whose variability defies any attempt to find the sort of silver bullet mentioned by Maarten, Fabio and myself.”

    Would it be reasonable to argue “ought” is biological intention and “can” is mechanical causality? In that biology is motivated by desire and mechanics by inertia. Such that one applies resources to a goal, but the point of departure is when those resources were either inadequately applied or insufficient, than the mechanical inertia prevails.

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  20. garthdaisy

    Massimo,

    “You may claim not to be a determinist, but plenty of your comments betray the fact that you are not at all agnostic on the matter.”

    Yes and neither do I sound agnostic on the subject of God, but technically I am. There almost certainly is no God but even though I can’t “know” that I still operate as though it is so. And determinism is almost certainly the case, as even Kant seems to admit. And even though I can not “know” that with certainty I operate as though it is so because it seems to be so and I can see no coherence in the alternative view. The question then becomes how you treat morality in light of this most likely scenario.

    In order to remain epistemologically sound I think it behooves us to remain technically agnostic about as much as possible, but we do need operate in this world based on how we think it is. I think I’m being a responsible Bayesian in operating as though determinism is most likely the case. Especially since I can notice it in the manifest image. I don’t need quantum field theory to be confirmed to operate as though people could not have done otherwise. It really seems to me like they could not have in light of all the evidence.

    “Second, yes, you have apologized several times in the past for your tone, and then got right back to it in the next comment.”

    Yes you said this before. I asked for examples and got none. In my opinion, my tone is far friendlier than many of the regulars here. As I said, ban at will. I don’t need any more warnings. Just pull the trigger next time you think I am out of line. Like now for example, if you think any of my comments on this thread have been out of line.

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  21. Coel

    Hi garth,

    And determinism is almost certainly the case, as even Kant seems to admit.

    This is interesting. Why would you think that determinism is almost certainly the case when the majority-scientific consensus (with some dissenters) would be that determinism does not hold?

    Subsidiary question, given that this is a factual and empirical question about how the world is, why would you reference Kant as oppose to modern science?

    [By the way, personally I don’t think that determinism versus non-determinism is actually relevant for “moral responsibility” or similar concepts, which to me work just fine under either.]

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  22. brodix

    Garth,

    How are events to be determined before they occur? The process may be ordered, but the total input into any event only arrives with its occurrence. The speed of information is finite.
    A large part of the problem is that we only have past events from which to draw conclusions and they are, by definition, determined, but what determined them was their actual occurrence.
    Events are first in the present, then in the past. Alan Watts used the example of a boat and its wake to analogize this, in that the wake, the past, doesn’t determine the course of the boat, though it might point in the general direction of its motion, but that it is the boat, the present, which creates the wake.
    So how would you explain determination before occurrence? Or is determinism a form of platonism, in that there is some ideal form, say thread of events and their actual occurrence is just an expression of this ideal of inertia?

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  23. Robin Herbert

    The thing I find formal useful for is not so much demonstrating the truth of something, but of clarifying it.

    Once you make the structure of the inference explicit, you lay bare the underlying premises and assumptions.

    Other than that, informal logic seems to be perfectly adequate for 99.9% of cases.

    In fact most science and even mathematics is done using more or less informal logic.

    On the other hand, a good deal of the nonsense talked in this world is couched in impeccable S5.

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  24. SocraticGadfly

    Back to the OP; I agree that treating everything in terms of formal logic is absurd. First, on evidence in warrants, inductive informal logic can deal much more easily with demarcation probs and other fuzziness. And it can deal with inductive, neither deductive nor fallacious, chains of reasoning on real-world ideas.

    As for the off-topic issue, i of course will continue to say “mu” to the whole “free will vs determinism” issue, for reasons I have well and deeply expressed before, and will renew and sharpen on Massimo’s awaited causality post.

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  25. Philosopher Eric

    Well I’m certainly excited that Massimo is cooking up something on “causality,” since this is the concept by which I suspect all things to be perfectly determined (ontologically). Notice that without natural causation, things would need to transpire without any such impetus from which to do so, or “magically.” I get the impression that Garthdaisy and Massimo will argue that determination or lack thereof has tremendous human implications, while Coel and I will each present strong arguments to the contrary.

    Going back to my first comment for this one, I suppose the reason I termed that X-phi survey “hilarious,” was not because I suspect that better answers would have been achieved through more educated participants, but rather because of the concept itself. Is “normativity” what suggests that it’s ethical to eat people when existing under cannibalistic societies? Is this the factor by which ought doesn’t imply can if that is what people happen to believe? Regardless I am for the creation of a “non-normative” field of ethics to teach us about the descriptive good and bad of any given subject, as well as a non-normative epistemology from which to bolster academic studies in general. I would hope that this sort of thing isn’t objected to, since these new fields shouldn’t naturally impede what already exists.

    Then regarding how informal logic concerns “ought implies can” (or the OP), my first principal of non-normative epistemology seems quite applicable. Observe that early in this thread Coel asked Synred several times what he thought “ought” meant. I consider this question ill conceived however, since I don’t believe that any true meaning actually exists. Thus if you’d like to use this particular term, simply define it however seems appropriate. With a well constructed argument you might then figure some things out, and do so through the only process by which anything conscious is able to (or principal #2).

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