When is an 'ought' not an 'ought'?

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Sun, 2012-10-21 03:58

Got my latest issue of JARS (August 2012) and Lachlan Doughney’s article “Deducing ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’” caught my eye. In this essay Doughney claims to provide what I will call a rational reconstruction of an argument from Rand deducing you know what from you know what! My job in this post will be to show that it just ain’t so. Let’s being by quoting the entire argument.

D1. V is a value for X iff X acts to achieve/maintain V as an end – Analytic ‘is’
P1. Any rational being aims to achieve/maintain its own life as an end – Analytic ‘is’
P2. X is a rational being – Empirical ‘is’

D2. If V is a value for X then X ought to act in ways that will achieve/maintain V as an end – Analytic ‘is’ (matter of debate)
P3. X’s life is a value for X – Evaluative ‘is’
P4. X acts in ways that will achieve/maintain V as an end iff X acts in accordance with value system R [Rand’s system] – Empirical ‘is’

C. X ought to act in accordance with value system R

Let’s now look at three “problems” with this supposed “proof.”
1. Notice D1 and D2. They are definitions. But they are not definitions in Rand’s sense. For her, a definition “is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept.” (ITOE 40) For Doughney a definition is “a stipulation of how words should be used.” A definition “does not state how the world is or should be . . . and is therefore ‘insubstantial.’” (160 Doughney credits Pigden’s with this definition of definition.) Rand would surely disagree and hence this cannot be a rational reconstruction of her argument.
2. He characterizes D1, D2 and P1 as “analytic.” Needless to say, Rand rejects the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Peikoff calls it a “plague that spreads subjectivism and conceptual devastation in its wake.” (ITOE 89) Rand would surely agree and hence this cannot be a rational reconstruction of her argument.
3. D2 contains the concept ‘ought,’ and that means that there is no deduction of an ‘ought’ from an ‘is,’ but rather from an ‘ought,’ which no one ever denied could be done. Anticipating this, Doughney says that although it intuitively appear “that D2 is an ‘ought’ premise—from the very fact that it contains an ‘ought,’” it really isn’t?! Why not? Because definitions are “insubstantial” and they do “not state how the world is or should be.” We can see why Rand would reject such a notion of definitions. For Doughney, Pigden’s idea of definitions allows him to play it deuces wild and claim that ‘ought’ doesn’t really mean ‘ought.’ Rand would surely disagree and hence this cannot be a rational reconstruction of her argument.

Fred


( categories: )