An ought implies obligation. You have to do it. You should be punished for not doing it but it must be about doing the right thing. It must not be about dodging punishment.

What does have to do it mean?  It rings hollow if you are not going to be forced or punished if you refuse.  And yet nobody wants to believe you should have to do small duties as much as big ones.  That implies we should live under threat and condemnation all the time from the principle and those who focus on it's implementation.

It is strange that duty threatens you and yet you are not supposed to care.  If the other person matters so you have a duty to help them then surely duty and its disciples are saying, "You must live by the principle and not even think of how  you will suffer and be punished if you do not."  This does not sound like you matter.  It sounds like moral tyranny and hypocrisy

And yet we are expected to trust a sense of duty as a way to do right by others?  And duty may be used by moralistic people as a way to threaten and that is what they really support it for.  What sense does it make?

Also people in most cases try to get out of having to punish.  And if they are not going to do it who is?

It is a mess.  Clearly human nature uses talk of duty and obligation to force and not force at the same time.  The talk is based more on wishful thinking than anything else. 

We can be sure that the "I should" talk translates as, "If I will not do my duty, if I could hypothetically force myself like a robot I should.  Or others should force me to do it."  Nobody seems to feel too comfortable with reminders of their duty and that may be why.

So ought and duty and obligation are not really as helpful as they would appear.  So for that reason a baby suffering does not prove we ought to help.

That is not all.  A baby suffering does not show we must or ought to help for even if there is such a thing as duty an is STILL does not give you an ought. A baby suffering says nothing about if you should help any more than it would be valid to say, "Everybody commits adultery so I should do it too." It is that simple. David Hume thrashed that out in drier and more philosophical tones.

Yet we will say we have an obligation if we can to help. Religion cannot tell us why it is an obligation. If it is just an obligation then fine. But then it obligates itself and does not need a God to obligate it. You will hear, "God's nature is the reason we are obligated. We are obligated to be fair for God is fair." That is as clear as mud.  It is best to see that as, "God somehow is duty so duty obligates itself for it is God."  Why it needs to be God to be duty is not clarified.  It is as silly as saying 1 is not 2 because God somehow is math.  1 not being 2 would be true even if there were nothing at all. 

And we have to take God's word for it that he is fairness personified which defeats the argument. It is only his word for it and that is nothing. It is not even fair!  And at the end of the day we are deciding what fair means and saying God agrees with us so this is not about respecting God but exploiting the concept of God.

Now when we see a baby suffering we feel we ought to do what we can to help. But we cannot prove that this feeling is right.

We know that a feeling no matter how strong cannot make anything fair or right or wrong. Are we using the baby to respond to the feeling? Yes. So we have concern for the child for the wrong reasons. None of this is even coherent. We are using the baby to be certain that we are in line with right and against wrong.

So there are several proofs that obligation is only in our heads.

Let us pretend that obligation is real and we know it.  It is not enough by the way to say an obligation is true but even if it is it does not follow that it is any good for us or to us.  For example, it could be the bread that your starving self needs to live but cannot reach for you are chained. So let us leave that aside.

We would assume that we have a duty to do the least possible damage which would mean in turn doing the most possible good.

Sometimes you have two things on offer and there is no third option and both of them are in fact bringing collateral damage.

You cannot really know if helping a baby is best for all for the baby might grow up to be Mr Armageddon.  You cherry-pick what possible evils to concentrate on avoiding.  And if evil is in some situation the problem is that evil depends on a level of cover and you cannot really aim at it well.

So you pretend you know more than you do despite not having all the data about the consequences.  You do not even look for all the data.  You pick out a few points and assert that justifies your claim to have good intentions.  In fact the less you know the less good there is in your intention.

And what about the indirect consequences?  If consequences harm it does not matter if they are indirect or direct.  If people matter harm matters.  We tell ourselves that only clear consequences matter.  And life teaches you that we get that wrong a lot of the time too.

So the main reason you act and develop an intention for it is because you have to do something.  The good or bad is secondary to you.  People lie about that to get praise for acting with a good heart.

People argue that we are capable of acting entirely in the interest of another.   Others say our act should be counted as altruistic and selfless as long as it is mostly motivated to help the other.  So we have a disagreement between actual altruism and virtual altruism.  The disagreement is significant for, "If x needs urgent help and I cannot or won't do it for there has to be something in it for myself" clearly denies that the suffering of the other matters enough to you.  If you need to be say nudged to help the drowning baby you are not such an amazing person.

Arguments about how you can derive an ought from an is hover around the ought producing something good. But you can ought to do something neutral. You may see no great difference between doing a or b. They both damage and benefit alike. And it gets more confusing when you see that the bad results are unpredictable. You know that the bad side of anything has lots of hidden devices that make forecasting too difficult to manage. So even if you hold that your action seems to have more threats than anything else, you are entitled to bite your lip and hope for the best and go ahead.

This turns morality very much into intention rather than results. You think you just have to do the thing while intending to be neutral.

It is noted that if you make the picture very big you will find plenty of things to consider neutral which most people would not. Hitler probably reasoned that way about the Holocaust. And it is easy to think that an act will do more harm than good and ignore it. "I think many things and am proven wrong so I will do this anyway in the hope that it is neutral." People often go for what they say is morally neutral and it is a good cover for doing what you in fact know is anything but. Business people wreck the careers of rivals and boast that it is neutral when the truth is, they saw it is cruel and evil. They get understanding and support.

Some think that being part of society means you implicitly promise to do right so the fact that society needs you to behave means you agree to if you accept being part of it. So the is of being in society gives you an ought.

John Searle in 1964 suggested that if you promise the promise is an is and it becomes an ought. So he agreed with Hume that an ought is not an is. For Searle, we still need to see if we can connect the two.

He reasoned that an ought is not an is but in theory you can connect the two. Custard is not strawberries but you can connect them by reason of having them in the one bowl. This says that an ought is not an is EXCEPT when it is a promise.

He is right that a promise is both an is and an ought. Ought by definition is at least an implied promise - people take it for granted that if you associate with them you are saying you are not going to help yourself to their property.

Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape is accused of making an is an ought by saying morality is basically and essentially all about “maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures.” The problem is we are not told why creatures being conscious means they should be looked after.

Harris might answer that when you get a gift you do not ask who wrapped it up and who made the wrapping paper and so on but just accept that likewise it is moral just to stop somewhere. The stopping point is that creatures are conscious and if morality is right it demands a stopping point. And the stopping point is not arbitrary - one function of consciousness is that we can prolong it. We prolong it by eating and drinking and defending ourselves. Even if the face of death we are willing to try to live if there is a way.

If we need to connect is an ought as Harris says, then there are only two avenues to think about. Will science do it for us? Will the non-scientific (such as superstition, religion, magic, metaphysics) do it for us? It is obvious that the latter is a threat to morality if you define morality as "Do not hit babies for nothing" for they can tell you, "Do not hit babies for nothing unless God prompts you for that means you have to do it under the circumstances even if you don't know what these are." And it is immoral as in dangerous how that argument cannot be refuted. So even if science is a bad grounding for morality at least it is a grounding.

Not all oughts are about morality. We think nature ought to be opposed when it makes bad viruses. We are not accusing it of being morally bad but just bad. If we can't get a moral ought then all is not lost.

If I ought to walk if I need milk, that is not a moral ought.  If I ought to work out a morality if I want a code that is not a moral ought either.  So moral oughts need a more important ought, one that is not about justice or love or compassion or principle.


The should is not the coherent useful thing we are led to believe.

You cannot get a should from a could. Somebody suffering does nothing in itself to tell you if you should help.  Even if it did it does not follow that we care about that a lot.  Doing something does not prove that your intention is as good as you want people to say.  Human nature has the chance of approval and perhaps other rewards for saying they do it for it is the right thing to do.  For that reason we don't have to believe anybody who makes that claim.  That they act and talk as if we do gives them away as virtue-signallers.

If somebody is hurt needlessly then why care why it is immoral? The thought of causing such pain should put you off causing it or letting it happen.  We are saying that you react to stop the suffering and it is not about it being unfair or unloving ie moral.  Morality means you are guided by what a code saying what the loving and just course is.  Here you are saying you do not care and just react.

Paradoxically morality should and will say that is enough. Remember morality only asks for the possible so if that is the best you can to to be moral even if it is pathetic then it is moral. If we should love and find we can't, we will still be counted loving if we keep trying. Doing your best counts as love. It is love of a moral kind but not ideal kind.

Morality is paradox and that is fine. Life is riddled with paradox. That is how the fact of pain shows you it should not happen. An ought does not come from an is directly but indirectly. 

Harm is an is. It raises the question of the ought. That tells us a lot. It shows that morality is more about avoiding harm than justice and love.


No Copyright