Re: Is vs. Ought

Damien Broderick (
Fri, 19 Nov 1999 13:39:24 -0800

At 01:14 PM 18/11/99 -0500, Robin wrote:

>ethics only seems interesting to the
>extent some creatures want to be ethical.

As far as I can tell (as I posted somewhere recently, maybe here, maybe
>H), morality - ethics, if you wish - is prudential. If it isn't, you get
silly self-subverting loops like: `Tell me why I should be moral?' which would then have to be unpacked into `Give me a moral account of why I should be moral; repeat'.

To act prudently implies several subsidiary factors: that you have an adequate model of your own current and long-term needs, desires, aversions, etc; that you (can and do) know with some accuracy - ie, again, you can model accurately - how the brute or unintentional world works; that you can fairly effectively model the complex interplay of the brute world and other intentional critters like yourself.

Failures in any of these subordinate competencies will tend to compromise the effectiveness of how well you understand the likely impact of your actions. And chaos limitations mean that even the best stocked mind and heart is going to make errors in modelling anyway. But we adjust a tad and start again.

None of this denies us the opportunity to reassess our goals; in fact, it almost ensures that we must, from time to time, as more accurate information about the world and ourselves is gathered, and as our theoretical models are improved. I don't see any real gulf between Is and Ought in that sense, except that we need to keep ourselves informed on what actually *Is*, so as to optimise our chosen *Oughts*.

Damien Broderick