Dragonfly Posted March 15, 2007 Author Share Posted March 15, 2007 The basic reason that you can't derive "ought" from "is", is that there is always a conditional statement involved: "if you want this... then you ought to do that. A conditional statement isn't a fact however, it implies that you can choose, that there is at least one alternative. If there is no alternative, the "ought" becomes meaningless (we don't say that the sun "ought" to attract the earth for example). But as soon as there is a choice, we have introduced a subjective factor. Let's take Rand's example of the choice between life and death as the fundamental choice. Now this isn't as straightforward as she seems to suggest. Are we talking about this choice for an individual? If so, is life always to be preferred over death? At all costs? If not, then it can't be the ultimate choice as other factors may override this choice. Suppose someone prefers to die to save someone he loves, a possibility that Rand does acknowledge. In that case the person chooses the life of another person over his own life, but then his own life cannot be the ultimate value. Rand may try to save the situation by saying that life without that other person would no longer be worth living, but then she's again smuggling in her fudge factor "life as man qua man" to replace the simple "life qua existence". You can't escape the fact that as soon as a choice is involved a subjective element is introduced. Statistical arguments won't help either, as these only describe the average behavior of a large number of people, which doesn't necessarily apply to the individual (the argumentum ad populum). They may have value if we want to know why people behave as they do, but we cannot derive an "ought" from them without introducing another "if", i.e. a subjective choice (for example that all people should follow the same ethical principles). Repeatedly using the word "rational" to justify a certain choice ("rational choice", "rational system", etc.) is no proof either, the choice is always subjective, no matter how "rational" you think it is. We have seen earlier that even if we suppose that survival is a valid criterion, you can't derive Rand's system from that criterion, as for example a parasite can also survive very well, and the only way to circumvent this problem is to introduce new subjective elements, like "life of man qua man" or other extra assumptions like "an ethical system ought(!) to be universally valid for everyone". But the error is even more fundamental, as any criterion is already based on a subjective choice, even that between life and death, which isn't always as simple as it seems to be. Now this all doesn't mean that I'm against an ethical system per se, I'm only against the pretension that you can derive such a system in an objective, scientific way. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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