Hume's Guillotine

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Mik Darkashian
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Hume's Guillotine

Post by Mik Darkashian » Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:23 am

I think this will come up at some point, but how do you get around Hume's Guillotine, or the Is-vs-Ought problem? I am wholly unqualified to answer this question, but I saw it and thought it was relevant.

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Re: Hume's Guillotine

Post by Daniel » Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:58 pm

I had to take a look at this, as I have never encountered it before, but let me preface everything here by saying I highly doubt I have the intellect to compete with someone such as Hume. That's like me trying to fight Mike Tyson in his prime. Anyhow. Before I can get into the nitty gritty, I will attempt to offer a summary so we know what he's talking about.

He's basically saying he has a problem when people attempt to offer an OUGHT statement using an IS statement as the premise. His argument is that such a thing cannot be possible (from what I can gather). Basically nature is the IS, and he asserts that we have no actual way of deriving the OUGHT from the IS.

Because I am unable to refute that claim, I must attempt to at least justify the usage of OUGHT statements. First of all: I don't know that any OUGHT statement can be made without having some basis on what IS. To do so would mean you are making the OUGHT statement from some other construction, but is it possible to have any kind of social construction without including some facets of the IS? This is perhaps deeper than I ever intended to go, because now we have to unpack if IS actually exists, since everything is derived from our perceptions, and we cannot rely on our perceptions (I cannot remember which philosopher concluded this). We open ourselves up to a huge rabbit hole of which I would be grossly incapable of navigating.


If the above is true, then it means that ALL OUGHT statements are rendered moot. This then renders ethics, morality, etc. as moot, and we enter the realm of absurdism or nihilism or whatever (again, I am not an expert here). Essentially, the answer becomes "So what is the point?"

As such, we must make our OUGHT claims based on reason. Like ethics, we do the best we can to make a reasonable argument as to WHY the OUGHT statement is the best possible one. Like science, we then open the argument up to scrutiny and other ideas, and we continue to amend it, upgrade it, or scrap it in the presence of a superior idea. That is my justification for OUGHT statements. I don't know that they can be made entirely apart from IS statements, though I could be completely wrong.
The hallmark of a fool is a mind that never changes.

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