Who the Heck Created the Is-Ought Problem?February 3, 2016
While reviewing my simplification of David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature Book 3, I came upon a strange wiki article called Hume’s Is-Ought Problem
Hume calls for caution against such inferences in the absence of any explanation of how the ought-statements follow from the is-statements. But how exactly can an “ought” be derived from an “is”? The question, prompted by Hume’s small paragraph, has become one of the central questions of ethical theory, and Hume is usually assigned the position that such a derivation is impossible. This complete severing of “is” from “ought” has been given the graphic designation of Hume’s Guillotine.
Did whoever create the Is-Ought problem even bother to take the contextof that paragraph with the rest of Book 3?
Hume merely described the flaw in the way of how shallow-minded moral philosophers make moral rules. First, they explain the nature of things using reason. Suddenly and discretely, they inject their bias and personal feelings into the nature of things (is), as to create casuistic moral rules (ought). This then makes a work of reason become an unreasonable work of subjective bias.
It does not mean that deriving ought from is is impossible.
An easy example is the Ten Commandments. In it, the author writes the ‘is’ in Exodus 19:3 that the Israelites did leave Egypt, as a matter of fact.
But then, the author adds his bias and personality into the fact or ‘is’ that was stated, in order to create a personal rule or ‘ought’:
According to Hume’s principle, this tactic is improper because had the Israelites known that their freedom from Egypt would have a price, as the Ten Commandments, then for sure,not all of them would have fled Egypt. So it’s unfair for that the ‘is’ was converted to ‘ought’, as a new relation that is connected to the author instead of freedom. To prevent this problem, Hume advises people to be mindful of moralists who inject their biases very subtly as to create moral rules that favor themselves, and are therefore illogical.
This explains why the Israelites still had polytheism even after they were in the desert and why Moses (the author behind the idea of God) had to impose severe punishments on them. You could think of the Kingdom of God as a political party (with a ready-to-use set of political policies). People who were preaching the Kingdom of God were actually preaching a political party that was competing with others. Anyone who was following the other political party was committing ‘sin’. Most of the prophets in the Old Testament were political propagandists (who advised policies against foreign invaders) more than being moralists.
It means that morals are not based on the reason of humans, but on their feelings.
An easier example, that doesn’t refer to God, is a celibate man saying that sexual diseases are caused by sex and so sex should be banned. He correctly says that sexual diseases are caused by sex, from his observation of human affairs. But he jumps into an ‘ought’ by saying that people shouldn’t have sex and imposes his own beliefs on others without taking into account their desires or situation.