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How can you derive an 'ought' from an 'is'?

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-he 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume famously argued that no description of the way the world is (facts) can tell us how the world ought to be (values). Hume’s argument was actually directed against religious apologists who sought to deduce morality from the existence of God. Ironically, however, his reasoning has since become one of the primary impediments to linking morality to the rest of human knowledge.

The Worst Possible Misery for Everyone


(Getting from “is” to “ought” 1.0)

FACT #1: There are behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which potentially lead to the worst possible misery for everyone. There are also behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which do not, and which, in fact, lead to states of wellbeing for many sentient creatures, to the degree that wellbeing is possible in this universe.

FACT #2: While it may often be difficult in practice, distinguishing between these two sets is possible in principle.

FACT #3: Our “values” are ways of thinking about this domain of possibilities. If we value liberty, privacy, benevolence, dignity, freedom of expression, honesty, good manners, the right to own property, etc.—we value these things only in so far as we judge them to be part of the second set of factors conducive to (someone’s) wellbeing.

FACT #4: Values, therefore, are (explicit or implicit) judgments about how the universe works and are themselves facts about our universe (i.e. states of the human brain). (Religious values, focusing on God’s will or the law of karma, are no exception: the reason to respect God’s will or the law of karma is to avoid the worst possible misery for many, most, or even all sentient beings).

FACT #5: It is possible to be confused or mistaken about how the universe works. It is, therefore, possible to have the wrong values (i.e. values which lead toward, rather than away from, the worst possible misery for everyone).

FACT #6: Given that the wellbeing of humans and animals must depend on states of the world and on states of their brains, and science represents our most systematic means of understanding these states, science can potentially help us avoid the worst possible misery for everyone.
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