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Department of Can’t add for Toffee

What “Is-Ought” Problem?

D. Friedman just left a comment at Samizdata making yet again this foolish, anti-real (anti-real: against reality, as one might be anti-State for instance) statement attributed to Hume that “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

Herewith my thought on the subject, lightly edited and tempered with an introduction which might hint at my feelings about it. (I could have added a few more applicable tags to the list just to be snarky, but I was a good girl and refrained. I felt I ought to.)

. . .

Sigh. Listen carefully, class.

You can ONLY “get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

Because the very concept of “oughtness” implies some sort of goal or objective or state of affairs or value that you wish to achieve or maintain. And that you hold said goal, etc., is itself a fact.

In order to satisfy that wish, one must act in accordance with a whole bunch of facts of reality, or of what you believe or understand or assume to be the facts of reality.

For instance: I ought to go to the Post Office later. [I want my Christmas cards at least to be postmarked prior to Christmas, and I don't want my insurance payments to be late so I lose my insurance (!). Two FACTS about what I want to achieve (or avoid), and implied fact that the achievements are affected by the realities of the Post Office operations, and of date and time.]

Or: I want to live as God has outlined in the ethical strictures of the Mosaic Code, so I ought to follow those as best I can. (To achieve this involves a whole string of “oughts” and the “is’s” from which they derive.)

Or: I want to live as God wants me to live, so I ought to follow the Mosaic Code, which is, ultimately, the source of our knowledge of Right and Wrong. [N.B. -- Don't get funny ideas, Class. Personally I am an atheist.]

In other words, the very concept of “oughtness” implies the existence of a reason for the “ought.”

We very very very commonly say “I ought to do X” with no explanation of why that is. This is either because in context the reason for the “ought” is clear: I ought to go to the P.O. today [because it's important that I get certain stuff mailed today], or because at some level we will feel unsatisfied (“uneasy” in von Mises’ terms) if we don’t do it, though we may not be able quite to articulate this. “I ought not to hang up on this Yay-Hoo.” (Why not? Because one doesn’t hang up on people, even Yay-hoos. Why not? Because….)

One is wrong to conclude from this that “ought” is a free-floating thing, with no criteria (except perhaps feelings — “sentiment”) to go by as to whether one has complied with it.

Now.

I do not know of my own knowledge whether Mr. Hume actually made the oh-so-often-stated claim, let alone why he did so (in what spirit) if indeed he did so. So I decline to argue against Mr. Hume per se, but rather against the claim. However, there is a half-baked conception of what “ought” means that does unmoor the idea from any fact or presumed “fact” except that of its existence, which is totally independent of anything else: No criteria given as to WHY one “ought.” “Ought” is just Out There, free-floating, no reason why one OUGHT to obey “ought” except the existence of the putative “ought” itself. “Why ought I to…?” has no answer, by this conception of “ought.”

This is pure Platonism. This free-floating “ought” exists out there in the Universe and we Ought to obey it because we should; or, you might say, “Because we OUGHT to obey it.”

“Since when isn’t because a reason?” as the mother, at the end of her rope, says to her recalcitrant child in the old joke.

Such a thing is, of course, a pure fantasy, regardless of how one arrives at it.

And one notices that it is this DEFINITION of “ought” that makes it underivable from facts.

It makes of “oughtness” a mirage, something that can never be reached (intellectually understood) because it only gives the appearance of something real, of the lake in the middle of the desert, of the puddle down the highway on a bright sunny day after a month of drouth.

This is the nature of Plato’s putative Forms. They can never be connected to reality, because all the connections have been abstracted away. It is like cutting the bridge over the chasm and then saying it is impossible to get to the other side — impossible in principle. It is this metaphysical theory that in general supports both subjectivism and intricism. (Story for another time.)

Such an “ought” does not mean anything like what people mean when they use the word, except when they are conducting an (acknowledged or tacit) debate, or trying to philosophize.

Deal

The secret to successful negotiation is for both sides to come away satisfied, feeling that they got what they wanted.

Take the Iran nuclear deal, Obama and Kerry wanted a deal, any deal, and the Iranians wanted to carry on developing nuclear weapons with minimum interference. If the Iranians could get away with making the American government look like sycophantic lickspittles, well, so much the better.

See, each side did get what they wanted. We have satisfaction all round and a thoroughly successful negotiation.

God alive

Guido featured this one. It’s quite amazing. I don’t expect much from thoughtless modern politicos, but this maybe a new low. No it’s not child rape, or expenses fiddling, or perverting the course of justice, or starting pointless wars, or taking bribes, or lying (so far as I can tell), this one seems to actually believe this.

I refer of course to that paragon of intellectual rigor, Rachel Reeves. You may recall Labour’s work and pension spokesman couldn’t actually say what the pension level was and she seemed unclear on how it was actually made up. In any other walk of life, not having the most basic command of your brief gets you fired. Not so modern politics.

But today she seemed to surpass even that low point. Rachel it seems, wants to abolish the so-called bedroom tax. What this actually means is that if you live in a house where the government (i.e. the rest of us) pay your rent and you under occupy it, you have a choice. Move to a smaller house appropriate to your needs (and keep getting it free) or pay the extra costs for the extra space. For some reason which escapes me, Labour seems to regard this as the moral equivalent of jailing Nelson Mandela.

Anyway, Rachel wants to abolish this and “with the money saved” spend £175M on Scottish poverty (You will recall how the Scots are diabolically underpaid by the Barnett formula and this is in no way a bribe to the possible SNP voters). Only there’s a tiny problem.

By not asking people to pay extra for houses that are too big for them, government revenue drops. (you see how that works, government gets less money, so it has…less money, not more).

I’m almost embarrassed for the woman. This is presumably Labour policy. Is there any kind of audit going on at all? Do the shadow cabinet just say stuff and it is sacrosanct and unchallengeable? Do doubters of the final victory face a Utah firing squad? No. It’s simply group think and a refusal to think counter-revolutionary thoughts. And she is allegedly some kid of economist.

She could very soon end up around the cabinet table in number 10. Incitatus would do less damage.

QotD: Sowell on the Negative Wage

Dr. Sowell:

Someone who is trying to climb out of poverty by working their way up can easily reach a point where a $10,000 increase [ in pay]* can cost them $15,000 in lost benefits they no longer qualify for. That amounts to a marginal tax rate of 150 percent—far more than millionaires pay.

–Quoted by Hunter Lewis in his piece “50th Anniversary of Federal Government’s Failed War on Poverty.”

*Parenthetical not mine. –J.

Hunter Lewis: Negative Interest Rates– Only The Start?

In the article, only the first bit of which is below, you will find several delightful ideas on how to stimulate consumer spending and thus to revive the economy. And anyone who invents the phrase ‘the zombification of the economy’ has my applause.

Personally, I am thinking of taking a strong position in cockle shells.


Negative Interest Rates: Only The Start?

By Hunter Lewis
Saturday, June 7th, 2014

As Ryan McMaken noted on June 5, the European Central Bank has instituted negative interest rates for member banks. This could soon spread to the US and also to consumer accounts. If so, you would find money taken out of your bank account each quarter unless you spend it. Some observers think that in the US at least it will start with higher account fees, which will be stealth negative interest rates, and then move to overtly negative rates.

The idea is that if low rates are not yet persuading you to spend, then why not punish you even more for saving. To make this more effective, there would also be a push for all electronic money, to keep you from stashing any away from the confiscation agents. Ken Rogoff, leading Harvard (and Republican) economist has just recommended this to facilitate negative interest rates and in general to increase government control over cash.

….

This is far from the only “innovation” that could be coming our way. In a speech on June 4, San Francisco Fed Chairman John Williams suggested that the Fed should at least take a look at “nominal income targeting.”

[SNIP]

T. Friedman, B. Bernanke, the IPCC, and … Rand Paul:

What do they have in common?

Go here to find out.

Trifecta: Obama’s “Foreign Policy” of Confusion, Weakness

Bill Whittle, Scott Ott, Steve Green at PJTV:

Al Qaeda Is On The Run? Obama’s Foreign Policy Projects Confusion and Weakness

August 6, 2013 — Part 1 of 3, per PJTV

Fail Online

The Daily Mail is running a story about an ex-police officer who has been arrested and charged with the kidnap and murder of a young girl.

Ex-police officer accused of kidnapping and killing ‘Pretty Maria’, seven, 50 years ago and discarding her body like ‘a piece of garbage’

The Daily Mail Reporter goes on to say:

Jack McCullough, 72 and a former Washington state police officer, has pleaded not guilty to the 1957 kidnapping and slaying of Maria Ridulph, of Sycamore. It’s one of the oldest cold-case murders brought to trial in the United States.

Fifty years ago, eh?  Well I was born in 1957 and if this innumerate and nameless Daily Mail Reporter wants to shave five years off my age who am I to argue?

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