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The 'Is-Ought' Problem Resolved*
ALAN GEWIRTH When I told one of my philosophical friends the title of this paper, he suggested that I make a slight addition, so that the title would read: "The 'Is-Ought' Problem Resolved -Again?!" Indeed, I agree with his implied conviction that on certain interpretations of it the 'Is-Ought' Problem has already been resolved several times; and I wish to emphasize that these resolutions and the polemical exchanges generated by them have done much to sharpen the issues. Nevertheless, I also maintain that the real 'IsOught' Problem has not yet been resolved. I therefore want to do three main things in this paper. First, I shall present what I take to be the real 'Is-Ought' Problem and shall indicate why it is the real one. Second, I shall review the main recent attempts to resolve the Problem and shall show that none of these has succeeded so far as the real 'Is-Ought' Problem is concerned. Third, I shall give my resolution of this real Problem.
First, then, what is the real 'Is-Ought' Problem? It will come as no surprise that the Problem is concerned with moral 'oughts'. After all, it was in the context of a discussion of the basis of"moral distinctions" that Hume wrote his famous passage about the need for explaining and justifying the transition from 'is' to 'ought' as copulas of propositions.' And in the introduction to a recent anthology devoted to the subject, the editor writes that the 'Is-Ought' Problem is "the central problem in moral philosophy."2 ITreatise of Human Nature, 111.i. I (ed. Selby-Bigge, pp. 469-470). 2W.D. Hudson, ed., The Is-Ought Question (London: Macmillan and Co., 1969), p. 11.
*Presidential Address delivered before the Seventy-second Annual Western Meeting ol the American Philosophical Association, in St. Louis, April 26, 1974. 34
therefore A ought to give some food to B. where the antecedent empirical statements serve not to qualify or restrict the 'oughts' but rather to indicate the facts or reasons which make them mandatory. These judgments are of two main kinds." and so forth. "That society is characterized by great inequalities of wealth and power. Third. Their paradigm uses have been of this form: "A intends to do X to B in order to gratify A's inclinations although he knows this will bring only great suffering to B. persons have also sought to derive more specifically sociopolitical moral 'oughts' from 'is'-statements."and so forth. indicated in the antecedent 'is'-statements. especially where the latter would otherwise suffer serious harm. First. Although not all uses of 'ought' are prescriptive. In addition to such individual moral duties." or "This state respects civil liberties. One kind sets forth negative moral duties to refrain from inflicting serious harm on other persons. therefore it ought to be changed. I shall focus on certain paradigm cases of what are undeniably moral 'ought'-judgments which persons have sought to derive from 'is'-statements. for example. especially as regards the distribution of what is considered to be basic well-being. The 'oughts' presented in these judgments have five important formal and material characteristics. Their paradigm uses have been of this sort: "B is drowning and A by throwing him a rope can rescue him. such advocacy marks the unconditional use of 'ought' as in the above cases. these 'oughts' are prescriptive in that their users advocate or seek to guide or influence actions. which will constitute five interrelated conditions or tests that must be satisfied by any solution of the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. A ought not to do X to B. therefore we ought to that extent to support it. therefore. Second. the 'oughts' are moral ones in the sense that they take positive account of the interests of other persons as well as the agent or speaker." or "B is starving while A has plenty of food. It is this well-being." The other kind sets forth positive duties to perform certain actions for the benefit of other persons. that provides the reasons for the actions urged in the 'ought'judgments. the 'oughts' are egalitarian in that they require that at least basic well-being be distributed equally as between the agent 35 .THE 'IS-OUGHT' PROBLEM RESOLVED Now the word 'moral' is used in several different senses. therefore A ought to throw the rope to B. While taking account of these differences. which they set forth as required by the facts presented in the antecedents.
Now it is with 'ought'-judgments having these five characteristics of being moral. a sixth condition which must be satisfied by any solution of the real 'Is-Ought' Problem is that of non-circularity. escapable features either of the persons addressed or of their social relations. or as among the members of a society. their. obtain as conclusions 'oughts' which permit or require not rescuing. at the same time they are opposite-excluding in that one cannot. and institutional rules whose obligatoriness may itself be doubtful or variable. not merely hypothetical. in that their bindingness cannot be removed by. Although such egalitarianism is sometimes made part of the definition of'moral'. premisses which state empirical facts? As this question suggests. the 'oughts' require. by the mode of derivation in question. especially in the respect that the premisses from which the 'ought'-conclusions are derived must not themselves be moral or prescriptive. A fourth important characteristic of these 'oughts' is that they are determinate. since there may. By this characteristic. and hence is not contingent on or determined by. it seems best to distinguish these considerations. or be justified on the basis of. in my above examples. and categorical that the real 'Is-Ought' Problem is concerned. I mean that the requirements set forth therein are normatively overriding and ineluctable or necessary. egalitarian. variable. and I shall myself sometimes use 'moral' to include both this and the prescriptiveness just mentioned. variable choices. which to some extent encompasses some of the other characteristics. opinions. The resolution of the Problem calls not only for presenting a derivation which satisfies these six conditions but also for a theory which adequately explains why this derivation is successful and why previous attempts at derivation have been 36 . The Problem is this: how can 'ought'-judgments having these five characteristics be logically derived from. rescuing. not harming. Thus. These escapable. not feeding. determinate. and attitudes. be non-egalitarian moralities. A fifth characteristic of these 'oughts'. after all. prescriptive. is that they are categorical. feeding. nondetermining features include the self-interested desires of the persons addressed. which applies more directly to the individual 'ought'-judgments.A MERICA N PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIA TION addressed and his potential recipients. By this I mean that the actions they prescribe have definite contents such that the opposite contents cannot be obtained by the same mode of derivation. respectively. or harming.
but also because they necessarily fail to cope with the issue of justifying categorical moral 'ought'judgments.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED unsuccessful. then there is the difficulty that the 'ought'-judgments are not derivable from those statements either inductively or deductively. The moral 'ought'-judgments of the sort I mentioned above are not self-evident. not only because. There may indeed be problems about deriving from empirical statements 'ought'-judgments which lack one or more of these five characteristics. then they cannot be definitively justified at all. by logical derivation from 'is'-statements. and such a definition raises many questions of adequacy. on the other hand. and the question continues to recuras we mount through more general moral rules and principles. If the justifying statements are moral ones. If. 'ought' cannot 37 . then there recurs the question of how they are to be justified. These other. the statements from which the moral 'ought'-judgments are to be derived are non-moral ones. It is the decisive importance of this issue of justification that makes the real 'Is-Ought' Problem at once so central and so difficult for moral philosophy. There is a familiar sequence of considerations at this point. justifying statements must themselves be either moral or non-moral (where 'moral' here includes also the characteristics of prescriptiveness and categoricalness). having fewer conditions to satisfy. including how the 'ought'-judgments can pass the tests of prescriptiveness and categoricalness. they are easier to resolve. I shall use the expressions external model and internal model to distinguish the two chief positions on this issue.e. hence if they are to be justified at all they must be derived in some way from other statements. nor can these considerations constitute determinate criteria of 'ought' because any facts adduced as such criteria must ultimately reflect personal and hence variable decisions. consequently. But it seems clear that if the moral 'ought'-judgments cannot in any way be justified on the basis of empirical and logical considerations. i. but they are not the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. judgments which bear on the most basic requirements of how persons ought to live in relation to one another. such as the empirical statements that figured in my paradigm cases. The external model holds that 'ought' is external to 'is' in that there is a basic logical gap between them: 'ought' cannot be correctly defined in terms of empirical and logical considerations alone. since they too are not selfevident. Hence the crucial importance of the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. unless we define 'ought' in empirical terms.
so it concludes that they are not capable of any definitive justification at all.the 'is-ought' gap is declared by the external model to be much wider than any of these others. To this it has been replied that empirical statements may also be used to guide or influence actions. The internal model upholds the opposite position. makes the serious concession that such guidance occurs only when the person uttering or hearing the empirical statement has a want or desire to which the fact presented in the statement bears some means-end or other causal relation. The current status of the debate between the external and internal models is as follows. and in the Mind-Body Problem there is the logical gap between statements about bodily movements and statements about intentional human actions . This reply. by considering three of the most familiar arguments for the external model's logical gap. in the statement "There is a cobra curled up right behind you. being prescriptive.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION be logically derived from 'is'. the 'isought' gap involves a difference between 'is' and something belonging to an entirely separate category." This point hence does not satisfy the condition of categoricalness. the latter. as we saw above. at least at an ultimate level. but the refutations have not gone far enough to resolve the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. for. II One argument for the gap is that there is a basic difference in function between empirical statements and moral 'ought'judgments. they reflect decisions or attitudes to which. however. in the Problem of Induction there is the logical gap between particular observation-statements and general laws. for while both sides of the other gaps fall within the 'is'. I now want to show this briefly in two phases: first. questions of justification are inapplicable. as. The external model asserts also that 'ought'judgments are not self-evident. so that they cannot be derived from what is non-prescriptive. Although logical gaps of some sort have also been held to underlie various other philosophical Problems -for example. Some of the main arguments for the external model's categorial separation of 'is' from 'ought' have been refuted. categorical moral 'oughts' present requirements for action which are norma38 . for example. and second by reviewing seven recent attempts to derive 'ought' from 'is'. in that while the former only describe something. take a stand for or against something by advocating or guiding action.
Recent replies to the truth-value gap argument have renewed this teleological emphasis on a more restricted scale by pointing out that there are institutional facts. believed. unlike empirical statements. that sentences need not have truth-values in order to figure in logical relations. Ill. negative and hypothetical statements are admittedly capable of being true or false without there being facts in the world to which they correspond. do not go far enough to satisfy the conditions of the real 'Is-Ought' 3For an important recent statement of a teleological approach to moral judgments which utilizes ontological doctrines of Aristotle and Aquinas. the world of fact. that moral 'ought'-judgments have many characteristics regularly taken as conditions of being propositions having truth-value -for example. Other replies have contended. Sec39 . and third. Veatch. questioned. second. see Henry B. have no truth-value and hence cannot follow logically from statements having truthvalue. that the truth-value argument takes a too narrow view of truth since. and argued for and against. and Spencer that human history or the whole evolutionary process progressively fulfills moral criteria. first. while sound. which were repeated in other terms in the theories of Hegel. denied. This classical doctrine superseded the teleological conceptions of ancient and medieval thinkers. so that it contains no moral 'oughts' and hence nothing to which categorical moral 'ought'-judgments can correspond or by reference to which they can be proved or disproved. for example.C. consists only in material particles moving according to physical laws. disbelieved. and such arguments often appeal to empirical facts which are held to provide reasons for believing or disbelieving the judgments. Ewing. they are expressed in the indicative mood. an important basis of this argument goes back to the classical doctrine of modern philosophy and science according to which the 'is'. and eudaemonist conditions which serve to provide correspondencecorrelates for 'ought'-judgments. In addition to the noncognitivist position that moral 'oughts' express feelings or commands but not beliefs.: Northwestern University Press. 1971). they are asserted. means-end relations.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED tively binding even when the person addressed has no such related self-interested want or desire. A second familiar argument for the gap is that moral 'ought'judgments. Other recent arguments for the truth-value of moral judgments can be found in A.3 These replies to the truth-value argument. For an Ontology of Morals (Evanston. Marx.
Evidence and Meaning (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 57-65. p. the truth-functional derivation applies such rules as that a false proposition materially implies any proposition. 1971). for. 1959). and any proposition materially implies the disjunction of itself with any other proposition. the false proposition "There is no one in this room" materially implies both "We and Thoughts in Moral Philosophy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Insofar as the replies construe categorical moral 'ought'-judgments as having truth-value by virtue of correspondence. such as that there must at least in principle be ways of confirming or disconfirming the statements. or at least the most basic ones. 1 (1968). Kai Nielsen." American Philosophical Quarterly. N. they have not shown to what the judgments must correspond in order to be true. are to be confirmed or disconfirmed. Both institutional facts and means-end relations fail in this respect. unlike the last three. as I shall indicate more fully below. Jonathan Harrison. there is as yet no definitive warrant for holding that they are susceptible of truth or falsity. I shall now briefly review seven recent attempts to derive 'ought' from 'is'. The Moral Point of View (Ithaca. But. in that the first four. 2. 9-25. ch. pp. and hence are of little or no help in resolving the real 'IsOught' Problem. 1958). And if instead of a correspondence requirement for the truth of statements we adopt an epistemological requirement. The derivations fall into two groups.. First. as I shall go on to show. White. pp. 40 . 135. Thus. then it has not yet been shown how categorical moral 'ought'-judgments.Y.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION Problem. A third familiar argument for the external model declares that 'ought' cannot be logically derived from 'is' because whatever is in the conclusion must be in the premisses and there is no 'ought' in the premisses. Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong(London: George Allen and Unwin. 173-186. 1970). Robert J. Truth (London: Macmillan Press. for the derivations it authorizes do not satisfy the condition of determinacy. formal and material. The four formal derivations clearly fail the test of determinacy. pp. Monograph Series No. they do not satisfy the conditions of categoricalness and determinacy. This argument is easily refutable by a consideration of non-syllogistic modes of inference. Hence. Alan B.: Cornell University Press. 1967). Fogelin. "On Moral Truth. 251 ff. do not depend on the specific contents assigned to the 'oughts'. pp. Kurt Baier. this refutation does little to resolve the real 'Is-Ought' Problem.
free. which. Jones ought to help the weak. SSeeDavid Rynin. willing to universalize." Mind. Prior.N. pp. which begins from facts or purported facts about mental procedures having certain ideal intellectual or emotional characteristics. "'Ought' Implies 'Can': A Bridge from Fact to Norm. Jones ought to refrain from helping the weak. 42 ff. For there is no assurance that two persons. 317 ff. 14 (1972).. 353 ff. "'Is' and 'Ought'. vol. Paul W." Third. a(dti Letters. if all millionaires ought to refrain from helping the weak.. vol. ch. Arts. K. assuming the familiar principle that 'ought' implies 'can'.E. reflecting as fully as possible upon all the relevant facts. "On Deriving the Normative from the Non-Normative." But by the same mode of derivation we also have: "Jones is a millionaire. Tranoy. pp.6 Now all these modes of derivation suffer from indeterminacy. 53 (1968). there is the idealprocedural derivation. vol. argues by contraposition that if some person cannot perform some action.: Prentice-Hall." Philosophy and Research. reflecting as fully as possible upon all the same facts or otherwise using these mental 4For the first two derivations. 18 (1960). the immediate inference by addeddeterminant derives an 'ought'-conclusion from a subject-predicate 'is'-statement by adding some deontic qualification to both the subject and the predicate. vol. p. vol.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED ought to rescue drowning persons" and "We ought not to rescue drowning persons.4 Thus on the one hand we have: "Jones is a millionaire." Australasian Jolurnalof Philosophy.J." Second. 199 ff. Brandt. Mavrodes. 28 (1964). ch. Mavrodes. then it is not the case that he ought to perform it. "Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer. "The Autonomy of Ethics. Richard B. Taylor. and so forth. N. pp. Ethical ThePhlenonienloksgical ory (Englewood Cliffs. 6See Roderick Firth. Normative Discourse (Englewood Cliffs. 1961). imaginative. 41 . 1959). see A. "The Autonomy of Morals." Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science. 10. therefore.J. pp. it also fails the test of determinacy. The mental procedures in question are characterized as emerging from an'ideal observer' or some similar source. and then argues that moral 'oughts' are derived either from the procedures themselves or from the results of applying them.. and the characteristics embodied in these procedures include being fully informed. 313.5 Since this mode of derivation puts no restrictions on the 'ought'-judgments with which one begins other than the ability of the agent. if all millionaires ought to help the weak. George I. 66 (1957). therefore. 6. calm. Fourth.: Prentice-Hall. vol." Ratio. 12 (1951). N." Analysis. there is the 'ought'-'can' derivation. George I.
nevertheless. to ward off this indeterminacy. 184 ff. vol. it is required or necessary that thunder also occur. a statement of the form "A ought to do X" means that there is a requirement that A For similar views of the 'univocitv' of'ought' in theoretical and practical contexts. however. for example. see especially Roger Wertheimer. pp. this necessity stemming from the law-governed context of physical nature. ch. I turn now to the material 'is-ought' derivations. A context is structured when it is constituted by laws or rules which determine certain existential or practical necessities. See also Joseph Margolis. Thus in such an inference as. "It is lightning. More specifically. given the occurrence of lightning. The descriptive causal laws of this context furnish directly or indirectly the major premisses for this derivation of 'ought' from 'is'. will arrive at the same moral 'ought'-judgments. Glen O. the fulfillment of the rules being contingent on human decision. In each of these contexts. 3.Y. Three such contexts have figured especially prominently in recent 'is-ought' derivations: the contexts of means-end connections.s. then the condition of non-circularity is violated. they consist rather in directive rules as to what actions must be performed if certain values or purposes are to be achieved. i. ch. 1972). Each of these rests on a version of the internal model whereby 'ought' is internal to 'is'. The context in question need not be a practical or even a human one. consist not in existential necessities expressible in descriptive predictions of what must occur regardless of human action. it may. be the context of physical nature. "The Is-Ought Question Reformulated and Answered. the conditions of human well-being.: Cornell University Press. Values and Conduct (Oxford: Clarendon IPress. are factual ones in that they consist in ordered relations whose existence can be ascertained empirically. And if." the 'ought' means that. The Significance of Sense (Ithaca.7 In the practical sphere.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIA TION procedures. 3. The contexts constituted by these rules. and of eudaemonist conditions. 82 (1972)." 't/hic. N. 42 . we include among the ideal procedural traits such egalitarian moral features as impartiality and sympathy. there are various structured contexts which contain requirements for action. in that either 'ought' is defined in terms of empirical and logical properties or such properties constitute purportedly determinate criteria of 'ought'. of institutional rules. Allen. therefore it ought to thunder.1971). These requirements. 'ought' here means: necessitated or required by reasons stemming from some structured context. similarly.e.
or on some independent justification of the context itself as setting forth valid requirements for action. then his derivation will not be circular. 'is' within one of these practical contexts either does or does not choose to accept or commit himself to the context with its requirements. The derivation will hence be not from 'is' to 'ought' but rather from prescriptive 'ought' to prescriptive 'ought'. If he does choose to commit himself. then the'ought' he will derive will indeed be prescriptive. but the derivation will be circular in that he will simply be resuming in the conclusion a commitment or advocacy which he had already chosen to make in the premiss.e. None of the three main recent material 'is-ought' derivations is able to resolve this dilemma. the person making the derivation does not choose to commit himself to the context with its requirements.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED do X stemming from the structure of that context. from what must be done by A if one of his ends is to be fulfilled or if he is to participate in some institution with its rules or if he is to promote his or others' well-being. And in each case the derivation of 'ought' from 'is' goes through because the general structure of the respective contexts is presupposed as supplying the relevant major premisses. the derived 'oughts' are only hypothetical. there arises. by the same token. it will carry his endorsement or advocacy. If. For to say that 'ought' means what is required by some structured context is not to say that the speaker who uses such an 'ought' necessarily accepts this requirement as binding either on himself or on his hearers. but then the 'ought' he derives will not be prescriptive. what I shall call the dile7mma of commitment. so I shall not refer to it again in discussing them. First. 'ought' as it figures in the internal model as so far explicated is not necessarily prescriptive.e. Second. for he may not accept or commit himself to the context. 'Third. Hence. on the other hand. not categorical. which prevent them from resolving the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. For the derivations are of the form: If the respective practical contexts with their requirements are accepted. i. the requirements represented by the derived 'oughts' are only intra-contextual. as a consequence. nor 43 The person who is deriving 'ought' from . for it will not carry his advocacy or endorsement of the requirement he derives from the context. From this brief characterization we can see three sharp limitations of these material 'is-ought' derivations. i. their obligatoriness is contingent on persons' variable choices or decisions to accept the context in question. then such and such actions ought to be done.
9 Again. begins from 'is'-statements describing institutional facts about ways in which persons participate in institutions having certain requirements or rules." But the derivation does not satisfy the condition of categoricalness. 18 (1958). which I shall call the institutional. vol. "Practical Inference. 1 wish. The sixth mode of derivation." Analysis. and so forth.M.x This derivation. "I he Gap between 'Is' and 'Should'. pp. 69 ff. goes through because there is assumed from the context some such major premiss as. Searle. 44 . vol.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION shall I repeat the other limitations just mentioned. by virtue of the rules of the respective institutions.. however. 72 (1963). von Wright. 159'1. pp. 165 IT. vol. proceeds from the two 'is'-premisses that a person wants to achieve some end or purpose and that his performing a certain action is the only means to his achieving this end. as indicated above. so that he can evade its requirement by shifting his wants or ends. certain relevant major premisses are assumed from the context. pp." ibid.also G. Philosophical Review. not only for the general reason already given but also because it makes the requiredness of the specific 'ought' to be contingent on the variable wants or desires of the person addressed. Speech Acts(Cambridge: University Press. vol. . 73 'See (1964). pp. "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is"'. briefly to look further at each of these derivations in order to note some other difficulties. "On Brute Facts. Anscombe. that of meansend. One could. especially in connection with determinacy. 1969). one is obligated to keep the promise or to pay for what one buys.lohn Searle. the derivation does not satisfy the condition of determinacy. from these it infers the conclusion that the person ought to perform the action. then. 8Sce Max Black.E.H. for by this mode of argument one could infer either that one ought or that one ought not to feed starving persons or rescue drowning persons.. 8: G. and it concludes with 'ought'judgments that the persons in question have certain obligations by virtue of this participation. 132-136 and ch. The fifth derivation. "One ought to do that which is the necessary and sufficient means to achieving one's end. The most famous examples of this institutional derivation in the recent literature have been concerned with the institutions of promising and of buying and selling." Philosophical Review. 43 If. This derivation also fails the test of determinacy. depending upon one's own selfish wants in the matter. pp.. 73 (1964). Also. The argument has been that if one participates in these institutions by making a promise or a purchase.
For example. Moral. 83 ff. so that "A morally ought to do X" means that doing X is required for the attainment of human well-being or for the avoidance of ill-being. This assumes that the meaning or criterion of the moral 'ought' is to be found in the context of human well-being. pp. vol. pp. from the Greek word for well-being. f'See Philippa Foot. Legal. With this definition." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. this would again violate the condition of non-circularity. pp. far from being straightforwardly factual or descriptive. represent moral commitments about what is worth striving for or what interests of persons other than the agent are worth promoting." Mind. For now the derivation would not begin from a morally neutral 'is'-statement. 45 . to ward off this indeterminacy. since its starting-point would not be morally neutral. "'See my "Obligation: Political." and building into it such egalitarian moral requirements as that the good of everyone alike is to be promoted or that the ends of all persons are to be harmonized so far as possible. circular because its premisses about what constitutes human well-being or harm. 59 (1958-59). "Moral Arguments. 67 (1958). and so forth. Consider. vol. if we try further to avoid the indeterminacy of the institutional derivation by beginning from the institution of morality itself." Noinos." This mode of derivation is. infer diametrically opposed 'oughts'.. but it would also violate the condition of non-circularity. if one participates in the institution of constitutional democracy then one ought to support civil liberties.THE 'IS-OUGHT" PROBLEM RESOLVED by the same mode of derivation. XII (1970). and if one participates in the institution of slavery then one ought to regard some humans as other humans' property. "Moral Beliefs. one can argue deductively from the factual premiss that certain actions are necessary for human well-being to the conclusion that those actions morally ought to be performed. 55 ff. then this would not only restrict unduly the concept of an institution. one stipulates that only those arrangements are to be considered institutions which are voluntarily accepted or agreed upon by all their participants. but if one participates in the institution of dictatorship then one ought to oppose such liberties. 502 ff. vol. or from "the moral point of view. The seventh and last mode of derivation to be considered I shall call the eudaemonist. however. since the initial presumption would be that the institution in question fulfills the moral requirement of not being coercively imposed on its participants. Similarly.'0 If.
But my version differs in important respects from those considered above. 46 . none has succeeded in resolving the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. egalitarian. as well as the dilemma of commitment prescntcd above." in Hudson. that while these recent 'is-ought' derivations have made valuable contributions. there were two sorts of variabilities. and in addition there is the dispute between teleologists and deontologists over whether moral 'oughts' are tied to any considerations of well-being at all. pp. 228 ff. 10 (1973). the other about method. then. certain actions are necessary or required by that context. determinate. Moreover. I shall do this by presenting a certain version of what I have called the internal model. The arguments went as follows: Given a certain structured context. vol. each of which made the 'ought'-conclusions hypothetical rather than categorical. prescriptive. one about the context. In those derivations. while one had 12Forsome of these objections. Because of such disputes. III In this final section I want to show how 'ought'-judgments which are categorical. and so forth.A MERICA N PHILOSOPHICA L A SSOCIA TION for example. The necessities here were hence hypothetical in that. of vwhose well-being ought to be promoted and whose harm avoided.. The main bases of these differences comprise two interrelated points. These difficulties. are not taken account of by Peter Singer. since their content depends on persons' variable opinions about what constitutes well-being and morality. and moral can be logically and non-circularly derived from 'is'statements which describe empirical facts about the world. This context is both logically prior to and more invariable and inescapable than the other contexts appealed to in the attempted material 'is-ought' derivations considered above. the eudaemonist derivation fails to cope with the crucial moral problem of distribution. the eudaemonist derivation does not yield determinate 'oughts'. "On Morality's Having a Point..Z. The factual context within which my argument will proceed is that of the generic features of action. cil. Nor are the 'oughts' categorical. see D. pp. the moral disagreements between religionists and secularists. between romantics and practical-minded persons. Phillips. as we have seen. between pacifists and militarists.12 1 conclude. op. 51 1f. 'The Triviality of the Debate over 'Is-Ought' and the l)efinition of'Moral'." American Philosophical Quarterl.
would be fulfilled in the very process of removing oneself from further involvement in the context of action. the specific contents of each context could vary. their generic features. be of many different sorts. this acceptance was not itself necessary. and hence the necessary conditions of actions. selling oneself into slavery. that is.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED first to accept the respective contexts as normatively binding. and so forth. in fact. In the context of the generic features of action. of course. the 'oughts' derived from the context of the generic features of action have a necessity which enables them to satisfy the conditions of categoricalness and determinacy. have different conceptions of well-being. In this sense. But not only would this intentional removal of oneself from the context of action obviously carry a crushing price. human movements or behaviors are not actions if they occur from one or more of the following kinds of 47 . So there was a double hypotheticalness in these arguments. for although actions may. one might adopt different ends. if one views actions in terms of their generic features there is no content-variability in the context of actions. as justifiably setting forth requirements for action. even if one accepted the context in general. It is to be noted that I am here using the word 'action' in a quite strict sense. they all have certain generic features in common. There is no acceptance-variability. on the other hand. I shall call this the content-variability of the respective contexts. Because of this lack of acceptance-variability and contentvariability. In addition. try to show that the relation of the theory of action to moral philosophy is much closer and more substantive than has hitherto been thought. participate in different institutions. features which are necessarily exhibited by any instance of action. but was rather a matter of one's choice. and these necessary features logically generate certain requirements or 'oughts' regardless of the specific differences of kinds of action. for it is not open to any person intentionally to evade or reject the context of action. I shall. Similarly. neither of these variabilities is found. ingesting sleep-inducing drugs. and these diversities generated quite different and even opposed 'ought'-conclusions. but moreover the very acts of taking these evading steps would themselves be actions. and this accounted for their failure to satisfy the conditions of categoricalness and determinacy. one might try to carry out such rejection by intentionally committing suicide. To be sure. I shall call this the acceptance-variability of the respective contexts.
and that the agent will set some sort of preferred priority either on this objective or on the ones for which he would otherwise act. as against the particular contents of his actions which vary with his different and possibly arbitrary inclinations. As this last point indicates. they impose themselves on every agent. being invariable. knowing the various proximate circumstances of his action. (c) indirect compulsion whereby the person's choice to emit some behavior is forced by someone else's coercion. actions in the strict sense have the generic features of being voluntary and purposive. they take priority for the agent over the particu48 . These generic features also mean that actions are characterized by freedom and relative well-being on the part of the agent: by freedom in virtue of their uncoerced character and the agent's control over them. although not necessarily good in terms either of morality or even of his own self-interest. to the occurrence of the behavior. is that the person addressed is an actual or potential agent who can control his behavior with a view to achieving the objective set forth in the precept. at least prospectively. insofar as it is the purpose of his action the agent regards it as some sort of good. and other practical precepts. actions in the strict sense include behaviors whereby agents may violate as well as fulfill moral. by well-being in the relative sense that the agent's purpose is to do or obtain something he regards as good. that some person ought to do something. the direct rational justification for focusing on the generic features of action is that. In contrast to such behaviors. such as reflexes. in ways beyond his control. or disease. political. in either case. technical. The direct relevance of action in the strict sense to the 'IsOught' Problem can be seen from the fact that 'ought'-judgments are primarilyconcerned with action in this sense. the assumption of the speaker. By 'purposive' I mean that the agent intends to do what he does. (b) causes internal to the person. By 'voluntary' I mean that the agent occurrently or dispositionally controls his behavior by his unforced choice. being necessary to all action. which decisively contribute.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION cause: (a) direct compulsion by someone or something external to the person. not only in moral or political precepts but also in prudential. and other practical precepts. and they also include behaviors which are indifferent in relation to such precepts. ignorance. envisaging some purpose or goal which may consist either in the performance of the action itself or in some outcome of that performance. In addition to this consideration. and also that. institutional. When it is said.
categorical moral 'ought'-judgments. Moreover. Although I shall characterize the steps leading to this logical commitment as entailments. in this regard they have used such phrases as 'rational reconstruction'. without stopping him and asking him. On the basis of these necessary contents. For on the basis of their actions certain thoughtcontents can be attributed to them in either direct or indirect discourse. and so forth. however. 'criteriological connection'. they reflect not some protagonist's variable opinions.and it examines what these logically imply. I cannot. in that the assumptions or claims in question are necessarily made by agents.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED lar purposes for which he may contingently act. Philosophers have. deal with this issue here. statements. of course. Before proceeding to the derivation. I shall show that every agent is logically committed to making or at least accepting certain determinate. just as if we see someone reading a book with avid interest we don't have to see whether he is moving his lips in order to attribute to him such a judgment as. 'conceptual analysis'. although there is in general a difference between entailment-relations among propositions and 49 . It will constitute no objection to my use of this method that agents do not necessarily perform speech acts or make linguistic utterances. I must say something about the method I shall follow. so long as their necessary connection with the context of the generic features of action is kept in view. or claims made by protagonists -in this case. "It is worth my attention reading this book. I should point out that I shall use what I call a dialectically necessary method." according to whatever criterion of worth is involved in his purpose of reading. we can safely infer. But in order to facilitate understanding of what I shall try to do. it begins from assumptions. interests. the agent . that he thinks it is worth his effort to try to catch that bus. 'phenomenological description'. of course. dealt with and disagreed over the nature of their operations and results. My method is dialectical in a sense closely related to that referred to in the Socratic dialogues and in Aristotle: that is. One aspect of this necessity has already been suggested in my statements about the invariability of the context of the generic features of action. 'inductive generalization'. If we see someone running very hard in order to catch a bus. or ideals but rather the necessary structure of purposive action as viewed by the agent. The method is dialectically necessary. my argument will not be materially affected if the connections in question are interpreted in some less stringent way.
I can indicate enough of the main lines in what follows." Although there has been an abortive attempt to argue that assertions of the performance or occurrence of actions are ascriptive rather than descriptive in that they make moral or legal judgments about the agent's responsibility.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIA TION relations of belief of those propositions -if p entails q. Geach. vol. I shall now undertake to show how 'ought'-judgments having the five required characteristics are logically derivable from 'is'-statements which describe the occurrence of actions in the strict sense defined above. Preface. This disregard is especially warranted because. most are not.1968). 50 . As made by the agent himself. 69 (1960). by general agreement.L. "The Ascription of Rights and Responsibilities. 49 (1948-49). Hart. 3 And although some utterances of this form are performatory in Austin's sense. To begin with. Although the argument will involve various complexities." Philosophical Review. Enough of preliminaries. this does not entail that someone's believing that p entails his believing that q . "I do X for purpose E. Hart. From this empirical premiss. empirical propositions regardless of whether the statements are made by the agent himself or by other persons. The justification for this is that the entailments in question are so direct that awareness of them can safely be attributed to any person who is sufficiently rational to be able to control his behavior by his unforced choice with a view to achieving his purposes. vol. in accordance with my dialectical method. that purposive actions occur or that some person performs an action is an empirical fact which can be stated in descriptive. this attempt has. "Ascriptivism. P.nevertheless I shall here attribute to the agent belief in or acceptance of certain propositions on the basis of their being entailed by other propositions he accepts. Punishment and Responsibilit (Oxford: Clarendon IPress. The first step involves the point that action as viewed by 13See H.A. the statement may be put formally as. I shall be considering actions as they are viewed and referred to by the agent himself. pp.. 221 ff.T. some of which I have treated in detail elsewhere. In a somewhat different direction we can also disregard here Cartesian doubts about the possibility of empirically ascertaining that the choices and purposes involved in action are in fact occurrently or dispositionally present." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. the agent's statement that he performs an action. been definitively refuted. the derivation will now proceed in four main steps.
of course. the agent envisages more or less clearly some preferred outcome. some objective or goal which he wants to achieve. On the contrary. the purposes or objects for which he acts. for he acts for some purpose which seems to him to be good. since the agent values. The agent's positive evaluative judgment extends not only to his particular action and purpose but also to the generic features which characterize all his actions. This conception of worth constitutes a valuing on the part of the agent. the action is not something that happens to him from causes beyond his control. the agent's relation to the action he brings about is conative and evaluative. He may." Since the latter statement is a value-judgment. Nor is the agent's attitude toward his action merely a passive or contemplative one. also regard his purpose as bad on other criteria. Hence.for if he did not so regard it he would not unforcedly choose to move from quiescence or non-action to action with a view to achieving the goal. These criteria of value need not be moral nor even hedonic. Still. by the very fact that he chooses to act he shows that he regards his action as worth performing and hence as good at least relatively to his not acting at all or to his acting for other purposes which are open to him. from the standpoint of the agent. or at least the function of such a judgment. in virtue of its purposiveness. In acting. Now 'value' in this broad sense is synonymous with 'good' in a similarly broad sense encompassing a wide range of nonmoral as well as moral criteria. so long as his choice is not forced. To see this. Since his action is a means to 51 . and he may regret the narrow range of alternatives open to him among which he chooses. we must note that action is not a mere physical occurrence in which the entities concerned make no choices and guide themselves for the sake of no purposes. he regards the object of his action as having at least sufficient value to merit his acting to attain it. This goal is regarded by the agent as worth aiming at or pursuing. where such wanting may be either intentional or inclinational. at least instrumentally.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED the agent has. even if not the 'is-ought' gap. it can also be said that he regards these objects as at least instrumentally good according to whatever criteria lead him to try to achieve his purpose. "I do X for purpose E"entails "X and E are good. they run the full range of the purposes for which the agent acts. according to whatever criteria are involved in his action. is already bridged in action. The presence of choice and purpose in action thus gives it a structure such that. to this extent from the standpoint of the agent the 'fact-value' gap. a certain evaluative element.
In virtue of his positive evaluations the agent regards himself as justified in performing his actions and in having the freedom and basic well-being which generically figure in all his actions. my present argument does not incur this objection. bearing on justifications and right-claims." From this first main step there follows a second. This basic well-being comprises certain physical and psychological dispositions ranging from life and physical integrity to a feeling of confidence as to the general possibility of attaining one's goals. Now an important. whatever they may be. it should be noted that whereas the eudaemonist derivation considered above. and which hence are not relative to his particular purposes and not subject to the disagreements that we saw earlier attach to different interpretations of well-being as a whole. In connection with this point.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIA TION attaining something he regards as good. does not depend for its direct content upon the contingent and variable purposes which different persons may have and the means required for these. But as against the meansend derivation considered above. For. and which any agent must therefore regard as good. even if this is only the performance of the action itself. left itself open to the objection that what it regards as well-being is not really good or is not considered good by some persons. my argument. To regard something as justified on some criterion is to hold that its rightness is or can be established according to that criterion. he regardsas good the voluntariness or freedom which is an essential feature of his action. He also regards as good those basic aspects of his well-being which are the necessary conditions both of the existence and of the success of all his actions. Thus. basis of an action's being right from the standpoint of its 52 . "I do X for purpose E" entails not only "X and E are good" but also "My freedom and basic well-being are good as the necessary conditions of all my actions. from the agent's standpoint his statement. being dialectically necessary. like other naturalistic doctrines. the argument proceeds from within the standpoint of the agent himself and his own purposes and conceptions of well-being. and to have toward it a corresponding attitude of endorsement. it depends rather upon the necessary means which are required for any purposive actions. because freedom and basic well-being are at least instrumentally necessary to all the agent's actions for purposes. even if not the only. being dialectical. for without this he would not be able to act for any purpose at all. and he implicitly makes a corresponding right-claim.
he especially regards himself as justified in having freedom and basic well-being. this says that since every agent regards as basic goods the freedom and basic well-being which are the proximate necessary conditions of his acting for the achievement of any of his purposes. Even if there is not in every case a correct inference from an agent's regarding X as good to his claiming a right to X. it follows that any agent must claim. For it is central to the concept of a right. so far as the agent is concerned. the inference does hold from within the agent's standpoint insofar as X consists in freedom and basic well-being. In the case of every claim to have a right to X. then. his judgment "My freedom and basic well-being are good as the necessary conditions of all my actions" 53 . a. at least implicitly. that he has a right to freedom and basic well-being. would not be able to move toward anything he regards as good. that its primary. This justificatory attitude takes the logical form of a claim on the part of the agent that he has a right to perform his actions and to have freedom and basic well-being. application is to the proximate prerequisites of any purposive actions. in that it involves right-claims as well as judgments of good. From the agent's standpoint. since these are the necessary conditions of all his actions and hence of any purposes or goals he may attain or pursue through action. and since the criterion of claiming justifications and rights. According to this second main step. And this rightclaim is prescriptive: it carries the agent's advocacy or endorsement. Put in the dialectically necessary terms I am using here.fortiori. It is this elemental aspect of right-claims that seems to me to underlie Jefferson's asserting as self-evident that all men have inalienable rights to life. at least where it is advanced as a claim by individuals. since without the direct capacity for such action the claimant. and the pursuit of happiness. liberty. a necessary condition is that X seem directly or indirectly good to the claimant. consists in the first instance in such proximate necessary conditions. because of the strategic relation of these goods to all his purposive actions. The agent therefore regards his action as justified by this goodness. action as viewed by the agent has a normative as well as an evaluative structure. and a sufficient condition is that he regard X as a basic good such as is requiredfor his pursuit of any other goods. But. beyond making the claim itself. even if not its only.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED agent is that he regards it as having a good purpose.
but in denying this in the case of Sp. The crucial question in the present context concerns the description or sufficient reason which the agent adduces as decisively relevant in claiming that he has a right to freedom and basic well-being. that this right also belongs to any other persons to whom that description or reason applies."'4 This second step is. for in saying that P belongs to S because S has Q one implies that all Q is P.. and so forth. This necessity is an exemplification of the logical principle of universalizability: if some predicate P belongs to some subject S because S has the property Q (where the 'because' is that of sufficient reason or condition). depending on the property he adduces as a '4For more detailed arguments for the above two steps. for example. To see this. a deontic concept. but in any case the person who claims some right must admit. Nevertheless. I must go through two further steps. since the normative concept of having a right either already is. . crucial for the 'is-ought' derivation. Many philosophers have held that there is no logical limit in this respect. one says that some Q is not P. . Sn which have Q. he is logically committed to a generalization of this right-claim to all prospective agents and hence to all persons. which has Q. vol. The third main step involves the consideration that. And. If one denies this implication in the case of some individual. on pain of contradiction. 25 (1971). 238 ff. This description or sufficient reason may be quite general or quite particular. such as S. . . or is directly translatable into. of course. in order to show how all five conditions of the real 'Is-Ought' Problem are to be satisfied. he is white or male or American or a philosopher or an atheist. of course. He may claim that he has the rights in question because and only because. that any agent can choose whatever description or sufficient reason he likes without committing any logical error. pp. S2. which has Q.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION entails "I have a right to freedom and basic well-being. given the agent's claim that he has a right to freedom and basic well-being. we must note that every right-claim is made on behalf of some person or group with an at least implicit recognition of the description or sufficient reason which is held to ground the right. or for that matter because he is named Wordsworth Donisthorpe or because he was born on such and such a date at such and such a place. then P must also belong to all other then one contradicts oneself." Review of Metaphysics. see my "The Normative Structure of Action. 54 subjects SI.
e. pp. "My name is Wordsworth Donisthorpe" and the other descriptions just mentioned. which contradicts the initial assumption. then he contradicts his assertion that he has these rights only insofar as he is R. Now let us ask the agent whether.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED sufficient reason for his right-claim. to avoid contradicting himself. 1972). i. with their necessary conditions of freedom and basic well-being. he would still claim to have the rights of freedom and basic well-being even if he were not R. then he can be shown to contradict himself with regard to the generic features of action. as justified by the goodness of his purpose. by the preceding argument. 8 (1971). he will be logically required to grant only that these rights belong to all other persons who have this property. himself. 55 . at the extreme. it is necessarily true of every agent both that he requires freedom and basic well-being in order to act and that he hence implicitly claims the right to have freedom and basic well-being. The Lindley Lecture for 1972 (University of Kansas. vol. the class consisting only of one member. while being an agent. he can be shown to contradict himself." American Philosophical Quarterly. Thus. If the agent adduces anything less general than this as his exclusive justifying description. This description or sufficient reason is that he is a prospective agent who has purposes he wants to fulfill. He would hence have to admit that he is mistaken in restricting his justificatory description to R. Examples of R would include. if he says that while being an agent he would not claim these rights if he were not R. 331 ff. If he answers yes. including.. and in Moral Rationality. as we have seen.'5 151have presented this and related arguments more fully in "The Justification of Egalitarian Justice. In opposition to this view. I hold that the agent logically must adduce only a certain description or sufficient reason as the ground of his claim that he has a right to freedom and basic wellbeing. For. But this in turn would mean that he is not an agent. then. and hence that the description or sufficient reason for which he claims these rights is not anything less general than that he is a prospective agent who has purposes he wants to fulfill. But if he answers no. For an agent not to claim these rights would mean that he does not act for purposes he regards as good at all and that he does not regard his actions. the agent must admit that he would claim to have the rights of freedom and basic well-being even if he were not R. Let us designate by the letter R such a more restrictive description.
the agent. 1 shall henceforth refer to the agent who avoids such contradictions. he logically must accept the generalization that all prospective agents who have purposes they want to fulfill. that he has the rights of freedom and basic well-being because he is a prospective purposive agent. For on the one hand in holding. This generalization is a direct application of the principle of universalizability. as we have seen. by virtue of accepting the statement "1 have a right to freedom and basic well-being. then." The rational agent must therefore advocate or endorse these rights for all other persons on the same ground as he advocates them for himself. as he logically must. and if the agent denies the generalization. involving consistency or the avoidance of self-contradiction. then. Thus we have seen that. The fourth and final main step moves directly from this generalized right-claim to a correlative 'ought'-judgment. he implies that all prospective purposive agents have these rights. not only his present one. and who hence accepts the opposed logically necessary statements. Since. must claim that he has the rights of freedom and basic well-being for the sufficient reason that he is a prospective agent who has purposes he wants to fulfill.' For the agent claims these rights not only in his present action with its particular purpose but in all his actions.' It will be noted that this is the minimal and most basic sense of'rational' as applied to persons and that its criterion is a purely logical one. To restrict to his present purpose his reason for claiming the rights of freedom and basic well-being would be to overlook the fact that he regards these as goods in respect of all his actions and purposes. have the rights of freedom and basic well-being. he contradicts himself. I have referred to a 'prospective agent who has purposes he wants to fulfill." and hence that "All prospective purposive agents have a right to freedom and basic well-being. in the necessary description or sufficient reason of his having these rights." the rational agent must also accept "I have these rights for the sufficient reason that 1am a prospective purposive agent. For all rights are logically correlative with at least negative duties or 'oughts'. as a 'rational agent. and hence all persons.AMERICA N PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIA TION It is also this generality that explains why. but on the other hand he holds that some prospective purposive agent does not have these rights. in that for any person A to have a right to have or do something X entails that all other persons ought to refrain from interfering either with A's having or doing X or at least with A's trying to 56 . in order to avoid contradicting himself.
so he ought to apply these same generic features to all the recipients of his actions by allowing them also to have freedom and basic well-being and hence by refraining from coercing them or inflicting basic harm on them. There also directly follows the positive duty to perform such actions as rescuing drowning persons or feeding starving persons. there directly follows the negative duty not to inflict serious gratuitous harm on other persons. Hence. including the right-claims which the agent necessarily makes. as found in the above universalization argument. This means that the agent ought to be impartial as between himself and other persons when the latter's freedom and basic well-being are at stake. "I ought to refrain from interfering with the freedom and basic well-being of all prospective purposive agents. It says to every agent that just as." The agent is logically compelled to admit these 'oughts'. The general principle of these 'oughts' or duties may be expressed as the following precept addressed to every agent: Apply to your recipient the same generic features of action that you apply to vourself I shall call this the Principle of Generic Consistency (PGC). The PGC is an egalitarian universalist moral principle since it requires an equal distribution of the most basic rights of action. The PGC has as direct or indirect logical consequences egalitarian moral 'ought'-judgments of the paradigmatic sort that I presented at the outset. Thus we have seen that from the initial empirical premiss. then he contradicts himself." and hence of all persons. if the agent denies or violates this principle. "I do X for purpose E. on pain of contradiction. Interference with their freedom would constitute coercion. And as we have seen. especially when this can be done at relatively little cost 57 . "I ought to refrain from coercing other persons or inflicting basic harm on them."there logically follows the 'ought'-judgment. since the agent logically had to admit that "All prospective purposive agents have a right to freedom and basic well-being. Given the PGC. since it combines the formal consideration of consistency. in acting. so that he ought to respect other persons' freedom and basic well-being as well as his own. interference with their basic well-being would constitute basic harm." he must also logically accept the 'ought'judgment.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED have or do X. with the material consideration of the generic features of action. voluntariness or freedom and purposiveness at least in the sense of basic well-being. he necessarily applies to himself and claims as rights for himself the generic features of action.
by means under the agent's control and with his knowledge. cit. freedom and basic well-being. he prevents his recipients from doing so. (above. n. see my "Obligation: Political. political. through the steps I '6For fuller discussion of how institutional obligations are derived from the PGC. the occurrence of transactions which would remove the basic harms in question. it also requires legal. The PGC also has as its indirect consequences sociopolitical moral 'ought'-judgments requiring actions in support of civil liberties and in opposition to great inequalities of wealth and power. Although there is indeed a distinction between causing a basic harm to occur and merely permitting it to occur by one's inaction.'6 And it is by rules based on such justified institutions that conflicts arising from agents' use of their freedom are to be resolved. but to refrain from performing such actions as rescuing and feeding in the circumstances described would be to inflict basic harms on the persons in need and would hence violate the impartiality required by the PGC." op.A MERICAN PHILOSOPHICA L ASSOCIA TION to oneself. if the obligations grounded in various institutions are to be justified. For the PGC prohibits inflicting basic harms on other persons. he ought to do so. 58 . This. 289 ff. So far as concerns the particular paradigmatic moral 'ought'-judgments which I presented at the outset.. however. Moral. Legal. rather I have treated these combinations as enthymemes having such specific 'ought'-premisses as: "Whenever some person is starving and someone else can relieve him at no comparable cost to himself. See also my "Categorial Consistency in Ethics. 17 (1967). and economic institutions which foster such libertarian and egalitarian rights. concludes my argument. then the institutions themselves must first be justifiable through the PGC. not to mention his other purposes. then." Philosophical Quarterly. follow from the PGC. and the PGC in turn follows. It would mean that while the agent participates in the situation voluntarily and with basic wellbeing. Unlike the direct institutional derivations considered earlier. such intentional inaction in the described circumstances is itself an action that interferes with the basic well-being of the persons in need. I have not derived them directly from their antecedent 'is'-statements about B's starving and so forth. and it hence requires actions which support such institutions. the general point is that since the PGC requires an equal distribution of the most basic rights of action. While I do not have the time now to go into such institutional applications." These 'ought'-premisses. 10). vol. pp. For it prevents.
including the evaluations and rightclaims he makes. then the 'ought'-judgments which I have derived have the five characteristics indicated in my first section. Let us examine whether this is so. They are also prescriptive. a complex version of what I have called the internal model of the relation between 'ought' and 'is'. has been derived from his acting for purposes. The agent's application of this concept. Hence. finally. If this derivation has been successful. however. their 'oughts' are not categorical. so long as its necessary relation to the context of action is recognized. I have not directly defined 'ought' in terms of'is'. We have already seen that the PGC and the more specific 'ought'-judgments that follow from it are moral and egalitarian. 59 . for they rule out the coercion and basic harm which we saw were permitted by other 'is-ought' derivations. descriptive statement. through several intermediate steps. since they follow logically from the agent's prescriptive claim that he has a right to freedom and basic well-being. And the agent's application of the concept of good. I have held that the application of 'ought' is entailed by the correlative concept of having a right. from the 'is'-statement made by the agent that he performs actions for purposes. The objection would be that there is a conflict between the categorical and the dialectical. but not absolutely. It may be questioned. I have in this indirect way derived 'ought' from 'is'. has been derived from the concept of goods which are the necessary conditions of all his actions. the particular moral 'ought'-judgments have been derived. given his initial statement that he performs actions for purposes. if it constitutes a resolution of the real 'Is-Ought' Problem. since he necessarily claims that he has a right to at least these goods. in turn. Since my argument has been dialectical in that it proceeds from within the standpoint of the agent. only relatively to the agent's standpoint. Since the agent's assertion that he acts for purposes is an empirical. this does not establish that those judgments are really correct or binding. I have here presented.THE 'IS-OUGHT PROBLEM RESOLVED have indicated. the PGC and the ensuing ought-judgments I have derived are valid. whether the condition of categoricalness has been satisfied. so holds the objection. Even if the agent is logically compelled to uphold certain 'ought'-judgments. Whether the derivation is at each point definitional or is rather of some other non-arbitrary sort does not materially affect my argument. rather. And they are determinate. from an empirical 'is'-statement. then. Hence.
Hence. It will be recalled that in my original specification I said that for 'ought'judgments to be categorical the normative bindingness of the requirements they set forth cannot be removed or evaded by variable. including their self-interested desires or their contingent choices. it is impossible intentionally to refrain from committing oneself to the context of the generic features of action. because the derived 'ought' reflects not a dispensable choice or commitment but rather a necessity which is not subject to any choice or decision on the part of the agent. I then pointed out that actions as viewed by him have certain ineluctable evaluative and normative elements. Since moral 'oughts' apply only or primarily to the context of action and hence to agents. This condition of categoricalness is fulfilled by the PGC's 'ought'-judgment. opinions. for any such refraining would itself exhibit those features. This necessity also explicates the respect in which moral judgments have truth-value. The objector hence cannot say. The PGC and the moral judgments that follow from it are true in that they correspond to the concept of a rational agent. it is open to him to choose or to refrainfrom choosing to commit himself to that context with its requirements. "You've reached a commitment or prescription in the conclusion only 60 . Now an assumption of this dilemma was that for any person who undertakes to derive 'ought' from 'is' within some context. Doesn't this mean that I have reached a normative or at least a prescriptive 'ought'-conclusion only by putting normativeness or prescriptiveness into my premiss about action? It was this question that figured in the 'dilemma of commitment' that I presented above. As we have seen. escapable features of the persons addressed.AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION My reply to this objection is that the dialectically necessary aspect of my method gives the 'ought'-conclusions a more than contingent or hypothetical status. on pain of contradiction. the 'ought' which is derived within that context is prescriptive. is to give the judgments an absolute status since their validity is logically ineluctable within the whole context of their possible application. to have shown that certain 'ought'-judgments logically must be granted by all agents. As I noted above. however. but nevertheless the derivation is not circular. what of the condition of non-circularity?Although my argument began from the agent's empirical statements that he performs actions. and attitudes. Finally. the criterion of'rational' here is a purely logical one. for they indicate what logically must be admitted by such an agent.
in other words. In any event. hence. Because the agent must advocate these rights for general reasons stemming from his simply being a prospective purposive agent. or attitudes on the part of the agent. hence. his advocacy must logically be extended to all other persons." for the latter commitment in the premiss is not one that the deriver has chosen or has put into the premiss. on pain of self-contradiction. To summarize: Because actions are conative and value-pursuing. then. an acknowledgment that one ought to act in certain basic moral ways. hence. it logically cannot be evaded or reversed regardless of any variable desires. by an analysis of the generic features of action and their normative implications. as already noted. is that the 'is' of the performance of actions having the generic features logically generates the 'ought' of categorical moral judgments. And because this extension is based on the generic and hence inescapable features of action. he makes judgments which fulfill the condition of prescriptiveness. but he cannot evade it. the commitment is there in the nature of the case. his judgments fulfill the conditions of determinacy and categoricalness. and all he is doing is recognize it. In this way. and the prescriptiveness of the moral 'ought'-conclusion is accounted for more specifically by the advocacy embodied in his right-claim together with its logical generalization. Alan Gewirth University of Chicago 61 . choices. they commit the agent to advocate or endorse for himself the rights of freedom and basic well-being which are the proximate necessary prerequisites of all his acting. What I have tried to show here.THE 'IS-OUGHT' PROBLEM RESOLVED because you've already chosen to put the commitment or prescription into your premiss. I have argued that the real 'IsOught' Problem is resolved. Rather. the initial premiss of the derivation is the agent's empirical statement that he performs actions for purposes. that the fact of being a purposive agent logically requires. or. his judgments fulfill the conditions of being moral and egalitarian. then.