One of the common presumptions of our day is that facts and values are utterly, irreconcilably distinct. That is, that IS and OUGHT are irreconcilably separated by an ugly gulch that cannot be bridged. But, this is again one of those little errors in the beginning that have ruinous consequences as they spread out into our thinking and living in community.
Let’s start with Hume’s Guillotine argument from his A Treatise of Human Nature:
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason. ”
This is a crucial error, one that commonly appears in our thinking.
(Notice, how, all along, there is an implicit assumption that the reader acknowledges a known duty to truth, right reason, fairness etc. That’s a big clue that we simply cannot sever IS and OUGHT, and that the only viable project is to discover how they are fused; also recognising that this must be in the world-root. As, only there can there be an undeniable bridging and fusion that allows us to freely and confidently bring both to bear in our cognitive endeavours. And, notice: this is NOT a proof, we are forced already to implicitly use that entanglement of IS and OUGHT at each and every step along the way. We cannot stand outside the circle, we cannot escape the entanglement. We are facing self-evidence and world-root level first principles here. Fully parallel to how we cannot but use distinct identity in thought and life, bringing with it LOI, LNC, LEM and the natural counting numbers etc.)
A good point to proceed from is an exchange that developed in the Getting at Truth thread, between Sev and myself:
SEV (with comments), 44: >>We’ve been over this ground before [–> Yes, we are currently doing a review of first principles because our civilisation has gone ruinously wrong at root level] but “Once more unto the breach…”
1] The first self evident moral truth is that we are inescapably under the government of ought.
I think the concept of self-evident truths outside formal systems like mathematics or logic is problematical but, regardless, since my view is that moral claims can be neither true nor false there can be no self-evident moral truths. [–> notice the worldview framing]
This does not preclude the possibility that there are acts, such as the rape and murder of a child, which almost everyone can agree is most egregiously immoral. [–> notice, community consensus (and so the edict of the power-brokers) as yardstick] You can say it is self-evidently immoral to us but is it self-evident in any universal sense? [–> it is always possible to cling to absurdity (think, Nazism/fascism and the as yet unfinished history of Communism), and there are those who are defective in thought, hence the pons asinorum principle in Geometry and elsewhere]
2] Second self evident truth, we discern that some things are right and others are wrong by a compass-sense we term conscience which guides our thought. (Again, objectors depend on a sense of guilt/ urgency to be right not wrong on our part to give their points persuasive force.
We certainly observe that in most if not all human societies codes of what is acceptable behavior emerge which people feel compelled to live by and which they feel bad about when they don’t observe. [–> conscience acknowledged but reframed in terms of cultural particularity]
3] Third, were this sense of conscience and linked sense that we can make responsibly free, rational decisions to be a delusion, we would at once descend into a status of grand delusion in which there is no good ground for confidence in our self-understanding.
It would only be delusional if there were an insistence that the sense of conscience were a manifestation of some natural moral law for which we could find no objective evidence [–> and, good sir, why is “objective evidence” of any significance, apart from duties to truth, right reason, fairness, etc? Also, if we have an illusory voice within that is ungrounded in reality but shapes our reasoning and arguing, that would perforce be evidence of grand, essentially universal delusion] . . . >>
KF, 47: >>Notice, how you [Sev] inadvertently inserted a presumption that shifted the goal-posts? That’s a signature of a worldview driving conclusions.
So, back to first principles: self-evidence is about start-points for warrant, in effect asking where is it that we are forced to accept premises antecedent to onward warrant, on which warrant builds. Thus, the concept that we come to the question with world-experiences and as going concern thinkers. Warrant cannot be chained forever or go in futile circles, so are there yardsticks that are naturally present? Yes, there are things which (once we understand) we see are so, are necessarily so and are necessarily so on pain pf patent, immediate absurdity on the attempted denial. That is, some sort of self-defeating explosion happens if we try to deny them.
Notice, that is broader than self-referential incoherence, precisely because we need something broader than that case, to operate in the world as responsible, rational thinkers.
For example, the project of responsible persuasive argument presumes known duty to truth, right reason, fairness etc. Try the denial of such duties and you reduce reasoned discussion to nihilistic, cynical manipulation by the more clever and ruthless, utterly corroding the fabric of society and undermining human thriving. Explosion. In a world of message dominance by irresponsible manipulation, there is no basis for reasonable discussion, only for suspicion and polarisation. (Resemblance to current political discourse and the media across our civilisation is NOT coincidental.)
This immediately means that rational life is inextricably entangled with moral duties, the responsibility that we have mentioned.
Now, that is not a proof, but it is a test of insight and good sense, AKA wisdom.
Let us come back to moral SET 1 (and 2): moral government attested to by the inner witness of conscience.
The testimony of conscience to duties violated or sometimes to duties fulfilled even at terrible cost, is an integral aspect of our conscious self-awareness. We cannot effectively deny its presence or influence in general, and for cause regard those with deadened or defective consciences as monstrous or at least severely damaged.
It cannot be denied, it is a commonplace of our common experience of the world. And, it is inextricably entangled with our rational enterprises as they pivot on known, acknowledged, expected conscious (and sub conscious) awareness of duties to truth and right reason, fairness etc.
Acknowledging this is a necessary start point for not only reasoning on moral subjects but on general topics.
Where, of course, conscience is a testimony not a legislator. We also know that it can be dulled or deadened, or even overly sensitive. The roots of duty lie elsewhere.
And post-Hume we know that elsewhere must only lie at the world-root or else we face fatal groundlessness, including for our project of collective reasoning and knowledge-building through adequate warrant.
Conscience is indeed a first and self-evident moral truth.>>
That is how much is at stake. END