Is isn’t Ought


Useful to be reminded this week that among David Hume’s many contributions to the world of ideas is this one – you can’t get an ought from an is.

So it is. You can describe a phenomenon or circumstance, however awful or wonderful but it doesn’t mean it’s objectively good or bad.

Nearly everyone struggles with this. It feels all wrong – but that’s the point, it feels. ‘Oughts’ are a matter of interpretation and beliefs, not matters of fact.

9/10ths of bother in human affairs derives from this misunderstanding. And so it was this week as I was besieged by people pointing out things they didn’t like – and inviting me to agree with them on what ought to be the case. Generally I didn’t.

Sometimes, all you can do is give people the context; more facts and data, the ‘oughts’ we all end up deciding for ourselves.

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