Monday, January 9, 2012

Mailbag Monday: Is-Ought Problem

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.


Alex writes,

will you explain the is-ought problem and its implications?
Thanks, bro.

Aw yeah, the is-ought problem. Shit's classic, bro, goes back to Hume, and it goes something like this:

Sometimes, when I'm talking ethics with my bros, they describe the way the world is. They're like, "That chair is over there. The bar closes at 4AM. The sky is blue." and I'm like, "Yup. Yup." How could I disagree? These are obviously true things. But then suddenly they're like, "Therefore, we should go on a roadtrip tomorrow." And I'm like, "woooooooooah!" How the fuck did they get from how things are, to how things should be? Those aren't the same at allIf I asked, "Where should we go?" and you told me where we already are, that wouldn't answer my fucking question.

Let's say my bro Ice and I are drinking. Ice is about to do some stupid drunken shit (as he's wont to do) and I say the following:

"You are so drunk that you could die if you tried that."

That's an is-statement. It just describes something about Ice and the thing he's about to do. Maybe you're thinking he should not do this fucking thing. But why not? "Because he'll die." So what? "Well, you shouldn't do stuff that will kill you." AHA! See, that's not an is-statement. It's an ought-statement, which describes how Ice should proceed. Before we could say that Ice shouldn't do this stupid fucking thing, we needed to say he shouldn't do stupid fucking things in general.

People typically accept that statement, and in fact, so many people accept that statement that it seems obvious, and you might miss that it's hiding in there. You might just gloss right over it.

Sometimes, though, the hidden ought isn't so widely accepted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

George Berkeley's "Treatise Concerning Principles of Human Knowledge": A Summary

Ideas are just the things that go on in our minds. Perceptions, imagination, thoughts. Everyone seems to be on board with the suggestion that, you know, ideas couldn't exist without minds. Right? That seems straightforward, right? If no minds existed to percieve things, then how could anyone have ideas? If minds didn't exist, what would feel the sensation of getting burned? Nothing.

Okay. So, uh, why do people think that shit exists outside the mind, too? How does that even fucking happen? That shit does not make sense. Here are the things that we know exist: the things we percieve. Here are the things we percieve: the things that there are. That's it! That's all there is! Want proof? Watch this: try to think of something that exists without existing in a mind somewhere. Got it? Good. Gotcha bitch. IT'S IN YOUR MIND oh snap you just got told.