[lit-ideas] Re: What Pigden Ought To Say

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2014 11:35:57 +0100

It might help assess claims being made if examples were given:
for example, an example of a 'vacuous' "ought" that may be deduced from an 

My contention is that the passage fails to give a valid argument that there is 
such a valid deduction, either in the case of a supposed 'vacuous' "ought" or a 
'non-vacuous' one. Perhaps if an example were given we might examine whether it 
is valid or bears scrutiny?


On Thursday, 4 September 2014, 10:24, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" 
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

How vacuous can 'ought' get?

How non-logical can 'ought' ought to be?

And so on.

I realise that McEvoy was commenting NOT on the last passage from Pigden's  
online essay on NOFI ("No ought from is") but the last but one. Therefore I 
shall provide a reading commentary of the original Pigden passage for the 
sake  of it. 


In a message dated 9/3/2014 5:50:25 P.M. Eastern Daylight  Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
The above is an unclear and  invalid  argument against the so-called 
"naturalistic fallacy". It  fails to show that  even a "vacuous" "ought" 
may be 
derived or deduced  from an "is". Leaving Hume's  views (and G.E. Moore's) 
we can  defend a version of the "naturalistic  fallacy" that would insist 
there  is never a logically valid deduction of an  "ought" from an "is": 
we may do is deduce an "ought" from an "ought" but  never from an "is",  
it always a confusion to suggest otherwise.  Let us  say we  have a 
where what "ought" to be the case is also what "is"  the  case: for 
that not only should Paul repay Peter the money  he borrowed  but also it 
the case that Paul repays Peter - from all  this, can we now  "deduce" that 
what is the case here also "ought" to  be the case? Yes, but in  saying 
we have not deduced the "ought"  from any "is" but from another  "ought": 
fact Paul repays Peter is  not a fact from which we can deduce that  Paul 
ought to repay Peter;  rather from the "ought" that "Paul should repay  
we can deduce  that "Paul repays Peter" is what ought to be the case. In  
kind of  deduction there is no deduction of an "ought" from an "is". The  
quoted  passage fails to give any clear or cogent argument showing that 
sort  of "vacuous" "ought" may be deduced or derived from some "is".  
failed in  this, we need not take seriously any suggestion that  the 
offers any  serious alternative to the view that an "ought"  can never be 
derived from an  "is".  It should be emphasised that  this version of the 
"naturalistic  fallacy" is compatible with claims  that what "ought" to be 
the case 
may be  conditional on certain facts:-  as long as we recognise these 
are  themselves "oughts" and never  are "oughts" deduced or derived from 
facts.   What may happen is  that certain views [e.g. certain forms of 
utilitarianism]  assert that  what "ought" may be established by certain 
facts [e.g. 
what "ought"  =  what in fact produces 'the greatest pleasure for the 
number'].  Proponents of such views may lose sight of the fact that  their 
assertion here is  not itself an assertion of non-moral fact but  an 
"ought". In 
this way, they may  disguise that such claims - that  what "ought" may be 
defined in terms of certain  facts - are never  claims that are provable by 
facts or derivable from facts*,  but are  always an "ought" (however 
well-disguised or embedded in factual  talk).  Donal -- *Even if we could 
show it was in 
fact the case that  "something" would  produce 'the greatest pleasure for 
the greatest  number', that would never show  that "something" is what 
ought to 
be  the case. And what ought to be the case  could not be deduced or 
from any such merely non-moral factual  demonstration.

The passage that the above is commening on is by Pigden:

Pigden writes:

"But is No-Ought-From-Is true?"

Oddly, I would think that the question to ask is if it's valid or cogent. I 
would take it as a 'principle', and 'principles', or 'rules of inference' 
are  hardly said to be true.

"Not quite."

Pigden fortunately writes. This allows for 'not' as properly applied to  
category mistakes.

"A home is not a house".

"Virtue is not a circle".

And so on.

(Although admittedly, the 'quite' complicates: "Caesar is not quite a prime 

Pigden goes on:

"It is an instance of the logical principle"

or perhaps 'meta-logical' -- cfr. Hunter, "Meta-logic". And cfr. all that  
Hare wrote about 'meta-ethic' and echoed by Oxford philosopher and fellow of 
Trinity, P. H. Nowell-Smith: "We philosophers are meta-ethicists, hardly  
moralists" -- as Hume _was_. (For him -- i.e. for Hume -- morals belongs to 
the  passions -- perhaps alla Witters, and not to what it _is_, which is 
judged by  reason and opinion, but to what it is valued, or desires, which is a 
matter of  the OTHER faculty of human nature -- to echo the title of his 

"... that in a valid inference," Pigden goes on,

"there can be no matter in the conclusion that is not contained in the  
premises, and as the New Zealand logician Arthur Prior pointed out this is not  
strictly correct."

Pigden, like Prior, hail from New Zealand. I would call Prior an Oxford  
philosopher, and not just a "New Zealand logician", though. His associations  
with Oxford were long and influential. And all his papers were compiled by 
the  Clarendon Press, which is Oxford's official press -- cfr. 'the Clarendon 
type'  -- and the annual Prior lectures are held in Oxford -- 'the city of 
the dreaming  spires'. 

Pigden goes on:

"However, what we can show is that if you have non-logical words"

I'm never sure what this means. As Humpty Dumpty says, "Give me a word and  
I turn it into a 'logical' one. Impenetrability! That's what I say!".

"... in the conclusion of a valid inference that do not appear in the  
premises," Pigden alleges,

"they will be vacuous in a certain sense and that in a logically valid  
argument you can’t get anything non-vacuous out that you haven’t put in."

This, I agree with McEvoy, merits commentary. I'm never sure what 'vacuous' 
means even if Grice wrote an essay on "Vacuous Names" (it was meant for 
the  Reidel issue on Quine, "Words and Objections", but due to Grice's delay 
in  composing it, it appeared only in the book format of the issue, as edited 
by  Davidson and Hintikka.

For Grice, 'vacuous' is best used for 'names': "Pegasus" is a vacuous name, 
he claims.


This is NOT Pigden's idea, and let's see if by continuing reading we get a  
better grasp. "It is raining or it is not raining" may be said to be 
vacuous. It  ain't of course. It speaks, metalogically, of the Excluded Third, 
Aristotle  called it, and it's certainly false for Intuitionists.

Conclusions are a trick. Grice's example:

"Paul is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave".

Is 'therefore' part of the conclusion? No (It merely marks a  conventional 
implicature, as he calls it, to the effect that some reasoning has  taken 
place). But there may be items in the conclusion that are similarly  
implicatural in matter, yet not vacuous. 

When Stevenson thought to oppose Utilitarianism and created his Emotivism  
(that Grice adored), in "Language and Ethics" (Yale Univ. Press, 1941), he 
would  say that "O" (ought) IS a 'logical' operator, rather than a 
non-logical word as  Pigden seems to want us to have it. And to "O" we may add 
which expresses  emotion:



"Well done!"

"Paul is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave!"

In "Brave!", the "!" is part of the conclusion, but 'emotional' in nature.  
I think Blackburn deals with this in his version of con-cognitivism.


Pigden goes on:

"This gives us No-Non-Vacuous–Ought-From-Is which is close enough to the  
original NOFI to sustain Hume’s key arguments. So for simplicity’s sake we 
will  stick with No-Ought-From-Is in its original form."

Perhaps we could go on and consult Roget's Thesaurus and find a simpler way 
to express 'non-vacuous'. "Substantial"? "Substantive"? God knows.

"Informative" may be closer to what we are looking for.

"It is raining or it is not raining" is VACUOUS because non-informative,  
and one of the conversational maxims is "Be informative", or strictly, "As  
informative as is required". 

Yet some axioms in logic, such as "p v ~ p", p or not-p, is blatantly  
NON-informative, and thus vacuous, yet still useful. So I don't see that we may 
assume that Hume is wanting to stick to 'oughts' which are informative.

But then, as Pigden says, it's best to stick with Hume's original  wordings.

I think Hudson dedicated a whole book to this, and I assume Pigden's PhD  
dissertation dealt on this too? As Palma was noting, this was a topic of  
interest for J. R. Searle while Searle as a Rhodes scholar (was it?) at Oxford  
in the heyday of linguistic philosophy (and studying under Austin and 
getting  supervised by Strawson). 

In the long run we may have to return to Hare who made the best  
distinctions in the field, with his tropics, and clistics, and neustics and  



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