Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Should and Ought

Any time someone says, "You should...", you should always ask "if?" Every "should" implies an "if." For example, if it is raining out, and you want to go outside, and I say "You should take an umbrella," there is an implied "if you don't want to get wet from the rain." Naturally, if you do want to get wet from the rain, then you should not take an umbrella.

We too often forget that every "should" implies an "if." You should be nice to people. If what? The federal government should (not) raise the minimum wage. If...? What is your goal? Can you meet that goal by doing the "should"? The shoulds of morality always imply a goal one is trying to reach, and one should always know what that goal is and the best way to reach that goal if you are sincere about reaching the goal and not just about looking good to the right people.

Equally, every "ought" implies that you owe someone something. If you "ought" to do X, that implies that you owe someone something for which doing X will pay the debt. You ought to be nice to grandma. Why? What do you owe her? Life, for one. And probably that sweater she gave you for Christmas. Whether you like that sweater or not, she got it for you, and you owe her at least thanks and being nice and gracious to her for thinking of you and trying to get you something nice.

That is a "simple" ought, but it gets to what underlies all oughts. You ought not lie. To whom do you owe not lying? Many of these are social rules, cultural rules. To what do you owe civil society? To what do you owe your culture? The oughts of our cultures and civil societies are what we owe them for the lives and beliefs we have.
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