Posted: Oct 02, 2017 12:36 pm
by archibald
zoon wrote:Stephen Finlay, in his 2008 paper "Oughts and Ends" here, puts forward "end relational theory" to give an ultimately non-normative account of normative "ought" terms. He proposes that "ought" sentences imply a shared concern for unstated goals, for example, when someone says "Citizens ought not to condone their government‘s practicing torture", the audience will understand this to mean something like: "[In order that suffering not be inflicted on innocent people], citizens ought not to condone their government‘s practicing torture". When it comes to the basic ought sentences, of which the example is here: "suffering ought not to be inflicted on innocent people", Finlay suggests that an "ought" statement is effectively a demand, it's using a tautology: "[In order that suffering not be inflicted on innocent people], suffering ought not to be inflicted on innocent people" to function as a rhetorical device, like saying "it is what it is". The demand is that the audience share the concern of the speaker. I think this is a more sophisticated version of what I'm saying, that in the end moral "ought" statements function as threats, because a demand implies a threat, and the clear operational threat in most moral speech is that of disapproval or worse sanctions from the community.

The three examples quoted below of basic ethical “ought” statements which Finlay puts forward all, as he says, assume a basic altruism. The practical point is that this rhetorical demand that people should share the concern "that suffering not be inflicted on innocent people" is only going to work in the real social world if most people do in fact share this basic altruistic concern. (There will be other concerns at work, the use of the "ought" statement is to bring this one to the fore.) This is where modern evolutionary theory does not get in the way, there's no incompatibility between, on the one hand, the theory and experimental results of modern evolutionary theory and, on the other hand, the predisposition to object to suffering being inflicted on innocent people which is required for Stephen Finlay's proposal to work in practice. The older evolutionary theory, that natural selection can only programme us to be self-interested, was a hefty road block to a naturalistic account of ethics like this one, because it was unable in principle to account for altruistic predispositions. The modern evolutionary theory doesn't need to state that any particular altruistic predisposition evolved, it's only the compatibility in principle which is vital for a naturalistic account of ethics. I'm quoting from the paper below, my additions are in double brackets:
Stephen Finlay (2008 Oughts and Ends) wrote:
I shall propose a theory of the semantics of ‗ought‘, consisting of six theses, which I call
the end-relational theory. This theory is reductive or broadly naturalistic, decomposing "ought" into a complex of nonnormative terms or concepts, and is thus a "cognitivist" account, although it has a significant expressivist or noncognitivist element. There are many reasons for wanting such a reductive analysis, but I shall not address them here;
(20‘) [In order that suffering not be inflicted on innocent people] Citizens ought not to
condone their government‘s practicing torture;
(21‘) [In order that he preserves his health] Grover ought to brush his teeth more often;
(22‘) [In order that you avoid irrationality] You ought not to believe a contradiction.
These sentences are all plausibly true; might they also be plausible interpretations of what someone might mean to assert on some particular occasion of uttering (20)-(22) ((Statements 20 - 22 are the statements above without the square bracketed parts))? It is highly unlikely that every use of (20)-(22) is elliptical for (20‘)-(22‘), but there are indefinitely many alternative ends, providing plausible interpretations of these other utterances. I suggest that if (20)-(22) are not true in virtue of their relation to these specified or alternative ends, then it is not immediately obvious that and how they are true at all. On the hypothesis that (20)-(22) are elliptical for claims like those expressed by (20‘)-(22‘), there is a ready explanation available for their special practical significance. In each case, the end is something that we find important or that matters to us (assuming a basic altruism).


However, in paradigms of categorical use this presupposition ((that the audience shares the implied concern)) is false; there are no plausible candidates for a relevant end that matters both to speaker and audience. What is an audience to make of a speech act that presupposes a context that transparently does not obtain?
Here we encounter a rhetorical device. To speak in a way that supposes something to be true of your audience that is clearly controversial or false is a way of expressing a demand that it be true of them; consider "In this family, we do not belch at the dinner table!" and "You will come here!" By categorical use of "ought", therefore, a speaker expresses the demand that his audience share his concern for the relevant end, and consequently for the behaviour at issue.
On the supposition that the end-relational theory is correct, therefore, a speaker may through categorical use of "ought" (omitting specification of a non-shared end) express, by virtue of these conversational principles, the demand that his audience have concern for that end and that they act accordingly. I propose:
Sixth Thesis: Categorical uses of ‘ought’ are rhetorical uses of the endrelational
‘ought’ based on ellipsis.
On this proposal, the characteristic features of categorical use are understood largely as the expressivists suggest, but as a pragmatic rather than the semantic function of "ought". I shall now suggest that categorical uses of "ought" are constituted by not one, but a family of different rhetorical uses, falling into two categories. In one, the audience can identify the end despite its not being in (the forefront of) the context.36 In the other, they are unable to identify any relevant end.
An audience may be able to identify an appropriate end despite its being missing from
the (foreground of the) shared context in at least the following three ways. First, the end might be discernable from the speaker‘s own known concerns. Second, a categorical use of "ought" can invoke a social institution based on this rhetorical device, whereby there are certain ends that are socially "expected" of agents: a morality. Where such an institution exists, an audience is able to glean from content and categorical use of an ought-sentence that it assumes qualification by these moral ends. In my view this is often what happens when we make moral claims.

My third suggestion offers a preliminary answer to the problem of ultimate ends, previously set aside.
Some examples of ultimate moral ends were brought up earlier:
(23) Suffering ought not to be inflicted on innocent people;
(24) Grover ought to preserve his health;
(25) You ought to avoid irrationality.
Ought-propositions concerning ultimate ends may be merely a limiting case for the end-relational theory, because we can generate trivially true end-relational interpretations of (23)-(25) as the following tautologies:
(23‘) [In order that suffering not be inflicted on innocent people,] Suffering ought not to be inflicted on innocent people;
(24‘) [In order that he preserves his health,] Grover ought to preserve his health;
(25‘) [In order that you avoid irrationality,] You ought to avoid irrationality
These interpretations may seem quite implausible. While (23‘)-(25‘) are trivial, (23)-(25) seem to be potentially relevant, informative, and even important for communicative purposes.
However, if the real conversational function of uttering (23)-(25) is to demand motivation towards the relevant ends (or at least the prescribed behaviour) rather than to convey their semantic content, then their significance is quite compatible with their being tautologous. We often find that communicative purposes can be served by asserting tautologies: consider "A fact is a fact" and "It ain‘t over till it‘s over". With regard to the communication problem, tautologies may present an advantage. If the relevant ends aren‘t salient in any other way, there may be a default assumption that the intended end is identical with the "means". This interpretation of (23)-(25) is admittedly speculative...........

That paper looks interesting and I hope to find the time to read it soon. Thanks for posting.