In the Treatise of Human Nature, Hume outlined the ‘is-ought’ problem, sometimes referred to as ‘Hume’s Guillotine’. The idea is that it is not possible to argue validly from ‘descriptive’ statements (about how things are) to ‘normative’ conclusions (about how things ought to be).
Hume describes how he often notices a change that takes place when he is reading certain passages on moral philosophy:
“I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence” (Section 3.1.1)
Examples of this switch include the move from 1 to 2 in the following examples:
- X makes people happy
- Therefore, people ought to do X
- God commands people to do…
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