Is-Ought Problem

Frank Walton writes: “Evolutionist Dr. Massimo Pigliucci writes, ‘It has been pretty obvious since Darwin that we, indeed, are nothing but machines.’ Obviously, then, there wouldn’t be a problem if one machine ‘kills’ another machine. When an automobile slams and crashes into another automobile do we say that the cars murdered one another?”

Walton makes a very common mistake here, one that was first recognized by David Hume and which philosophers call the “is-ought problem” after Hume’s comment in Book 3 of his Treatise:

“In every system of morality… the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning… [and then] 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.”

Hume goes on to say that an ought or ought not can never be deduced from an is or is not. In other words, a statement about a fact (or what is the case) does not entail a moral conclusion of what should be done or how we ought to react to the fact. In this case, Pigliucci’s ontological remark that human beings are machine-like does not lead to the moral conclusion that murder is justifiable. Walton inappropriately derives an ought from an is. This faulty thinking is another reason Kahlo was asked 17 times “If you don’t believe in God, why care about anything?”

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