Before we go any future on the specifics of the “is-ought” dichotomy, it is crucial that we understand the distinction between ethics and morality. Anyone not able to clearly articulate the differences between these two philosophical ideas and how they specifically relate has no business discussing Hume’s law, or any other ethical or moral question, for that matter…because they can have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Understanding Hume’s is-ought dilemma and, more importantly, its complete rational, not to mention ethical, failure is predicated upon knowing the difference and the relationship between morality and ethics. Thankfully, it is quite simple.
“Ethics” is the broad philosophical category. Morality is a type of ethics—an ethical system based upon a specific epistemology, and this rooted in a specific metaphysical description of realty…a metaphysical primary. Moral behavior can be ethical behavior, but only if the ethics being implied are rooted in an epistemology which implies morality, and that rooted in a metaphysics which implies the epistemology which implies the moral ethics.
Not all ethics, therefore, are moral. Legality, for example, is a completely different type of ethics, because legality is rooted in fundamentally different epistemology and metaphysics. Thus, there is for example no such thing as a “moral law”…this is a complete fallacy. “Moral law” is a contradiction in terms, because morality and legality presume completely different epistemology and metaphysics (a comprehensive discussion of this can be found in many previous articles on this blog). Speaking of “moral law”, a third example of ethics might be a hybrid of legality-morality that one might find in western liberal democracies, where the law is said to exist in service to moral truths. This hybrid is fundamentally irrational and observably false, because governments dictate, they do not suggest, and you cannot dictate morality. Morality is rooted in choice. One only acts morally IF they are able to exercise choice. Legality is rooted in authority, and authority is force. And forced behavior is by definition behavior which is compelled, and thus is irrespective of choice.
So, whenever morality is discussed, such as in Hume’s Law, it is important to remember that we are dealing with a specific kind of ethics—morality—and these are rooted in specific epistemology and specific metaphysics. Hume’s Law would be anathema to legality, other than perhaps a tangential affirmation of it, because legality cannot accommodate any “ought”—categorical, hypothetical, or otherwise. Legality tells us what ethical behavior one WILL DO—or else suffer punishment from the external authority in charge—not what one ought do—or else suffer consequences that one has brought on himself.
Hume’s Law only addresses morality, and specifically, it is the explicit assertion that morality is an irrational type of ethics, and thus is not objective, and thus does not actually exist, and thus is utterly inefficacious and irrelevant to reality and truth. Proponents of Hume’s Law are NOT—and this is crucial to understand—denying that objective ethics exist even if they think they are (and I submit that likely most of them do). They are merely denying that objective moral ethics exist.
But the declaration of the utter spuriousness of morality MUST be based upon preconceived epistemological and metaphysical assumptions. In other words, ethical conclusions are an unavoidable outcome and consequence of epistemological and metaphysical foundations and assumptions, and are derived directly from them. That is, those foundations inexorably and inevitably lead to ethical conclusions, and thus cannot lead to NO ethics. They may not lead to no MORAL ethics, but they will lead to some type of ethics.
Therefore, the question which should be routinely posed to proponents of Hume’s Law and advocates of the is-ought contraction is: What are your ethics? What is your definition good and the evil if not in terms of morality? And if they have no answer, or their answer is incomplete, then they can have no real argument against morality. Because it means that their metaphysics and epistemology have lead them either to NO ethical conclusions, which means that they have NO understanding of nature of reality (metaphysics) and NO understanding of what constitutes truth (epistemology), OR their metaphysics and epistemology are false and/or insufficient. In either case, they can make no rational claim against morality, since one can only disprove a given ethics—in this case morality— by providing more logical and consistent ethics, and this by holding a more logical and consistent epistemology and metaphysics.
And this, I submit, is impossible…moral ethics are in fact the MOST rational ethics possible. In my experience, without moral ethics one is left inevitably defending either the idea of “no ethics”, which is impossible because any ethical assertion, even the conclusion that there are no ethics, is based upon metaphysical and epistemological conclusions that MUST and NECESSARILY lead to specific ethics (the conclusion that there is no ethics implies that there is no epistemology and no metaphysics, which means that they cannot assert anything about ethics including that they do not exist; in fact, they cannot assert anything about anything at all), OR they are left defending legal ethics, which are rooted in rationally bankrupt metaphysics.
Just quick word on that:
The metaphysics of legality are unavoidably determinist, which makes them inexorably a zero sum proposition. The assertion of determinism is the assertion of nothing at all. Any determining force must itself be determined, since all of its outcomes, according to the very nature and definition of determinism, could at no time, ever, have been theoretical, hypothetical, unknown, or non-existent—in other words, the determinist force at no time could NOT have determined the outcomes it determined, making the outcomes of determinism as infinite and absolute as determinism itself. This leaves no distinction between the determinist force and the outcomes it has determined. This makes determinism an infinite regression to itself, concluding at nothing but itself, and proceeding from nowhere but itself. Determinism—determinist metaphysics, the metaphysics of legal ethics—is a self nullifying proposition
But enough of that. On to part four.
END part Three