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Bernard Marx On November - 20 - 2009


Here it is people, the answer.

(The question, by the way, is: politics – why?)

The answer is:

Hume’s Guillotine’: One of the core philosophical problems of all time. That is ‘‘can an ought-statement (we ought to do …) be entailed by an is-statement or set of is-statements (the situations is …)?’

What this means is that just because we can describe reality doesn’t mean that we can logically derive an ought-statement from that description.

So we can marshal as much evidence as we can to argue our cases but at the end of the day what we are really arguing over is our values and beliefs.

I believe these are right but they can never be proven absolutely. Hence politics.

Categories: Observations

11 Responses so far.

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  1. KevenSeven says:


    Thanks for a thought provoking comment. Welcome aboard and keep them coming.

  2. nellie says:

    Beliefs differ for different people, and there’s strength in numbers. Hence politics. That’s my take, at any rate.

  3. KQuark says:

    As my Japanese Western Civ teacher use to tell us in the real world perception is reality.

  4. bitohistory says:

    Sorry, O/T Landriew(sp) is going to vote to invoke cloture.

    • nellie says:

      Woo hoo.

      I’ve been resisting turning this thing on after spending an entire Saturday watching the House, but I guess I’m going to give in now.

      • escribacat says:

        Me too! I felt cross-eyed and almost ill after that last one! But here I am with the dang thing on again! Chores…chores…I’ll get some chores done during the speeches where the repubs try to turn our health care bill into an abortion bill…..slimebags!!!

  5. bitohistory says:

    Why cannot one logically derive a just action? Do I need to accept your premise that mankind is without any innate sense of what is best for his survivability? Is it just a “belief” or “value” that One has to eat, drink and shelter oneself to survive?

    • Bernard Marx says:

      I’m not taking a relativistic position. Which means I’m not saying all values are equal or that some are not better than others. But evidence of what a situation IS, does not logically lead to how a situation OUGHT to be. For this we must argue for our values. Which for me would be about fairness (an idea which in itself can be seen in many different ways).

      Yes, you are right that one has to eat, drink and shelter to survive -- this is an IS statement. How we then derive an OUGHT statement comes down to our values.

      How many children die each year due to unclean water? Many. This is an IS statement. What we do about that situation is an OUGHT statement. Our values again …

      Being aware that what we are fighting for is out values is a good thing, because it forces us to explictly debate the ethical dimensions of a situation instead of just trading is-statements in the hope that people will be convinced by them.

  6. dndobson says:

    Very well stated.

    I would add that politics also derives from a need to work together for a common interest (which likely evolved out of a realization that working apart and at cross purposes was generally bad for everyone.)

    All these absurd Senate rules making HCR so difficult likely exist to give the losers a sense of being part of he process. The will of the majority is not always enough, in our system, and it wasn’t that long ago that I was glad for that un-balancing of power. Of course it can go to far…but nothing is more contentious in politics than changing the rules of the game.

    • Bernard Marx says:

      You’re quite right. Another eternal philosophical question -- what obligations do we have to one and other? And how should we live together?

      At the core of our politics are these big questions. Making them more explicit will (I believe) enhance the quality of our political discourse.

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