Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Charles Hixson (
Date: Fri Feb 13 2009 - 19:21:15 MST

Johnicholas Hines wrote:
> On Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:50 PM, Charles Hixson
> <> wrote:
>> Yes, it was intended to answer a question.
> You seem to have read this sentence: "What do we mean by "should"?"
> and attempted to answer it. I apologize for confusing you with my bad
> writing, but I intended the question to be rhetorical. My intent was
> to argue that the precise semantics of "should", "ought", "duty",
> "obligation", "morality", "ethics" are NOT important.
>> Should is to shall as will is to would as ought is to owe as might is to may. Duty and morality are separate concepts from these.
> In a conversation about a proposed action (murder for the sake of
> cannibalism, for example), all of these are roughly similar:
> You should not kill and eat people because (justification).
Statement of negative intention (somehow converted into second person)
> You ought not to kill and eat people because (justification).
Statement of debt or obligation.
> You have a duty to avoid killing and eating people because (justification).
Statement of honor.
> It is immoral to kill and eat people because (justification).
Statement of tradition?
> It is unethical to to kill and eat people because (justification).
Statement of social cohesion?
    . . . . . .
No, they aren't equivalent. There are large areas of overlap, but they
aren't equivalent. (OTOH, you are the one who added killing. Some
instances of cannibalism, perhaps most, were ritualistic funerals.)

Additionally, each of those justifications would be different, with
differing logical consequences. (Also note that I wouldn't say "You
should not...", but only either "I should not..." or "One should
not...". To me the first form has a very unclear meaning.)
> Splitting hairs about the subtly different historical and linguistic
> connotations of these options is a red herring. We do have commonsense
> understandings of these words, and can use them to attempt to persuade
> one another to action. I was arguing against the tendency on this list
> speak only in descriptions, like this:
> (description of a dystopian future containing cannibalism).
I was actually thinking of various past cultures that practiced, or were
reputed to practice, one or another form of cannibalism.
> We are building the future now. Futurists, in addition to trying to
> predict the future, should advocate as clearly as possible the actions
> that they believe would build a good future.
> Johnicholas
If we want the future that we build to have any chance of enduring, then
we need to be clear about our foundational concepts. Blurring
distinctions is an invitation false reasoning. So it's important that
the language used to describe it be unambiguous. This is very
difficult. It's probably impossible. But one can attempt to minimize
the ambiguity while still retaining sufficient generality to apply to
actual circumstances.

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