Wednesday, March 02, 2016

"Ought Implies Can."

March 4, 2016 at 3:21 P.M. I have not yet received a response to my communications from any law enforcement official or government agency in America that I have contacted. However, I have received a notice from New York's Court Clerk calling me to jury service for the third time.

Perhaps there is a New Jersey connection for N.Y.'s Court Clerk. 

I will complete the necessary form, keep a copy with a proof of mailing. I will not speak to anyone privately or at length while serving in any jury panel until I am excused. 

This jury duty may further interfere with my writing schedule, but I will do my best to continue posting essays at these blogs at about the same rate as usual from multiple locations in the city, including (if possible) from computers located in the courthouse. 

If at the conclusion of Mr. Obama's presidency access to my blogs is obstructed, I will try to create another blog elsewhere online. ("How censorship works in America.") 

The danger associated with splashing acid on people in the streets of this city is that you may miss your intended target -- me, for example -- injuring innocent persons in Manhattan. 

The public safety issues in my situation seem to be increasing in urgency. 

I have not yet received a response from any public official in America to my communications that have been made public. 

My next essay focusing on New Jersey corruption will be posted at this blog -- if I am able to continue writing -- and will be sent with one hundred sources attached and with copies indicating continuing Internet and computer crime, burdening interstate commerce and threatening national security, to the NSA.

The overnight mail receipt number for this package will also be published so that readers may "track" the delivery of the items. 

I doubt that I am being ignored by the authorities even if I have yet to receive a formal response. ("An Open Letter to Cyrus Vance, Jr., Esq.")

Due to interference and harassment posting new texts is very difficult. I cannot send or receive emails. No images can be posted at this blog. 

I am beginning to understand how Melissa Harris-Perry must feel. 

Attacks should be directed against me and not my family members. 

Primary Sources:

Vlad Chituc & Paul Henne, "The Data Against Kant," Sunday Opinion, The New York Times, February 21, 2016, p. 9.

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork For the Metaphysics of Morals: On the Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Pub. Co., Inc.: 1993, 1st Ed. 1785). (Translation by James W. Ellington.) ("C.I.A. Lies and Torture" and "Obama Says Torture is a Secret.")

Paul Guyer, ed., Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: Critical Essays (New York & Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). (See especially the essays by Henry E. Allison, Onora O'Neill, Christine M. Korsgaard, and, most importantly, Dieter Heinrich.)

Immanuel Kant, Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works On The Theory of Ethics (London: Longman, Green & Co., 1883). 

Secondary Sources;

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1962), p. 277.

Bryan Magee, Ultimate Questions (Oxford/Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2016), pp. 59-85. 


An Op-Ed piece written by a person (or persons) using fictitious names -- persons who are unlikely to be professors of philosophy or psychology (I hope) at any American university -- rather than undermining the Kantian principle that "ought implies can" has the effect of vindicating and reinforcing Kant's well-known maxim. 

The persons writing this article, in my opinion, have used among other false names (lying?) the following bylines: "Jim Holt," "Caitlin Flanagan," "Jennifer Shuessler," Manohla Dargis," and "George Johnson." 

The person(s) making use of these pseudonyms represent the Right-wing sector of the political spectrum, for the most part, and seem to be members of America's political class. Senator Menendez? ("Is the universe only a numbers game?" and "Richard Dawkins and the Atheist Delusion.")

The author(s) of this latest essay in the Times have become recognizable, to me, for repeating egregious errors in various publications when discussing Kantian ethics and other philosophical and scientific as well as literary issues. ("Why I am not an ethical relativist" and "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.")

Evidence of serious confusions and intellectual difficulties is not a comforting thought for those of us governed by such persons. ("What is Enlightenment?" and "Derek Parfit's Ethics.")

"Felipe de Brigard" is not the name of a philosopher that I have read, or heard of, nor do I expect ever to discover such a philosopher in the real world of "data" and "empirical facts." 

I am sure that no person using such a name as "Felipe de Brigard" exists in any universe of which I am aware. However, the persons "deploying" this name -- in Miami or Union City, New Jersey -- are probably among those humiliated in previous debates against me on these issues. ("Good Will Humping" and "Genius and Lust.")

Empirical data is largely irrelevant to the assessment of philosophical arguments formulated (usually) at a very high level of abstraction. ("A.J. Ayer's Critique of Collingwood's Metaphysics.")

The evaluation of logical arguments, especially in the deontological tradition in ethical theory, takes place at an abstract level and, only subsequently, at the related level of applied ethics. ("Nihilists in Disneyworld.")

If "4 out of 5 dentists," say, were asked their "opinions" concerning the mathematical validity of Andrew Weil's proof establishing Fermat's final theorem this would be absurd, or meaningless, and/or irrelevant (if not all of the above) to the validity of that same final proof in logical or mathematical terms. 

If a majority of persons polled do not agree with Einstein's "Special Relativity Thesis" this is unlikely to undermine that theory as an explanation for the observable workings of nature. ("Dialectics, Entanglement, and Special Relativity.")

The so-called "empirical research" disclosed in this article is clearly fictitious or fraudulent since: 1). there is no "control group" identified to test the reactions of the "experimental group"; 2). no clear formulation of the proposition to be tested is articulated; 3). no rigorous methodology for testing a specific proposition is set forth, aside from non-empirical and hypothetical "stories" or thought experiments that are also abstract; the specific number of participants, location of testing, expert- or scientist-questioners in the test are not specified. ("Nice Babies and Bad Psychologists.")

Publishing obvious lies based on a lack of comprehension -- such as those found in this Op-Ed piece -- further humiliates The New York Times and, while Kant's philosophy is certainly unscathed, also tarnishes the credibility of America's once foremost newspaper. ("The Gray Lady is Red Faced.")

I have been reading The New York Times for decades on a daily basis. It is unwise to damage such an important and needed publication in this way. ("Immanuel Kant and the Narrative of Freedom" and "David Stove's Critique of Idealism.")


It may be best to set forth Kant's principle then the alleged "thought experiment" or hypothetical which reflects profound confusion about the issue addressed in Kant's famous maxim. 

The "stories" or thought experiments quoted are indicative of just the opposite of what the authors of the Times essay believe. This fact is reinforced by the alleged "data" collected which is probably totally bogus. 

Perhaps the difficulties with the project of countering Kant's principle with so-called "objective data" will become obvious during the course of my analysis and discussion. We are invited to ponder three questions:

1. "Did they [?] think someone [?] should keep [?] a promise she [?] made but couldn't keep? [?]"

It may be that this first question formulated by alleged researchers is incoherent on its explicit terms. 

The word "keep" is ambiguous and is used twice in the same sentence, even more ambiguously the second time that the word appears in the question. 

Much worse is the second question offered to "test subjects" which may be utterly meaningless:

2. "Was she [who?] even capable of keeping her promise?"

Is "capable of keeping her promise" in this sentence a phrase that refers to empirical events and/or capacity? Or to the psychological state of the agent in the hypothetical problem posed to experimental subjects? 

3. "And how much was she [?] to blame [?] for what happened?"

Kant's point may be that "blame" depends on capacity or ability of various kinds. Hence, deciding whether an agent in a scenario (or "story") is blameworthy, tacitly, is also to determine the same agent's ability to have acted otherwise and/or to have performed and discharged the corresponding moral duty (or obligation) in the circumstances. (Again: "Immanuel Kant and the Narrative of Freedom.")

To say that 60% of the "hundreds" of persons asked "on many occasions" decided "blame" is more important than "ability" is literally meaningless without further information and clarification of terms.

What was the exact number of participants in this study? How was the 60% figure arrived at by scholars? How were these various concepts "blame" and "ability" defined for and/or by participants in this research as compared with Kant's definition in terms of the logic of morals? 

None of these issues are addressed in the Op-Ed piece. Accordingly, it may be necessary to contact the scholars conducting this "experiment" (if they exist) to determine the answers to these questions assuming that at least some of this alleged experiment is not a lie. 

In the absence of answers to such questions the suggested "findings" and research alluded to by these so-called "scientists" is utterly worthless. 

Blame, ability, "ought" are all words that often point to the identical moral concerns and issues of responsibility and freedom, as Kant suggested, that are aligned with duties and obligations. Kant's statement of the issue may be helpful in generating further discussion:

"Whoever wills the end, wills (so far as reason has decisive influence on his actions) also the means that are indispensably necessary to his actions and that lie in his power. [emphasis added] This proposition, as far as willing is concerned, is analytic. For in willing an object as my effect there is already thought the causality of myself as an acting cause, i.e., the use of means. The imperative derives the concept of actions necessary to this end from the concept of willing this end. ..." (Groundwork, p. 27.)


The principle that "ought implies can" is an attempt to articulate the insight that awareness of a moral obligation to act in a particular situation implies that one is capable of acting in a morally significant way in that specific instance.

The pangs of conscience are a revelation and result of freedom and, therefore, of responsibility for the moral agent aware that it is always possible to do otherwise, but also and equally of the absence of responsibility for the person who could not have done otherwise in facing a particular moral dilemma. 

An inanimate device, a machine, or thing does not face a moral dilemma at all and is never free so as to be "responsible" for "actions." ("'Ex Machina': A Movie Review.")

Donald Trump and Stephen Hawking happen to be standing on the sea shore chatting pleasantly about New York real estate and quantum physics. Suddenly, it becomes clear to both men that a child swimming in the ocean is drowning. The child calls out for help to the two men on the shore who are the only persons present other than the potential victim. ("Stephen Hawking's Free Will is Determined" and "Are we free to believe in free will?")

It happens that Donald Trump is an excellent swimmer. Professor Hawking cannot move at all from his wheelchair nor can he speak without his computer voice synthesizer. Dr. Hawking is physically incapable of leaping into the ocean to rescue the drowning child.

Stephen Hawking's failure to take any appropriate action to rescue the endangered person is neither morally nor legally blameworthy. 

The duty to rescue or any possible moral obligation to act in these circumstances does not arise for Professor Hawking to the extent that he cannot alter events through the physical movements of his body nor even by shouting at a third party who happens to be passing by. 

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, being an excellent swimmer who enjoys leaping into his personal Olympic pool on a daily basis for a splash, certainly does have a duty to act under these facts. 

There would be little danger or difficulty for Mr. Trump in rescuing the drowning child. 

Trump receives a call on his cellphone at the crucial moment from Mr. Spitzer inviting Donald Trump to a strip club later in the day. The two distinguished New Yorkers chat pleasantly and the drowning child is promptly forgotten by the "Donald." 

Mr. Trump takes no action. The child drowns. There is no media criticism of Mr. Trump for this regrettable incident, however, but merely a compliment on the fine "Donald Trump" brand suit that the billionaire is wearing. 

Is Mr. Trump subject to moral criticism and legal liability in this scenario? Is Stephen Hawking subject to criticism for his failure to rescue the drowned child? Should we blame Barack Obama for this unfortunate tragedy?

Immanuel Kant would suggest that Mr. Trump, alone, is morally and legally to blame for failing to act in this situation because he had a duty to rescue and chose to ignore that duty. 

Professor Kant offers an explanation of the principle that leads to his conclusion:

" ... to postpone everything to the holiness of duty alone, and to be conscious that we can because our own reason recognizes this as its command and says that we ought to do it, this is, as it were, to raise ourselves above the world of sense. [Objects.]" (Critique of Practical Reason, trans. T.K. Abott, p. 257.)

Once a duty arises (and is recognized) the command of ethical obligation is unavoidable and compelling. 

We recognize in the existence of a duty a command on our actions that has nothing to do with empirical laws (or data), desire, or personal happiness for the moral agent, but everything to do with conscience and the moral law that makes us persons.

Kant goes further by suggesting, correctly, that participation in the moral law, or perceiving reality as a valuing agent, is what it means to be human. (Compare "Robert Brandom's 'Reason in Philosophy'" with "Ape and Essence" then "Persons and Personhood.")

In commenting on this principle as formulated in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Paul Guyer says:

"If freedom is inferred from our fundamental knowledge of our moral obligation, by the principle of 'ought implies can,' all that follows is that we can live up to our moral obligations, not that we always do; thus, that we sometimes -- or often -- do not comply with the requirements of morality throws no doubt on our inference that [because] we are free [we are] capable of doing so."

"Introduction," in P. Guyer, ed., Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: Critical Essays, pp. xlii-xliii.

Let us now turn to the recent objections quoted in the Times:

"Suppose that you and a friend are both up for the same job in another city. She interviewed last weekend, and your job interview is this weekend. Your car is in the shop, though, so your friend promises to drive you to the airport. But on the way, her car breaks down -- the gas tank is leaking -- so you miss your flight and don't get the job."

The writers of this article seem to be under the impression that this scenario evokes intuitions that undermine Kant's principle, as I have noted, even as this hypothetical actually vindicates the maxim that "ought implies can."

The facts suggested by these authors' thought experiment merely reveals when no "ought" arises due to the incapacity (or inability) to perform an ostensible duty that would otherwise have come into existence and become binding and that may be excused by new facts:

"Would it make any sense to tell your friend stranded at the side of the road that she ought to drive you to the airport."

Kant would be the first to explain that it would make no sense to say such a thing to your hypothetical friend assuming the breakdown of the vehicle was unforeseeable. 

The impossibility of performing an ethical obligation excuses by negating the duty that normally arises. In other words, because there is no "can" there will be no "ought." 

Philosophical truth is not a popularity contest. "Data" of an impersonal kind (whatever that may mean), as I have indicated, may be irrelevant to the assessment of the cogency or logical validity of a Kantian "deontological ethical principle." 

This is not to suggest a conflict between ethical theory and empirical reality, in other words, but a fundamental compatibility between transcendental idealism and empiricism that is only another description of the Critical Theory. ("John Rawls and Justice.")

" ... this absolute command to duty [where it arises] proves at last the freedom of our wills; how could we ever have conceived such a notion as duty if we had not felt ourselves free? We cannot prove this freedom by theoretical reason; we prove it by feeling it directly in the crisis of moral choice. We feel this freedom as the very essence of our inner selves, of the 'pure Ego'; we feel within ourselves the spontaneous activity of a mind [shaping] experience and choosing goals. Our actions, once we initiate them, seem to follow fixed and invariable laws, but only because we perceive their results through sense, which clothes all that it transmits in the dress of that causal law which our minds themselves have made. Nevertheless, we are beyond and above the laws we made in order to understand the world of experience; each of us is a center of intuitive force and creative power. In a way which we feel but cannot prove, each of us is free."

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, p. 277 (emphasis added).    

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home