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The is/ought problem

1 minute

Ought we accept Hume’s severing of any connection between ‘is’ and ‘ought’?

How do you decide whether you ought to do something? Chances are you’ve employed statements about how things are or have been as the basis for making a judgment call. The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume forcefully argued against this approach. According to ‘Hume’s law’, also known as the ‘is/ought problem’, determining what you ought to do based on what is represents a logical mistake because there’s a gap that reason cannot bridge between the facts of the world and the values you might espouse.

Video by BBC Radio 4 and The Open University

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animator: Andrew Park

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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