Late philosopher Alan Gewirth introduced the Principle of Generic Consistency, or the PGC, which says that moral agents ought to respect the generic rights of freedom and well-being because they are implicit in every action and logically impossible to deny.

Many dictionaries have defined 'ought' as moral obligation but some philosophers have defined ought as consistency with a particular moral theory. For example, Greenspan has defined ought as practical reason while Harris defined ought as utilitarianism. Basically, the idea here is that whenever we say that we "ought" to do something, does that mean we should protect individual autonomy or protect the interests of the general population.

When we express ought as a moral obligation, could ought be defined as protecting the rights to freedom and well-being as contextualized by Alan Gewirth's philosophy?

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    This seems to be not very dissimilar to your last question. Is there a reason you are asking them separately?
    – virmaior
    Jan 1, 2015 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


As with other instances of language usage, we ought to interpret ought in the way it was meant by the speaker in that particular instance. What this or that dictionary says about the term, and what this or that thinker offers on the topic, stands independent of how the term is intended by someone else. Even in the case it were meant in a moral sense, the correct interpretation is that specific moral sense in the mind of the author.

Words in the mouths of others cannot rightly be redefined per our desired meanings. True, we can assimilate the outputs of other minds into our mind's way of thinking, but this translation is for our personal benefit, by our personal will. Attempting to impose one's preferred interpretation on others without their assent is indeed a violation of their freedom. Hence, for the question here, we would be acting in contradiction to ourselves.

If the question is rather whether you personally could define ought in this particular way in your own language usage, then only you can know that answer. If the question is whether society, or a sizable portion thereof, can change its future meaning of ought, you probably can guess that answer too.

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