It seems that there are some characteristics that are dependent on other characteristics. For example: for a machine to be productive, it must first be functioning, so it must first be turned on, so it must first be plugged in, so it must first... Every characteristic about the machine is dependent on the more fundamental, more primary, characteristic that makes the secondary characteristics even possible.

This logical mechanic of necessary preconditions can be applied to morality as well, right? A behavior/ideology cannot be moral, if it does not exist. So it follows that a behavior/ideology not having the characteristic of being must necessarily mean that it cannot have the characteristic of being moral, right? This logic allows us to make objective claims about some behavior/ideology not being moral in the future based on the probability of its not-being status in the future.

Is existence the primary necessary characteristic of any behavior/ideology?

  • What does it mean "an ideology not having the characteristic of being" ? Nov 28, 2018 at 13:24
  • Feel free to read about existence and being in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to help you get your head wrapped around the concept. Nov 28, 2018 at 13:26
  • Does the thought of a behaviour itself count as it existing? If I want to murder someone, but don't, am I still moral? Is that the essence of your question?
    – Dan Rayson
    Nov 28, 2018 at 14:13
  • What's the behavior in your example? Nov 28, 2018 at 14:35
  • Judgement requires an agent. An ideology may not exist yet.. but therefore neither does judgement... Since only when an agent begins to examine a thing.. can the thing be judged. In short... Time itself enables 'being' without time there simply is nothing... Not even brains in vats.
    – Richard
    Nov 29, 2018 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


The answer has to be no, clearly not. A Possible alternative (thus excluding necessity): moral behaviour is only insofar it is (considered as) moral. Otherwise, it's just behaviour

As Rebecca Kukla insightfully argues in the context of the famous "Myth of the Given" with an argument based on Althusser (Althusser, L. (2006). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation). The anthropology of the state: A reader, 9(1), 86-98.), normative facts have a mythical constitutional history: They "are" only insofar they are recognised, although they are recognised as being inherent to persons and/or behaviour. This kind of ascription of normative facts to behaviour and persons is only possible after the fact of recognition of these normative facts as (normative) facts, though. In other words: The recognition of normative facts is constituting the normative standards as facts which only after their constitution can appear as if they would have existed before the recognition constituting them.

What does that mean? It means that regarding normative facts, the story goes as follows:

1) We are hailed/appalled by behaviour that (as we will later think) "implies" a certain normative status we actually do not have at the moment when this is happening. This means neither that there is normativity implied in the intention of the behaviour (only that it can be thus interpreted), nor that the normative status must have existed at that moment (e.g.: punishment because I am responsible for my bad behaviour of theft)

2) We respond according to the normative framework embodied into this hail and thereby recognise it as authoritative (e.g. I make sense of the punishment as being tied to my theft as "bad", i.e. I "take" the theft to be "bad" as I link it to punishment - the intentions and factual dispositions and desires of the punishing person are of no importance, but usually realised through this "recognition")

3) Thereby, the normative fact about my person/the world implied is acknowledged/recognised as having been true from the beginning, although it is factually constituted only by my recognition of it (e.g. Only because I agree that this is bad and I should have known it, I become responsible - even if I could not possibly have known it or be a person that is to be held responsible when I have done it)

4) In hindsight/memory, all experience is evaluated from the standpoint of this normative fact as an always-already, e.g. I think in hindsight that what I did as a kid was "bad" although as a kid, I did not know/recognise the moral standards I now am able to use after I recognised them. Kukla - with Althusser - calls this "misrecognition", i.e. I recognise myself as "objectively" always having been subject to these normative facts. (e.g. Having learnt the normative facts, I remember myself having done bads before and feel responsible for it although I have not known or felt this way back then)

5) The problem is: We who can speak about normative facts are all already in a status of thinking and acting in the "Space of Reasons" and must think of actions in terms of normativity. Even if they are factually constituted by us as having authority for us (probably around the age of 4), automatically ascribe normative facts to things in the world although they are nothing inherent to the physical world and its causes. Therefore, any justification of objective normative facts is necessarily "mythical".

6) In a very important sense, normative facts, therefore, have no independent being, i.e. do not exist. They are only from the moment on and insofar we acknowledge them as such.

Source Kukla, R. (2000). Myth, Memory and Misrecognition in Sellars' "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind". Philosophical Studies, 101(2-3), 161-211.

An important point Kukla stresses here (with Sellars) is that claims about normative facts follow a logic different from claims about facts about the world in that their authority exactly does not rely on existence.

Recognition and consequences

Now, addressing the comments, the argument can be turned against the proposed transcendental structure:

If normative facts are constituted by a recognition as such, they can without a problem be ascribed to counterfactuals and imaginary entities: The "existing" behaviour of Carl the mischievous (existing) child "is" no more moral than the "imagined" behaviour of Carl the mischievous (imagined) alien if both are evaluated in moral terms and thus recognised as morally relevant. Even if the former certainly very much is while the latter is not.

  • I wasn't asking about if something is moral, just if a non-existence behavior is necessarily NOT moral. You're thinking about proving something is moral, whereas I was asking about proving something is NOT moral. It's a common mistake so no worries. Nov 28, 2018 at 15:54
  • @EternalPropagation: The argument shows that morality has no presuppositions but that something is considered moral. This is relevant for your question. The probability is irrelevant since moral facts are constituted by recognition. Also, things either are or are not moral, they are not "probably" moral. Last but not least, you effectively conflate facts about the world and normative facts, while Sellars and Kukla illustrate how they not only should, but must be kept apart, here in the context of epistemological authority. All this directly follows from the argument as given.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 28, 2018 at 16:00
  • That's not the relevant presupposition. Here is the relevant: "a nonexistent behavior cannot be moral." No mention of "is moral" only "is NOT moral" DIFFERENCE! So no, it's not relevant. Probability applies to the future existence status of a behavior because we cannot know the future with certainty. Not giving a behavior/ideology recognition does not necessarily make it not moral; humans can behave and believe without being aware of their behaviors and beliefs. No worries though. Nov 28, 2018 at 16:15
  • @EternalPropagation: You can reject the best philosophical arguments on the nature of normativity all you want. You just keep your worldview. That's ok. But it a) makes discourse impossible and b) puts your authority and ability as an interlocutor into question. In effect, the future does not exist. Full stop. Existence either is or is not. Morality can be and is applied to counterfactuals and imaginary entities. And that is because of the different "logic" (Sellars) of normative facts compared to facts about the world.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 28, 2018 at 16:27
  • Yes, a behavior either exists, or it does not. You must be misreading what the probability is referring to: our inability to predict the future with certainty. This is a comment on our abilities, not on existence. Also, just because I'm not engaging with your normative arguments, does not necessarily mean I reject them, it just means that's not what is being discussed. {Just because an existing behavior is not necessarily not moral does not mean that it is moral.} You are trying to comment on the later while I am asking about the former. DIFFERENCE! Nov 28, 2018 at 16:33

You are defining a structure of causes and consequences. That is called causality. So, yes, you can assume that in order for a moral rule to be valid it must exist first. But is such test valid?

Causality is a subjective and ideal type of knowledge (what Kant defines as synthetic + a priori). It is not something that can be considered objective or factual, but moreover an archaic metaphysical concept (Russell).

Put it simple, causality is just one's mind linking concepts in time. So, if you say that a rule must exist in order to be validated,...

  • it is true for you, because it exists in your mind (apparently);
  • it is not true for any other subject, because there's no way to prove such existence. And perhaps it is not true for yourself, how would you know if it is the exact same understanding as it was 2 seconds before?

Then, the hierarchy you're defining is evidently subjective and non testable. The question assumes we all share the same hierarchy of understanding, and that's a false assumption. Then, the question is not valid.

  • There's no way to prove the existence of a behavior? Huh? Nov 28, 2018 at 21:14

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