I'm trying to understand just what exactly the deliberative "ought" denotes. Are there any conceptual differences between the following three utterances?

(1) S ought, deliberatively speaking, A.

(2) S ought, all things considered from S's viewpoint, A.

(3) It would be instrumentally rational for S to A, given S's beliefs.

At present, it doesn't seem to me there is. Basically, what I have gathered is that an agent ought deliberatively to do something if and only if it would be rational for him to do so given what what facts (normative or otherwise) he has taken for granted about the world. The deliberative ought seems totally subjective to me, assuming an agent is rational. That is, an agent could only be wrong about what he ought deliberatively to do insofar as he might ignore the logical implication of some of his beliefs.

Is this the predominant view about what concept the deliberative ought is supposed to capture? Is there even a predominant view about what the deliberative ought means? What else could the deliberative ought plausibly denote, if not the above?

1 Answer 1


From looking at the meaning of deliberately, to do something deliberately would be to do something with intent and reason. Now looking at your three sentences, there is a question of who thinks S ought to do A and how S ought to do A.

(1): The one asserting the sentence is claiming that any agent S ought to do A deliberately. Here, S does not necessarily already believe that he/she/it ought to do A deliberately, but rather the assert-er does. There is an additional condition in (1) regarding the manner in which S does A. If S were to do A unintentionally, then S messed up. However, this is interpreting "deliberately speaking" as "with deliberateness." If such is not the case, then "deliberately speaking" refers to the manner in which the assert-er is asserting. The addition then says nothing regarding S or A but is a rhetorical appeal to the methodology in which the assert-er is working.

(2): Unlike (1), this sentence does not say anything about the assert-er. We are assuming S's beliefs and what S knows to be true and deducting a normative claim from that set.

(3): This sentence differs from (1) and (2) in that it is, prima facie, a nonethical statement. If we equivocate an "instrumentally rational" action with an action that ought to be done, then we can say that (3) is no different than (2). However, this assumes a lot about S and A that we don't know. Let's also look at how "instrumentally rational" could be true, while "ought" would not. Suppose that for S, following every instruction in the Torah is an ethical necessity that ought to be done. Yet, S cannot find any instrumentally rational deduction as to why S ought to live a kosher life. This does presuppose that S does not consider any deduction including a faith-based claim to be rational, but we can easily allow this to occur since (3) does not mandate S to be infallible.

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