First, to quote Hume:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it's necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
My original belief about what Hume was saying, here, is that there is a syntactic gap between predicative terms and deontic terms. The trivial counterexample, though, is, "There is an obligation (or I am obligated) to do X; therefore, X ought to be done (by me)." (Waive, for a moment, the distinction such as is drawn by John Rawls between obligations and duties.) Moreover, one might think that disjunction is syntactically distinct from, say, conditionals, or existential from universal quantification, yet there are conversions available modulo semantics that explain how we infer an IF from an OR (or an OR from an IF), etc. and perhaps that is how one might infer an "ought" from an "is."EDIT
So my other interpretation was: Hume's argument is a syntax-emphasized example of what the "naturalistic" fallacy is a semantics-emphasized example. One's feeling for this "fallacy" will influence one's desire to link Hume and Moore as nodes in a clearly evolving history of moral philosophy, perhaps.
However, I was going through Kant's first Critique again, and I got caught on this passage:
For as regards nature, experience presents us with rules and is the source of truth, but in relation to ethical laws experience is the parent of illusion, and it is in the highest degree reprehensible to limit or to deduce the laws which dictate what I ought to do, from what is done.
I don't remember for sure whether he actually did say the following, but even if Kant left this topic at just the above passage, he could have explained the quoted sentence like this:
- Many people doing something, or having a hard time not doing something else, does not mean that the things done or not done ought to be or not be done. A popular behavior is not moral because it is popular, and a tempting choice is not moral for being an oft-fallen-for temptation.
- More importantly, successfully achieving something complex/difficult is not to be taken as proving divine or equivalent favor in one's endeavors. The "is" of achieving something is not identical to the "ought" of what we are to set out looking to achieve in the first place.
Did Kant say as much elsewhere? Or did he not say anything that would make (1) and (2) insufficient for understanding what he says in the first-Critique passage that was quoted?
EDITSimilarly, is there a logical (syntactic/grammatical) gap between is and would, or is and could, though? So the syntactic interpretation of the problem still seems weaker than the semantic one (FOL sentences at least naturally carry over directly into standard modal propositional logic; there is of course no apparent deontic carryover so automated; even an axiom to such an effect would render the relation less direct).