Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Is/Ought Chimera - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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The Is/Ought Chimera - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Is/Ought Chimera
“Against the Ritual of ‘Is’ and ‘Ought.’” Midwestern Studies in Philosophy 3 (1978): 5–16.
Can we bridge the gap between the factual “is” and the moral “ought”? This much-discussed ethical issue of whether we can properly derive moral “evaluations” from descriptive statements of empirical facts is misconceived. The very terms of this discussion emerge from a badly conceived framework. In fact, examples abound to show that moral judgments are not simple evaluations on the linguistic model of “This is a good knife.” Moral judgments are wrongly thought to be evaluations made according to criteria of goodness.
We ought to dismiss the entire is/ought ritual. First, because this modern dichotomy is thoroughly ambiguous (nor did it originate with either Hume or Hare). Secondly, because this dichotomy results from biased and ideological philosophizing. Thirdly, because preoccupation with the is/ought ritual (and its dry inquiries into what criteria, for example, constitute “good” strawberries) distorts what serious moral philosophy is about. Most champions of the is/ought question are simply prisoners in a prominent tradition (linguistic analysis) of doing moral philosophy.
Evaluations such as “good” and “bad” actually occur because we have an interest, aim, or purpose in doing something. We designate those things as “good” (horses, knives, or food) that serve our purposes well. However, nothing like this characterizes our moral life, where we seek to learn what we should or should not do. The logic of evaluation provides no help in deciding whether we value or detest something. The moral problem is whether to lie or not to lie, rather than to determine what criteria constitute a “good” or “bad” lie.
Some who reject an objective or naturalist morality whish to avoid morality altogether by avoiding evaluations. They thus strive to demonstrate that only “brute facts” exist and show that no criteria of evaluation are possible. These subjective “individualists” fear having their moral freedom controlled by external standards and extra-individual values as are implied in such “criteria-setting” evaluative terms as a (good) horse or man. But if, as is argued, morality concerns itself with the issue of whether we can substantiate our descriptions (for example, “It was murder”) the individualist's fear of moral evaluations restricting his freedom appears to be beside the point.
Additional readings on the is/ought controversy may be explored in John Searle, “How to Derive an ‘Ought’ from an ‘Is’,” Philosophical Review 74 (1965), reprinted in Philippa Foot, ed. Theories of Ethics, pp. 101–114; and R.M. Hare's 1964 article, “The Promising Game” also reprinted in the Foot volume, pp. 115–127.