pp. 56-73: Daniel B. Klein

Ought as an Is: On the Positive-Normative Distinction
Studies in Emergent Order, Vol. 7, 2014


It is common for those who affirm positive-normative talk to do so on the basis of a distinction between is and ought. But does distinguishing between is and ought make for an important, useful distinction? Are ought sentences, as a category, substantively different from is sentences? I don’t think so. Here I suggest that: (1) it is easy to recast any ought sentence as an is sentence, and vice versa; (2) every is sentence can be understood as conveying tacit “oughts;” (3) every ought can be understood as an is. I invite the reader to consider whether positive-normative talk might be, for her, always and everywhere a dominated alternative, as it is for me.

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