How Correct is Hume on the Is-Ought Problem?

Francis O. C. Njoku


David Hume accuses the natural law tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas of deriving ought-statements from is-statements. However the claim that no set of descriptive statements can be entailed by prescriptive ones has not only shown that Hume misread the tradition but also missed a lot about the operation of human consciousness. Hume seems to have been very deficient on two major counts: an inability to recognise that reason is a great actor in judging human action; and the fact that he missed to observe that human beings operate at four different levels of consciousness – the experiential, the epistemological, and the metaphysical levels, and the level of intentional consciousness. And the questions raised at the fourth level are still part of the operation of human consciousness or intelligence asking different questions at a level that is preparatory for action. Furthermore, Hume, within the empiricist tradition, fails to realise there are descriptive statements that are logically related to evaluative ones albeit they need not contain the word is. He totally forgot a different kind descriptive statement that appeals to institutional facts. Those statements that presuppose institutions for their full meaning must be accounted for accordingly because if their institutions are taken away, only brute facts are left.

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