Ought – is, normative and descriptive terms

My philosophical knowledge is inadequate to the task that I have set it – understanding my job as an educator. For instance, I’m currently reading Why ‘what works’ won’t work: Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research by Gert Biesta (2007), and I need to understand the philosophical building blocks that he uses.

Biesta refers to something called ‘unwarranted leap’ from “is” to “ought”, which according to this video, has its genesis in Hume’s writing.  I’m amazed and somehow delighted about the way that things often come back to or emanate from Hume.  I feel that I really like Hume as a person – possibly because I first ran into him by reading Roy Porter’s ‘Flesh in the Age of Reason’, as he is one of my favourite historians. Porter makes Hume’s ideas and his character so ‘human’, so real that I can’t help liking him.

Anyway, a good introduction is this one from the BBC:

but a google search also led me to this:

(nb geeky teacher aside I found this video absolutely fascinating, not only because it uses Southpark to teach philosophy – which must be a great example of teaching only using the best that has been thought or said!!.  It is also fascinating  because of the utterly engaged and active learning that this lecturer is arousing in his students by delivering a lecture.)

It’s emotion that takes us from is to ought – a feeling that is aroused inside us by something that we describe so that we make of it a moral rule.  However, such feelings are not universal – how we respond to the is will be different from the way others respond.   As the questions in the video above make clear, this in turn can give rise to concerns of relativism.  If ‘ought’ is only ever driven by an individual emotional reaction to ‘is’ then there can be no universal ‘ought’.

Where does this leave us?  Are all rules entirely arbitrary? Do we live in a soup of competing moral universes?

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