Objective and subjective 'ought'

Over the years, several philosophers have argued that deontic modals, like ‘ought’ and ‘should’ in English, and their closest equivalents in other languages, are systematically polysemous and context-sensitive. Specifically, one way in which these ‘ought’-concepts differ from each other is that some of these concepts are more “objective”, while others are more “subjective” or “information-relative”: when ‘ought’ expresses one of these more objective concepts, what an agent “ought” to do in a given situation may be determined by facts that neither the agent nor any of his friends and advisers either knows or is even in a position to know; when it expresses one of the more “subjective” concepts, what an agent “ought” to do is in some way more sensitive to the informational state that the agent (or his friends and advisers) find themselves in at the conversationally salient time. This essay first presents some linguistic evidence in favour of this view of ‘ought’, and then proposes a precise account of the truth-conditions of propositions involving these ‘ought’-concepts that will explain more clearly how exactly these concepts are related.
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