Ought Implies Can

Edited by Guglielmo Feis (Università degli Studi di Milano)
About this topic
Summary The "Ought implies Can" (OIC) thesis establishes a link between obligations and abilities. It is associated with Kant, but the Kantian attribution is debated. Its main interpretation goes along the latin motto "ad impossibilia nemo tenetur" and allows you to discharge an obligation when you lack the possibility to do what is commanded. Others interpret it as saying that, given the fact that you have the relevant "Can", there is no way not to do what you Ought to.  OIC has been used as an (unquestionable) principle in many fields. from moral and legal philosophy (moral dilemmas, alternate possibilities) to deontic logic and epistemology (doxastic voluntarism). Since the 1960's it has undergone multiple criticisms from many areas.
Key works A spectrum of arguments for and against OIC can be found in Vranas 2007. Martin 2009 and Graham 2011 have further objections. For a discussion on the Kantian attribution see Stern 2004.  For the history of OIC, see Moore 1922. Dahl 1974 and Jacquette 1991 are helpful for relevance to deontic logic (see von Wright 1963 and von Wright 1983 for different uses). For the debate on "imply" see Streumer 2003.  For OIC in the debate on moral dilemmas see McConnell 2010.  The debate on OIC and the principle of alternate possibilities starts with Frankfurt 1988 and goes on at least up to Copp 2008. OIC enters the debate over doxastic volutarism with Alston 1988.  It is endorsed by Chuard & Southwood 2009 and rejected by Ryan 2003.
Introductions Vranas 2007; McConnell 2010; Chuard & Southwood 2009; Stern 2004; Streumer 2003.
Related categories

191 found
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  1. Who is Afraid of Epistemology’s Regress Problem?Scott F. Aikin - 2005 - Philosophical Studies 126 (2):191-217.
    What follows is a taxonomy of arguments that regresses of inferential justification are vicious. They fall out into four general classes: conceptual arguments from incompleteness, conceptual arguments from arbitrariness, ought-implies-can arguments from human quantitative incapacities, and ought-implies can arguments from human qualitative incapacities. They fail with a developed theory of "infinitism" consistent with valuational pluralism and modest epistemic foundationalism.
  2. The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification.William P. Alston - 1988 - Philosophical Perspectives 2:257-299.
  3. Objective Consequentialism and the Rationales of ‘ “Ought” Implies “Can” ’.Vuko Andrić - 2017 - Ratio 30 (1):72-87.
    This paper argues that objective consequentialism is incompatible with the rationales of ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’ – with the considerations, that is, that explain or justify this principle. Objective consequentialism is the moral doctrine that an act is right if and only if there is no alternative with a better outcome, and wrong otherwise. An act is obligatory if and only if it is wrong not to perform it. According to ‘ “ought” implies “can” ’, a person is morally (...)
  4. Is Objective Consequentialism Compatible with the Principle That “Ought” Implies “Can”?Vuko Andrić - 2016 - Philosophia 44 (1):63-77.
    Some philosophers hold that objective consequentialism is false because it is incompatible with the principle that “ought” implies “can”. Roughly speaking, objective consequentialism is the doctrine that you always ought to do what will in fact have the best consequences. According to the principle that “ought” implies “can”, you have a moral obligation to do something only if you can do that thing. Frances Howard-Snyder has used an innovative thought experiment to argue that sometimes you cannot do what will in (...)
  5. Internal Reasons and the Ought-Implies-Can Principle.Jonny Anomaly - 2008 - Philosophical Forum 39 (4):469-483.
  6. Review: M. V. Ackeren and M. Kühler (Eds.) The Limits of Moral Obligation: Moral Demandingness and Ought Implies Can (New York: Routledge, 2016), 210 Pages. ISBN: 9781138824232 (Hbk). Hardback: £90.00. [REVIEW]Alfred Archer - forthcoming - Journal of Moral Philosophy.
  7. Moral Dilemmas Are Not a Local Issue.Dirk Baltzly - 2000 - Philosophy 75 (2):245-263.
    It is sometimes claimed that the Kantian Ought Implies Can principle (OIC) rules out the possibility of moral dilemmas. A certain understanding of OIC does rule out the possibility of moral dilemmas in the sense defined. However I doubt that this particular formulation of the OIC principle is one that fits well with the eudaimonist framework common to ancient Greek moral philosophy. In what follows, I explore the reasons why Aristotle would not accept the OIC principle in the form in (...)
  8. Legendary Quotations and Lack of References.David Baumgardt - 1946 - Journal of the History of Ideas 7 (1/4):99-102.
  9. Factualism, Normativism and the Bounds of Normativity.Thomas M. Besch - 2011 - Dialogue 50 (2):347-365.
    The paper argues that applications of the principle that “ought” implies “can” (OIC) depend on normative considerations even if the link between “ought” and “can” is logical in nature. Thus, we should reject a common, “factualist” conception of OIC and endorse weak “normativism”. Even if we use OIC as the rule ““cannot” therefore “not ought””, applying OIC is not a mere matter of facts and logic, as factualists claim, but often draws on “proto-ideals” of moral agency.
  10. Why Compatibilists Need Alternative Possibilities.Reid Blackman - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (3):529-544.
    Defenders of compatibilism occupy one of two camps: those who think that free will requires the ability to do otherwise, and those who deny this. Those compatibilists who think that free will requires the ability to do otherwise are interested in defending a reading of ‘can’ such that one can do otherwise even if determinism is true. By contrast, those compatibilists who think that free will does not require the ability to do otherwise tend to join incompatibilists in denying that (...)
  11. Two Dogmas of Metaethics.P. Bloomfield - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 132 (3):439-466.
    The two dogmas at issue are the Humean dogma that “‘is’ statements do not imply ‘ought’ statements” and the Kantian dogma that “‘ought’ statements imply ‘can’” statements. The extant literature concludes these logically contradict each other. On the contrary, it is argued here that while there is no derivable formal contradiction, the juxtaposition of the dogmas manifests a philosophical disagreement over how to understand the logic of prescriptions. This disagreement bears on how to understand current metaethical debate between realists and (...)
  12. VII—‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can Say’.Doreen Bretherton - 1963 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 63 (1):145-166.
  13. 'Ought' Implies 'Can Say'.Doreen Bretherton - 1962 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 63:145 - 166.
  14. Ought Implies Can Say.Doreen Bretherton - 1962 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 63:145.
  15. A Difficulty with 'Ought Implies Can'.Frederick E. Brouwer - 1969 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 7 (1):45-50.
  16. Moral Theory and the Ought--Can Principle.James Brown - 1977 - Mind 86 (342):206-223.
  17. Ability, Responsibility, and Global Justice.Wesley Buckwalter - forthcoming - Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
    Many have argued we have a moral obligation to assist others in need, but given the scope of global suffering, how far does this obligation extend? According to one traditional philosophical view, the obligation to help others is limited by our ability to help them, or by the principle that “ought implies can”. This view is primarily defended on the grounds that it is a core principle of commonsense moral psychology. This paper reviews findings from experimental philosophy in cognitive science (...)
  18. Inability and Obligation in Moral Judgment.Wesley Buckwalter & John Turri - 2015 - PLoS ONE 10 (8).
    It is often thought that judgments about what we ought to do are limited by judgments about what we can do, or that “ought implies can.” We conducted eight experiments to test the link between a range of moral requirements and abilities in ordinary moral evaluations. Moral obligations were repeatedly attributed in tandem with inability, regardless of the type (Experiments 1–3), temporal duration (Experiment 5), or scope (Experiment 6) of inability. This pattern was consistently observed using a variety of moral (...)
  19. Does Thought Imply Ought?Krister Bykvist & Anandi Hattiangadi - 2007 - Analysis 67 (4):277–285.
    N.B. Dr Bykvist is now based at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. The full-text of this article is not currently available in ORA, but you may be able to access the article via the publisher copy link on this record page.
  20. Kant's Doctrine of Right: A Commentary.B. Sharon Byrd & Joachim Hruschka - 2010 - Cambridge University Press.
    Published in 1797, the Doctrine of Right is Kant's most significant contribution to legal and political philosophy. As the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals, it deals with the legal rights which persons have or can acquire, and aims at providing the grounding for lasting international peace through the idea of the juridical state. This commentary analyzes Kant's system of individual rights, starting from the original innate right to external freedom, and ending with the right to own property and (...)
  21. The Oughts and Cans of Objective Consequentialism.Erik Carlson - 1999 - Utilitas 11 (1):91-96.
    Frances Howard -Snyder has argued that objective consequentialism violates the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. In most situations, she claims, we cannot produce the best consequences available, although objective consequentialism says that we ought to do so. Here I try to show that Howard -Snyder's argument is unsound. The claim that we typically cannot produce the best consequences available is doubtful. And even if there is a sense of ‘producing the best consequences’ in which we cannot do so, objective consequentialism (...)
  22. Ought Implies Practically Possible.Ian Carter - 2001 - In Freedom, Power and Political Morality: Essays for Felix Oppenheim. Palgrave. pp. 79-95.
  23. He Could Have Done Otherwise.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1967 - Journal of Philosophy 64 (13):409-417.
  24. Blame, Not Ability, Impacts Moral “Ought” Judgments for Impossible Actions: Toward an Empirical Refutation of “Ought” Implies “Can”.Vladimir Chituc, Paul Henne, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong & Felipe De Brigard - 2016 - Cognition 150:20-25.
    Recently, psychologists have explored moral concepts including obligation, blame, and ability. While little empirical work has studied the relationships among these concepts, philosophers have widely assumed such a relationship in the principle that “ought” implies “can,” which states that if someone ought to do something, then they must be able to do it. The cognitive underpinnings of these concepts are tested in the three experiments reported here. In Experiment 1, most participants judge that an agent ought to keep a promise (...)
  25. Epistemic Norms Without Voluntary Control.Philippe Chuard & Nicholas Southwood - 2009 - Noûs 43 (4):599-632.
    William Alston’s argument against the deontological conception of epistemic justification is a classic—and much debated—piece of contemporary epistemology. At the heart of Alston’s argument, however, lies a very simple mistake which, surprisingly, appears to have gone unnoticed in the vast literature now devoted to the argument. After having shown why some of the standard responses to Alston’s argument don’t work, we elucidate the mistake and offer a hypothesis as to why it has escaped attention.
  26. A New Mixed View of Virtue Ethics, Based on Daniel Doviak's New Virtue Calculus.Michelle Ciurria - 2012 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (2):259-269.
    In A New Form of Agent-Based Virtue Ethics , Daniel Doviak develops a novel agent-based theory of right action that treats the rightness (or deontic status) of an action as a matter of the action’s net intrinsic virtue value (net-IVV)—that is, its balance of virtue over vice. This view is designed to accommodate three basic tenets of commonsense morality: (i) the maxim that “ought” implies “can,” (ii) the idea that a person can do the right thing for the wrong reason, (...)
  27. Die Zweite Kehre Der Transzendentalphilosophie.Giovanni Cogliandro - 2005 - Hegel-Jahrbuch 7 (1):234-240.
  28. An Analysis of Recent Empirical Data on ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’.Yishai Cohen - 2018 - Philosophia 46 (1):57-67.
    Recent experimental studies dispute the position that commonsense morality accepts ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’, the view that, necessarily, if an agent ought to perform some action, then she can perform that action. This paper considers and supports explanations for the results of these studies on the hypothesis that OIC is intuitive and true.
  29. 'Ought-Implies-Can' and Hume's Rule.D. G. Collingridge - 1977 - Philosophy 52 (201):348 - 351.
  30. 'Ought' Implies 'Can' and the Derivation of the Principle of Alternate Possibilities.David Copp - 2008 - Analysis 68 (1):67–75.
  31. Defending the Principle of Alternate Possibilities: Blameworthiness and Moral Responsibility.David Copp - 1997 - Noûs 31 (4):441-456.
    According to the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP), a person is morally responsible for an action only if he could have done otherwise. PAP underlies a familiar argument for the incompatibility of moral responsibility with determinism. I argue that Harry Frankfurt's famous argument against PAP is unsuccessful if PAP is interpreted as a principle about blameworthiness. My argument turns on the maxim that "ought implies can" as well as a "finely-nuanced" view of the object of blame. To reject PAP on (...)
  32. Epistemological Strata and the Rules of Right Reason.Robert C. Cummins, Pierre Poirier & Martin Roth - 2004 - Synthese 141 (3):287 - 331.
    It has been commonplace in epistemology since its inception to idealize away from computational resource constraints, i.e., from the constraints of time and memory. One thought is that a kind of ideal rationality can be specified that ignores the constraints imposed by limited time and memory, and that actual cognitive performance can be seen as an interaction between the norms of ideal rationality and the practicalities of time and memory limitations. But a cornerstone of naturalistic epistemology is that normative assessment (...)
  33. Ought Implies Can and Deontic Logic.Norman O. Dahl - 1974 - Philosophia 4 (4):485-511.
  34. An Unsolved Problem for Slote's Agent-Based Virtue Ethics.Jacobson Daniel - 2002 - Philosophical Studies 111 (1):53 - 67.
    According to Slote's ``agent-based'' virtue ethics, the rightness orwrongness of an act is determined by the motive it expresses. Thistheory has a problem with cases where an agent can do her duty onlyby expressing some vicious motive and thereby acting wrongly. In sucha situation, an agent can only act wrongly; hence, the theory seemsincompatible with the maxim that `ought' implies `can'. I argue thatSlote's attempt to circumvent this problem by appealing to compatibilism is inadequate. In a wide range of psychologically (...)
  35. “Ought” Implies “Can”, or, the Moral Relevance of a Theory of the Firm.John R. Danley - 1988 - Journal of Business Ethics 7 (1-2):23 - 28.
    Since ought implies can, i.e., one cannot be obligated to do what one cannot do, the question of corporate responsibility cannot be discussed intelligibly without an inquiry into the range of corporate or managerial discretion. Hence, the moral relevance of a theory of the firm. Within classical or neo-classical economic theory, for instance, firms which act other than to maximize profit are eliminated. They cannot do otherwise, and thus either have no obligations at all or only the duty to maximize (...)
  36. A New Form of Agent-Based Virtue Ethics.Daniel Doviak - 2011 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (3):259-272.
    In Morals From Motives, Michael Slote defends an agent-based theory of right action according to which right acts are those that express virtuous motives like benevolence or care. Critics have claimed that Slote’s view— and agent-based views more generally— cannot account for several basic tenets of commonsense morality. In particular, the critics maintain that agent-based theories: (i) violate the deontic axiom that ought implies can , (ii) cannot allow for a person’s doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and (...)
  37. Promising Too Much.Julia Driver - 2011 - In Hanoch Sheinman (ed.), Promises and Agreements: Philosophical Essays. Oxford University Press.
    This paper begins with the idea that we can learn a good deal about promising by examining the conditions and norms that govern promise- breaking. Sometimes promises are broken as a deliberate plan, other times they are broken because they are simply incompatible with other, more signifi cant moral norms, or because it becomes clear that they are impossible to keep. There are cases where people make promises that are actually incompatible with each other. Politicians, for example, often give such (...)
  38. Promises, Obligations, and Abilities.Julia Driver - 1983 - Philosophical Studies 44 (2):221 - 223.
  39. Regarding Rich's “Compatibilism Argument” and the 'Ought- Implies-'Can' Argument.Don Fawkes - 1990 - Southwest Philosophy Review 6 (2):123-124.
  40. The OIC/PAP Dispute: Two Ways of Interpreting the '€˜Ought' Implies '€˜Can'€™.Guglielmo Feis - 2014 - In Sofia Bonicalzi, Leonardo Caffo & Mattia Sorgon (eds.), Naturalism and Constructivism in Metaethics. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 172--181.
  41. The “Ought” Implies “Can” Principle: A Challenge to Collective Intentionality.Guglielmo Feis - 2012 - Phenomenology and Mind 2:114-121.
    I investigate collective intentionality (CI) through the “Ought” implies “Can” (OIC) principle. My leading question is does OIC impose any further requirement on CI? In answering the challenge inside a Searlean framework, I realize that we need to clarify what CI's structure is and what kind of role the agents joining a CI-act have. In the last part of the paper, I put forward an (inverted) Hartian framework to allow the Searlean CI theory to be agent sensitive and cope with (...)
  42. '€œDovere Implica Potere'€ a Tutela Dei Diritti?Guglielmo Feis - 2012 - In Mario Cossutta (ed.), Diritti Fondamentali E Diritti Sociali. Eut Edizioni Università di Trieste. pp. 81--92.
  43. Linguaggio Assertivo E Linguaggio Precettivo.Luigi Ferrajoli - forthcoming - Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia Del Diritto:515--545.
  44. Is the Right Prior to the Good?Julian Fink - 2007 - South African Journal of Philosophy 26 (2):143-149.
    One popular line of argument put forward in support of the principle that the right is prior to the good is to show that teleological theories, which put the good prior to the right, lead to implausible normative results. There are situa- tions, it is argued, in which putting the good prior to the right entails that we ought to do things that cannot be right for us to do. Consequently, goodness cannot (always) explain an action's rightness. This indicates that (...)
  45. ‘Ought-Implies-Can’, Causal Determinism and Moral Responsibility.John Martin Fischer - 2003 - Analysis 63 (3):244–250.
  46. ‘Ought Implies Can’ and the Law.Chris Fox & Guglielmo Feis - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):370-393.
    In this paper, we investigate the ‘ought implies can’ thesis, focusing on explanations and interpretations of OIC, with a view to clarifying its uses and relevance to legal philosophy. We first review various issues concerning the semantics and pragmatics of OIC; then we consider how OIC may be incorporated in Hartian and Kelsenian theories of the law. Along the way we also propose a taxonomy of OIC-related claims.
  47. What Are We Morally Responsible For.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1988 - In The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge University Press. pp. 95-113.
  48. Scarcity and Saving Lives.Danny Frederick - 2011 - The Reasoner 5 (6):89-90.
    I argue that, because of scarcity, the right to life cannot imply an obligation on others to save the life of the right-holder, and that collectivising resources for health care not only ensures that resources are used inefficiently and inappropriately but also removes from people the authority to make decisions for themselves about matters of health, life and death.
  49. Why Universal Welfare Rights Are Impossible and What It Means.Danny Frederick - 2010 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 9 (4):428-445.
    Cranston argued that scarcity makes universal welfare rights impossible. After showing that this argument cannot be avoided by denying scarcity, I consider four challenges to the argument which accept the possibility of conflicts between the duties implied by rights. The first denies the agglomeration principle; the second embraces conflicts of duties; the third affirms the violability of all rights-based duties; and the fourth denies that duties to compensate are overriding. I argue that all four challenges to the scarcity argument are (...)
  50. Allies in Tension: Identifying and Bridging the Rift Between R2p and Just War.Henrik Friberg-Fernros - 2011 - Journal of Military Ethics 10 (3):160-173.
    Abstract It has become almost commonplace to regard the concepts of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Just War as not only compatible but rather closely connected. Contrary to this position I argue here that some Just War criteria are in significant tension with R2P. This tension results from the fact that Just War only makes war permitted while R2P prescribes an obligation. But R2P and Just War not only are in significant tension, but also suffer from inverted weaknesses: R2P is (...)
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