[Comment] A brief note on the ambiguity of ‘ought’. Reply to Moti Mizrahi’s ‘Ought, Can and Presupposition: An Experimental Study’.

Methode: Analytic Perspectives 4 (6):244-249 (2015)
Authors
Holly Lawford-Smith
University of Melbourne
Abstract
Moti Mizrahi provides experimental evidence according to which subjects judge that a person ought to ? even when she cannot ?. He takes his results to constitute a falsification of the alleged intuitiveness of the ‘Ought Implies Can’ principle. We point out that in the light of the fact that (a) ‘ought’ is multiply ambiguous, that (b) only a restricted set of readings of ‘ought’ will be relevant to the principle, and that (c) he did not instruct his subjects appropriately – or otherwise ensure that in their ‘ought’ judgements they applied the relevant concept(s) – Mizrahi’s conclusions appear premature. We suggest two ways in which the experimental design could be adjusted or supplemented. First, Mizrahi could instruct (or prime) subjects to read the ‘ought’ question in a particular way. Second, he could complement his experiment by asking follow-up questions aimed at uncovering the implications for blame of subjects’ judgements. Once these adjustments are applied, an experiment with a similar outcome would be more significant.
Keywords Ought implies Can  Experimental  Blame  Moral judgements
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