According to a naive view sometimes apparent in the writings of moral philosophers, 'ought' often expresses a relation between agents and actions—the relation that obtains between an agent and an action when that action is what that agent ought to do. It is not part of this naive view that 'ought' always expresses this relation—adherents of the naive view are happy to allow that 'ought' also has an evaluative sense, on which it means, roughly, that were things ideal, some proposition would be the case. What is important to the naive view is that there is also a deliberative sense of 'ought', on which it relates agents to actions. In contrast, logically and linguistically sophisticated philosophers have typically rejected this naive view. According to them, there is no argument-place for an agent in any relation expressed by 'ought', nor is there any argument-place for an action. According to this view, if Jim ought to jam, that is not because there is a special distinctive deliberative ought relation between Jim and jamming; rather, it is because a certain proposition ought to be the case: namely, that Jim jams. This essay defends the naive view, by first arguing that there are two distinct normative senses of 'ought', which actually exhibit different syntactic behavior, and then going on to argue that the deliberative sense of 'ought' relates agents to actions, rather than to propositions. It closes by drawing lessons for a range of issues in moral theory.
Mark Schroeder; Ought, Agents, and Actions. The Philosophical Review 1 January 2011; 120 (1): 1–41. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00318108-2010-017
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