Jakob Elster

'Ought' implies 'can'

Torsdag, 30. oktober, 14.15-16.00
Sted: P.A. Munchs hus, Seminarrom 12

The ”ought implies can”-principle states that I can only have an obligation to do X if it is possible for me to do X.  This principle, which is fundamental for moral thinking, is sometimes criticized and at other times applied too liberally. In the first part of my talk, I will show how a proper understanding of the principle – where the “ought” is understood as referring to an all-things-considered moral obligation in a concrete situation –can dispel various sources of doubt concerning its validity. I will then deal with two problems which arise when we try to apply the principle. First, how do we deal with future obligations? We tend to blame someone if they themselves have brought it about that they are incapable of respecting their obligations. But the ”ought implies can”-principle seems to imply that it is impossible to know what my future obligations will be without knowing what I will be able to do in the future. If this is correct, I can reduce the scope of my future obligations by making myself incapable of performing them, and I cannot be blamed for making myself incapable of respecting my obligations, since these obligations depend on my capacity to respect them. Next, how can we apply the OIC-principle to cases of motivational impossibility, where I cannot be motivated to do X? Do such cases exist, and if they do, how can we know whether an action is motivationally impossible – in which case the ”ought implies can”-principle comes into play – or merely difficult?

Jakob Elster er postdoktorstipendiat ved Etikkprogrammet, Universitetet i Oslo. Han forsvarte sin avhandling Transforming Moral Motivation i 2007.