On the difference between ‘ought’ and ‘is’ (and getting from one to the other)

Doug Belshaw, Open Educational Thinkering, Jan 15, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

David Hume famously argued that one cannot infer to an 'ought' from an 'is'. "The distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason." Instead, Hume argued, we are informed by a moral sentiment - one more way in which reason is always a slave of the passions. Doug Belshaw sees this as a problem. "We perceive things through the lens of what ought to be. This, inevitably, leads to a situation where a person/group/state points to something as ‘evidence’ in support of their views." But I think this leads to a mistaken theory of change: "To my mind, meaningful change comes through people (and organisations) having a reason to change. They respond to ‘incentives’, loosely-defined." I am very unconvinced by 'incentive' theory in general. Because people don't change because of external inducements. They change because they care about the outcome. Understand this, and you understand both economics and education. Related: obey or suffer.

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