Freedom’s Not “Free” …

1 Jun


Sam Harris writes at Huffington Post –

Many people seem to believe that morality depends for its existence on a metaphysical quantity called “free will.” This conviction is occasionally expressed … “ought, implies, can.” Like much else in philosophy that is too easily remembered (e.g. “you can’t get an ought from an is.”), this phrase has become an impediment to clear thinking. … In fact, the concept of free will is a non-starter, both philosophically and scientifically. There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for this freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others. Understanding this would alter our view of morality in some respects, but it wouldn’t destroy the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil.

Sam Harris, Morality Without Free Will   harris/morality-without-free-wil_b_868804.html


I’m not going into a long post over Harris’ blog post here at Huff Post; others can and “will” (I’m sure) do that.  What I will do is briefly focus on this statement – the old philosophical canard that “you can’t get an ought from an is.”) …

Says who?  … The metaphysical moralists?  If so, then that’s EXACTLY why morals can’t be the gauge of metaphysics, philosophy, and the ontological makeup of the world. … The moralists/idealists/ metaphysics-bunch have just readily shown us why OUGHT and VALUE are untenable measures of reality in the universe and in nature.

“Ought” brings the flood-waters down on the rest of creation.  As soon as you posit the centrality of “ought” and “freedom” together, nothing becomes fixed.  No range of motion, no path of action or freely-chosen courses of action become impossible.

It can all be done by the magical wave of the wand or snap of the fingers … Voila! … REALITY – and anything can happen within it

Except even epistemologically and ontologically, that’s not the case.  You can “get an ought from an is”  In fact, you must.  Without “IS”and the parameters of “IS”, there are no fixtures by which we can get to “ought”, and the range of choices that “ought” affords us.

There is no OUGHT without an IS.  To cite the oft-repeated quote, though in a different way:  “Freedom Isn’t Free!”  There is no open-ended freedom of action to do anything.  What there is, is a limited range of options from which particular kinds of action may be taken.

That’s all! That’s FREEDOM for you.


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