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THE IS-OUGHT PROBLEMWhat is the Is-Ought problem It is usually stated as the problem ofwhether it is possible to derive normative statements from descriptivestatements but to state the problem at its most general level it isthe problem of whether ANY moral statement can be literally true andhence potentially knowable It is the problem of whether there existany moral FACTS in exactly the same sense as there exist chemical factshistorical facts or mathematical facts Since libertarianism is a normative political theory it is only naturalto expect that great libertarian thinkers would grapple with theIs-Ought problem after all if there are no moral facts to be knownthen any normative theory would be senseless It would be akinto a theory about unicorns Of course even if the Is-Ought problem weresolved it would hardly establish any particular moral doctrinesolving the Is-Ought problem is a necessary condition forlibertarian moral theory to be established not a sufficient condition Interestingly libertarian political philosophers have spent even moretime on the Is-Ought problem than you would expect Rand among otherspopularized the problem She certainly stirred my initial interest inthe question but I found her answer to be quite unsatisfactory After several years of thinking about the problem I now think that Ihave a very promising solution which I will presently expoundNow it is very widely believed that there are only two sources ofknowledge observation and deductive reasoning This is perhaps one ofthe few premises shared by philosophers as diverse as Rand and Humethough naturally they put different spins on it Now it is not too hardto show that IF these are the only two sources of knowledge then moralknowledge is impossible Of course just because we are totallyignorant about something we could not infer that the thing did notexist but as with astrology if a field is shown to have no validmethods then the validity of the field itself falls into questionSo why cant observation yield moral knowledge Simply put no matterhow long you
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