Basic Iffy Oughts

  • Fred Feldman
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy book series (PSSP, volume 35)


Some of the most interesting and challenging puzzles concerning the logic of ‘ought’-statements have to do with “iffy oughts” —sentences that contain an ‘if’ as well as an ‘ought’ (or appropriate equivalent terms). Each of these sentences is an iffy ought:
  1. (1)

    If it is his most stringent prima facie duty, then he ought to doit.

  2. (2)

    If she promised to come for lunch, then she should come for lunch.

  3. (3)

    If you want to gain a reputation for honesty, then you should give correct change.

  4. (4)

    If rain would make the flowers grow, then there ought to be rain.



Moral Obligation Ordinary Language Good World False Conclusion Innocent Person 
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Notes to Chapter 4

  1. 1.
    Although a number of deontic logicians have used the term ‘detachment’ in the relevant sense, I first came across the current use of ‘factual detachment’, as well as the current use of ‘deontic detachment’ in P. S. Greenspan’s ‘Conditional Oughts and Hypothetical Imperatives,’ The Journal of Philosophy LXXII (1975), 259–276.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    By Arthur Prior in ‘The Paradoxes of Derived Obligation,’ Mind 63 (1954), 64–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    My use of ‘overrides’ derives from Chisholm. See his ‘The Ethics of Requirement,’ The American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964), 148. Chisholm, in turn, cites W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good (New York: Oxford University Press, 1930), p. 18.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Prior, op. cit.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Once again, I am indebted to David Lewis. My proposal is an agent- and time-relativized version of the concept of conditional obligation he presents in Counterfactuals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 100. See also his ‘Semantic Analyses for Dyadic Deontic Logic,’ in Logical Theory and Semantic Analysis, ed. by Soren Stenlund (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1974), pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See, for example, John Robison, ‘Who, What, Where and When: A Note on Deontic Logic,’ Philosophical Studies 15 (1964), 89–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8a.
    A good discussion of this point may be found in Hans Lenk, ‘Varieties of Commitment,’ Theory and Decision 9 (1978), 17–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8b.
    See esp. pp. 22–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8c.
    See also Peter L. Mott, ‘On Chisholm’s Paradox,’ Journal of Philosophical Logic 2 (1973), 197–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 8d.
    Judith W. DeCew, ‘Conditional Obligation and Counterfactuals,’ Journal of Philosophical Logic 10 (1981), 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 9.
    Analysis 24 (1963), 33–36.Google Scholar
  12. 10a.
    For an excellent review of some of the main treatments of Chisholm’s puzzle, as well as a fine bibliography of recent work in deontic logic in general, see James E. Tomberlin, ‘Contrary-to-Duty Imperatives and Conditional Obligation,’ Noûs XV (1981), 357–375.Google Scholar
  13. 10b.
    Two other extremely useful works are: Azizah al-Hibri, Deontic Logic: A Comprehensive Appraisal and a New Proposal (Washington: University press of America, 1978)Google Scholar
  14. 10c.
    Risto Hilpinen (ed.), Deontic Logic: Introductory and Systematic Readings (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1971).Google Scholar
  15. 10d.
    One of the most insightful discussions of Chisholm’s problem may be found in Lennart Aqvist, ‘Good Samaritans, Contrary to Duty Imperatives, and Epistemic Obligations,’ Noûs 1 (1967), 361–379.Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    For example, Peter Mott, in ‘On Chisholm’s Paradox,’ op. cit.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 12.
    Criticism along these lines is also presented in DeCew’s ‘Conditional Obligation and Counterfactuals,’ op. cit. For further criticism of Mott’s approach, see Tomberlin’s ‘Contrary to Duty Imperatives and Conditional Obligation, op. cit.Google Scholar
  18. 13a.
    I don’t claim to be the first to see things in this way. See, for example, Bas van Fraassen, ‘The Logic of Conditional Obligation,’ Journal of Philosophical Logic 1 (1972), 417–438Google Scholar
  19. 13b.
    David Lewis, ‘Semantic Analyses for Dyadic Deontic Logic,’ op. citGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Feldman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Massachusetts at AmherstUSA

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