Volume 1, 2007
Does the Is-Ought Issue Suggest a Transcendental Realm?
The principle that values cannot be derived from facts, though first explicitly formulated by David Hume, does not seem to be consistent with Hume's assertions that value becomes intelligible through experience, and that the will is determined by pleasure and pain. Moral reasoning involving pleasures and pains in the context of the peculiarities of human existence in society must be more complicated than reasoning involving ordinary, i.e. natural, pleasures and pains. Nevertheless, all pains and pleasures must be sensations. Hence Hume's moral philosophy becomes an example of an ethics in which facts, namely pleasures and pains, are related to values. However, many philosophers have argued that values must have a transcendental origin. Ludwig Wittgenstein's arguments concerning ethics and aesthetics constitute an interesting contemporary example of such transcendental conceptions of value. For Wittgenstein, the voice of conscience is God; the will can affect the subject at the limits of the world, and not things in the world; therefore, ethics must be transcendental (not expressible in the way facts in the world are). It seems that this attitude in ethics and aesthetics rules out any empirical discourse on values, which can hardly be called totally fruitless. An example of such discourse may even be one describable in Wittgensteinian terms: values can be defined through facts as modifications in the limits of the world, and through facts as things "in the world". If such descriptions are possible and expressible, a reference to a transcendental realm to account for the existence of conscience would become redundant.