Tag Archives: existence

Is/ought, descriptive/prescriptive, truth/value

Yesterday, I happened to have a conversation about Hume’s is/ought problem with someone. It was the first time I had touched on this subject with anyone even though I had read about it.

What happened was that I had the construct of the problem backwards in my head — what ought to be could be derived from what is. Or did I?

I had suggested that what someone pays for a painting such as a Da Vinci is over-inflated because it’s worth is that of the cost of its material and labour. The discussion was derived from a discussion on what is truth and value.

Noticing my mistake, I thought more about it. I realized this problem is similar to the descriptive/prescriptive conundrum in linguistics.

Where as linguistics of the earlier generations were about prescription (telling what the rules of language are to be adhered to) later generations up to now is about description (telling you how language actually is used). That is, to describe is to say what it is and to prescribe is to say what it ought to be.

It also seems that this does indeed relate to truth and value. Truth is what something is thought to be. And value is what something is thought to be worth. But does it?

Is/ought is about experience and judgement of reality. Descriptive/prescriptive is about data and its interpretation. But truth and value do not seem to be a “natural” binary in the same way as the other two. Truth is usually discussed with false or falsity of facts or reality. And value is usually discussed with subjectivity and objectivity. Their domains are different. This is an uneasy relationship and perhaps should not be discussed together.

There Is No Guarantee

Three pieces of news has made me think about existence – the news of the death of the great kabuki (a form of traditional Japanese play) actor Ichikawa Danjuro, the death of three Japanese tourists in Guam, and the explosion of a meteor over Russia.

Truly, there is no guarantee you will be alive by the end of the day, or even the end of this minute.

To take this a step further there is even no guarantee that you would have been brought into the world in the first place.

Think about that.