The Mattering Instinct: A Conversation With Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein at

ScreenHunter_1785 Mar. 17 14.58A lot of moral questions can be answered in terms of mattering. My intuition is that the concept of mattering bridges the is-ought gap. To determine that certain things matter is also to say that we ought to pursue them, so it’s a bridge concept.

The is/ought gap was first pointed out by David Hume. You’re reading along, says Hume, it’s some philosopher and he’s talking about “this is the case,” “that is the case,” and suddenly, there’s this move to “this ought to be the case,” “that ought to be the case.” In a very famous paragraph in A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume said, “How can you derive 'ought' statements from 'is' statements?” There’s a logical gap.

It’s been taken to be axiomatic ever since Hume—among a whole class of philosophers—that there is this is/ought gap. There are “is” statements, describing states of affairs, and there are “ought” statements, which aren’t simply descriptive of states of affairs but rather assessing them in terms of their value, even asserting that what is the case ought not to be the case. And what has been taken to be axiomatic is that you can’t derive “ought” from “is” and anybody who claims otherwise is committing some sort of fallacy. They’re illicitly hiding the “ought” statements among the “is” statements. To a certain extent that’s true. If your premises contain no soupcon of an “ought,” then your conclusions can’t either. You can’t get something from nothing.

But here’s the thing. There are certain statements that we make about ourselves that are already “ought” statements and that are impossible to live without, and certain consequences follow from that.

More here.