Ought, Can, and Presupposition: An Experimental Study

Methode 4 (6):232-243 (2015)
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In this paper, I present the results of an experimental study on intuitions about moral obligation (ought) and ability (can). Many philosophers accept as an axiom the principle known as “Ought Implies Can” (OIC). If the truth of OIC is intuitive, such that it is accepted by many philosophers as an axiom, then we would expect people to judge that agents who are unable to perform an action are not morally obligated to perform that action. The results of my experimental study show that participants were more inclined to judge that an agent ought to perform an action than that the agent can perform the action. Overall, participants said that an agent ought to perform an action even when they said that the agent cannot do it. I discuss the implications of these results for the debate over OIC.
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