Imperatives, Logic Of

In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 2575-2585 (2013)
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Suppose that a sign at the entrance of a hotel reads: “Don’t enter these premises unless you are accompanied by a registered guest”. You see someone who is about to enter, and you tell her: “Don’t enter these premises if you are an unaccompanied registered guest”. She asks why, and you reply: “It follows from what the sign says”. It seems that you made a valid inference from an imperative premise to an imperative conclusion. But it also seems that imperatives cannot be true or false, so what does it mean to say that your inference is valid? It cannot mean that the truth of its premise guarantees the truth of its conclusion. One is thus faced with what is known as “Jørgensen’s dilemma” (Ross 1941: 55-6): it seems that imperative logic cannot exist because logic deals only with entities that, unlike imperatives, can be true or false, but it also seems that imperative logic must exist. It must exist not only because inferences with imperatives can be valid, but also because imperatives (like “Enter” and “Don’t enter”) can be inconsistent with each other, and also because one can apply logical operations to imperatives: “Don’t enter” is the negation of “Enter”, and “Sing or dance” is the disjunction of “Sing” and “Dance”. A standard reaction to this dilemma consists in basing imperative logic on analogues of truth and falsity. For example, the imperative “Don’t enter” is satisfied if you don’t enter and is violated if you enter, and one might say that an inference from an imperative premise to an imperative conclusion is valid exactly if the satisfaction (rather than the truth) of the premise guarantees the satisfaction of the conclusion. But before getting into the details, more needs to be said on what exactly imperatives are

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Peter Vranas
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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