Hume-ans: Our Question is Humans


Should we or shouldn’t we?

by O Society August 20, 2019

We turn to Hume for moral guidance. Why?

Because  we need moral guidance to decide whether or not we should do things. Why?

Because our leaders are not taught moral guidance in school at Harvard.

No, they aren’t. They are taught the prime directive is to make profit for their shareholders. This is above all.

Why Hume?

Because David Hume is the Humane Philosopher We Need Now

Hume poses a question in A Treatise of Human Nature Book III Part I Section I:

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I always remark’d the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs, when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.

This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ‘tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason shou’d be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.”

In other words, Hume says one cannot get an “ought” from an “is.”

This means “X is the case” alone does not entail “X should be the case.”

We still need an “ought” premise to arrive at an “ought” conclusion.

Therefore, our currently operating model of we should do X, in which X is any and all things technological, because we can, is simply wrong.

From the seemingly monumental – should we clone humans, develop nuclear weapons, design artificial intelligence, and so on – to the seemingly mundane technologies we use, the only question we ask now is:

“Can we make money off this?”

Our answer is always:

“If it makes money, do it. If we don’t, someone else will.

If it doesn’t make money, don’t do it.”

Yes it is. This is our answer to all questions.

If we can do it, we do it, and if it makes us money, we do it ten times as fast.

Let’s be adults here. We all see how it works.

Yet no one asks why we should assume profit is good in and of itself. Why is profit good?

No, seriously. Why is making a profit in and of itself always our goal? Should it be?

Profit is a financial benefit realized when the amount of revenue gained from a business activity exceeds the expenses, costs, and taxes needed to sustain the activity.

We’ve arrived at the provervial Bottom Line now, haven’t we?

Here it is now:


We can make a profit. That’s what our bottom line fancy maths tells us, doesn’t it?

In this situation right here_____ , we can make a profit.

Ok. But should we? Why?


What if profit gets us all killed or worse?

If the only tool you have is money, you tend to see every problem as a dollar.

What if our question is Will we survive? or How best are we to live?

What about nuclear warfare, climate crisis, antibiotic resistance, surveillance by Big Brother, the extinction of species including homo sapiens, and so on… these are questions of a biological, philosophical, and moral nature aren’t they?

And yet we pretend everything is one simple economic business question, don’t we?

We pretend our numbers make it all concrete, don’t we? You know, these 1, 2, 3

The symbol things we add a $ to and pretend doing so makes things magic and all our worries disappear.

Oh, yeah. Numbers. Symbols. Those things. Can you eat them or breathe them?

But I know maths! Science. Math. Economics. Blaah, blaah, blaah, because I said so.

Any idiot can see it. Clear as mud.

Here’s an idiot now asking whether or not we should “nuke Mars?”

Elon Musk. Thought leader. Where do these Musky thoughts lead?

Savior of the human race. Trust in Musk. Says so right here. Always a tech solution. Let’s blow something up because surely that will fix it this time….

Let’s lookit their bottom line, shall we?

“Sometimes, we don’t observe a bubble not because the stories aren’t sticky or because the technology isn’t narratible, but because the narrative comes to fruition and the technology or entrepreneur delivers.”

There’s your answer. Wait for the entrepreneur to deliver. HOOORAYYY!!!

What if we “undermine our own intelligence because it requires technologies we are smart enough to build but not smart enough to use safely? This is the gap between knowing how to do something and knowing what one should do.”

What if our belief “in the pure version of economic absolutism, nothing goes “wrong” within economics that cannot be diagnosed and treated within economics by economics itself” is indeed itself wrong?

What if our problem isn’t one of tech or money or of finding the money to finance the tech?

The Anthropocene Is a Joke

What then, Mister Fancy Pants Business Man? What if you are wrong? What do we do now? Enquiring minds want to know!


One thought on “Hume-ans: Our Question is Humans

  1. Seeking to get an “ought” from an “is.” That is the essence and impulse of ideological realism. It isn’t only what plagues the dominant ideologies such as capitalism realism. I see it as a more general mindset that plagues the world.

    I was reading Seeing Through the World, Jeremy Johnson’s book on Jean Gebser. It reminded me of a complaint I’ve had of integral theories in general, the tendency to jump from “is” to “ought,” to look to history as a guide to development, that the way things happened is how they should happen.

    Even when good intentions is motivating ideological realism, I see the mindset as less than helpful. Gebser was less prone to it than the likes of Wilber. And both of them don’t pose the kind of danger as the Musks of the world. Still, we need an entirely different way of thinking, that looks to radical imagination, that embraces possibility and the unknown.

    Our present system is about control. That is what ideological realism is always about, the attempt to lessen uncertainty through rhetoric that is imposed upon the public mind. The teleological tendency of Whiggish liberalism is a underlying current found among the neocons, techno-utopians, integralists, new agers, etc. But what if our longing for a single vision to rule is our most central problem.

    This could be brought back to Hume. An ideologically-driven “ought” narrows down perceived reality. But Hume’s bundle theory of mind, maybe borrowed from the Buddhists, offers an entirely different kind of insight into humanity. We aren’t singular but multiplicities.


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