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bell jar

Is-Ought Problem actually solved? Problem of Universals

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I heard that Objectivism is dissatisfied with is/ought dichotomy. It maintains that "ought" can be deduced from "is". I wonder what kind of "is" can be the basis of "ought". Because I see one kind of "is" cannot be the basis of any "ought".

In our society, many people usually think "whatever is so ought to be so" or "whatever is not so ought not to be so". They take a thing's existence (or nonexistence) itself as the justification of its rationality to exist (or not exist). They take a "default" course of events as a moral code. This is an example that deduces an "ought" from an "is". Nature worshipers believe in this. If they see a place that has not been exploited yet, they usually say that "people ought not to exploit it " or "it is wrong to alter the nature." Anti-cloning activists also believe in this too. They believe that it is wrong to clone humans because the state of affairs is that humans are sexually reproductive animals. According to this ratiocination, suppose if people took the fact that "viruses exist" as a moral code, then hospitals, doctors and medical science would be all "immoral".

Apparent the "is" that a thing exists cannot be the basis of morality. So how does Objectivism choose its proper "is" to serve as the basis of its "ought"?

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I heard that Objectivism is dissatisfied with is/ought dichotomy.

Right.

[many people]take a "default" course of events as a moral code.

And, as you illustrated, this makes no sense at all.

So how does Objectivism choose its proper "is" to serve as the basis of its "ought"?

Simple (yet profound):

Objectivist metaethics asks the question: Do you want to live?

If no, then stop right there. Say nothing more and die. Haveaniceday.

If yes, then there are facts of reality which must be obeyed in order to attain the goal of living. And more facts to be discovered and obeyed to attain "the good life" or life as a man qua man, as we put it.

That is how we derive the "ought" from the "is." It is conditional, rather than a contextless command.

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So how does Objectivism choose its proper "is" to serve as the basis of its "ought"?

With the "is" referring to a fact of reality, the "ought" is derived from "how must I relate this 'is' in a such a way that it best serves my rational self-interest". Objectivism doesn't "choose it" per se, Objectivism provides a principled and reasoned framework (or guideline) for the individual to determine how he must relate to facts of reality (the "is") within the parameters of the context in which he must deal with this "is". The relationship to the same "is" can change for the individual depending on the circumstances.

For example; The sun is very hot. I need it's warmth so I must afford myself access to the sun sometimes. However, prolonged exposure to the heat of the sun can be damaging to my skin, my life, etc. Therefore, sometimes I seek it's heat and other times I need to avoid it's heat. That's two different "oughts" from the same metaphysical "is".

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The basic idea behind Objectivist ethics is:

"If you want to live, you have to do certain things because reality demands it".

There is no fundamental ought that applies to you just so. Only if you want to live you have to find out the means of how exactly to do that. So the is-ought gap is bridged by the fact that to survive you have to do certain things (eat, sleep) and must not do certain others (jump off a high building).

The basic "ought" you accept when you want to live is rationality. Unlike Kantian rationalism, Objectivism holds that you should be reasonable not because it's reasonable, but because it's the only way for your to survive.

Reason is your way of accepting reality and dealing with it.

Your success in regard to survival is determined by how strongly you stick to the principle of rationality.

The examples you gave were examples of intrinsic value:

People who say: "Nature is valuable" without giving any reason why. "It just is".

This is, as you correctly stated, invalid.

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In our society, many people usually think "whatever is so ought to be so" or "whatever is not so ought not to be so".

Ayn Rand criticizes this mentality in her essay "The Metaphysical vs. the Manmade" in The Virtue of selfishness. She says it's based on a failure to differentiate between what is given in nature, and what is the product of human choice (and thus "could have been" otherwise).

So how does Objectivism choose its proper "is" to serve as the basis of its "ought"?

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought."

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Ayn Rand criticizes this mentality in her essay "The Metaphysical vs. the Manmade" in The Virtue of selfishness.

The only place that I have found that essay "The Metaphysical vs. the Manmade" is in the Ayn Rand Letter. It's not in my VoS. She wrote said essay in 1973, well after VoS was already published (almost a decade after).

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Ayn Rand criticizes this mentality in her essay "The Metaphysical vs. the Manmade"

I don't think that's precisely the mentality she was illustrating there. "The Metaphysical vs. the Manmade" was the mentality of judging man-made institutions as facts of nature (i.e., just accepting them instead of doing something about it), or judging facts of nature as if they were man-made (i.e. thinking you can persuade gravity to change its mind).

What he was talking about was nature-worship: saying that "nature has it this way, so it's somehow 'right' for it be that way and it would be morally wrong to change it."

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Bell Jar,

I think that your basic question has been adequately answered by the responses preceeding mine, but I would like to address the examples you give. I understand that you don't necessarily advocate either of those positions, but I think that speaking about this subject in terms of concrete examples will be helpful for both of us.

As has been explained, the basis of Objectivist ethics is man's life. Everything revolves around the basic question: Do you want to live? Thus, by implication your example regarding nature has been refuted. The reason being that the nature (the "is") of a human being and of a tree are quite different. For a tree, there is no "ought", there is only it's automatic existence. It does not choose to grow roots and consume nutrients, it simply does these things. Therefore there can be no question about it's "best interests" - even in it's relations to humans - since it does not possess interests. The only "ought" to be pondered when humans are confronted with the question (since humans are the only entities that can be confronted with questions) of whether or not to alter the environment is whether or not a particular course of action will further their own lives.

Moving on to your second example regarding human cloning; what those that are against human cloning, by viewing human beings as primarily sexually reproductive beings, have done is ascribed to mankind the same characteristics of the tree discussed above while simultaneously excluding any value to be found in the human mind. While human beings are certainly physically entities and rely on sexual reproduction for the furtherance of the race, other options are on the horizon. In fact, it is the use of the mind that is of much more importance for the projection of humanity into the future than is the use of one's reproductive organs. Without rational thought, all of the breeding in the world would not spare humans from the inevitable challenges they use their minds to overcome and to go on surviving. In a metaphysical sense, it is the use of the mind that makes life possible and human cloning is merely the most advanced implementation of this principle to date.

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You can find it in "Philosophy: Who needs it"

Oops, you're right. It's PWNI, not VOS. Inspector's right that it's a little different situation, but I still think it's helpfull for understanding what kind of "is" leads to an "ought" (a metaphysical "is," not one that's vulnerable to human intervention).

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It seems that Objectivism doesn't deduce an "ought' from an "is" either.

The first reply clearly told me that there is an extra premise "Do you want to live?". Only when you answer "yes" then can we talk about morality or ethics. Otherwise we must stop here. I think "ought to live" is the forth axiom which is parallel to your other three axioms, and it cannot be reduced to the other three axioms. Then, Objectivist ethics is founded upon the ethical axiom "ought to live", rether than the fact of reality.

If people choose the "ought to live" option, then they ought to maintain and further their lives. But the second "ought" is the derect inference from the axiomatic "ought" . Our reference to the facts of reality can be established only after our axiomatic &/or inferential "ought"s has been chosen. The post #4 wrote, "If you want to live, you have to do certain things because reality demands it". In this sentence what I see is that "you want to live" is not logically inferred from "have to do certain things." Rather, only when we establish the purpose of " want to live" , can we resort to reality to determine what course of action can serves our purpose. The former is one sufficient condition to the latter. "Ought to do ___" precedes to "See how can we achieve ___ according to the demands of reality" .

The sentence in post #3: " With the "is" referring to a fact of reality, the "ought" is derived from "how must I relate this 'is' in a such a way that it best serves my rational self-interest" also gives me an impression that the "ought" is actually not deduced from an "is". In this sentence there are three key words: "is", "ought" and "my rational self-interest". What can be deduced from "is" (a fact of reality) is only "a way that it best serves ___". As to the "___" (this is a purpose) you can substitute it with "my rational self-interest", or "the interests of other people", or "the Glory of God", or "suicide". These four substitutes can all reasonably finish the sentence "With the "is" referring to a fact of reality, the "ought" is derived from "how must I relate this 'is' in a such a way that it best serves ____". I know "the interests of other people" and "the Glory of God" are rejected by Objectivism. So the proposition "With the "is" referring to a fact of reality, the "ought" is derived from "how must I relate this 'is' in a such a way that it best serves my rational self-interest" doesn't clarify how to deduce an "is" from an "ought".

Post #3 wrote"Objectivism doesn't "choose it" per se, Objectivism provides a principle and reasoned framework (or guideline) for the individual to determine how he must relate to facts of reality (the "is") within the parameters of the context in which he must deal with this "is". " This is irrelevant to ethics. It's a technical one. Because whatever purpose I set for myself, (no matter suicide or self interest), I must determine how to "relate to facts of reality (the "is") within the parameters of the context in which I must deal with this "is"."

My viewpoint is that, an "ought" must presume a purpose. But the purpose is not logically deduced from facts of reality but established independently by a person . What purpose the person chooses depends on his ethical premises and ultimately, "ought to live" or "ought not to live", that's the ultimate premise and no more reduction. As to the cognition of reality and the determination of how to comply with the laws of nature (or reality) in order to best serve our purpose is just a technical question. This question only comes after the state of affairs that a purpose has been out there is established. This question is not the logical precedent of purpose. Objectivist ethics is founded upon the axiom "ought to live", not "facts of reality." If someone even reject the axiom of "ought to live", he is hard (or even impossible) to be persuaded through valid reasoning.

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My viewpoint is that, an "ought" must presume a purpose. But the purpose is not logically deduced from facts of reality but established independently by a person .

But in order to have a purpose, you must first be alive. In order to live, you must fulfill certain conditions which make life necessary. This "is" necessarily preceeds any and every ought. Of course, everyone has the choice whether they want to accept a rational morality, or one which contradicts life and frustrates whatever goals or values they set for themselves.

But the fundamental fact is: you have to live before you can do anything else. Therefore, life is your first concern-- anything which contradicts life logically contradicts any other values you might try to achieve.

Through an inductive process of reasoning, you can establish that the proper goal for a living being is its own happiness. But life remains the standard.

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The premise of your question is flawed; it's impossible to DEDUCE "ought" from "is" it is possible to INDUCE "ought" once one has the "is."

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" This is irrelevant to ethics. It's a technical one. Because whatever purpose I set for myself, (no matter suicide or self interest), I must determine how to "relate to facts of reality (the "is") within the parameters of the context in which I must deal with this "is"."

No, it's highly relevant to the issue of ethics. While it would be correct to say that Objectivism does presuppose a desire to live, it does not command a person to live, it does not "ought" him to live, because, well a philosophy cannot make a volitional being do anything. What Objectivism does say is, IF you desire to live, this is what you must do if you wish to live a happy, productive, flourishing life (or the life of a man). It is that kind of life that an Objectivist refers to when he/she says "life", not the kind of life that consists of simply avoiding the grave for another day.

A person who is choosing suicide DOES NOT need a moral code. Whatever purpose you set for yourself, aside from suicide, requires that you be alive to do it.

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The first reply clearly told me that there is an extra premise "Do you want to live?". Only when you answer "yes" then can we talk about morality or ethics.

Yes, you do have to make the choice. But what Objectivism also shows is that this choice must be the top one in your hierarchy, that any other choice of highest value is irrational. So you can't for example choose God or others, etc (rationally). It has to be life or nothing.

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I accept that life is the necessary condition of a purpose. But a living man can set verious purposes for himself. He can even set a purpose to sacrifice for others before he dies. And this is what Objectivism opposes. If an "ought" is founded upon an "is" in this way, then why Objectivist ethics has its unique content that is different from other ethics?

I am also confused with the fact that to live is optional. If a conclusion can be logically deduced from a premise, it is a necessary process. I mean, as long as the premise is true, the conclusion must be true too. For example, if the premise "France is in Europe" is true, then "Paris is in Europe" must be true. So if the "is" means the facts of reality, then why "to live" become a choice? I think the only correct conclusion is that "to live" is an axiom and cannot be reduced.

it's impossible to DEDUCE "ought" from "is" it is possible to INDUCE "ought" once one has the "is."
Logical reasoning is always to deduce a conclusion from an premise. If the ought is the logical conclusion of the fact of reality, why can't it be attained through deduction? If "ought" can only be induced then it must be a kind of probability. Induction can render no decisive conclusion. And I don't know how to induce an "ought" from an "is" (besides "whatever is so ought to be so".).

it would be correct to say that Objectivism does presuppose a desire to live

It seems that some of you also accept that the necessity to presuppose "to live" and this presupposition cannot be reduced. Therefore "to live" is the ethical axiom of Objectivist ethics.

IF you desire to live, this is what you must do if you wish to live a happy, productive, flourishing life (or the life of a man).
Again it presupposes "you disire to live".

A person who is choosing suicide DOES NOT need a moral code. Whatever purpose you set for yourself, aside from suicide, requires that you be alive to do it.

I think it's problematic to redifine the concepts in order to have things fit their case.

Through an inductive process of reasoning, you can establish that the proper goal for a living being is its own happiness.

I heard there is a kind of spider, when the baby spiders have been hatched out, the mother have her body eaten by her offsprings.

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I heard there is a kind of spider, when the baby spiders have been hatched out, the mother have her body eaten by her offsprings.
There are many creatures that die after mating/birthing rituals. Ethics is concerned with only one kind of creature - humans.

Besides, if we were to personify the mother spider, we might find that she derives some extreme form of happiness from giving her life for her spawn's appetites. The fact that she is a certain type of spider might make it so she ought to die for her children. But again, no humans, no ethics.

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Logical reasoning is always to deduce a conclusion from an premise. If the ought is the logical conclusion of the fact of reality, why can't it be attained through deduction? If "ought" can only be induced then it must be a kind of probability. Induction can render no decisive conclusion. And I don't know how to induce an "ought" from an "is" (besides "whatever is so ought to be so".).

Induction, when done properly, is every bit as valid as deduction. Proper induction is not about increasing probablilities towards some increasingly likely but still tentative conclusion. It's essesence is the building of more abstract principles and generalizations from the perceptually given. The discovery of ALL principles (including even the laws of deduction) is an inductive process.

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ILogical reasoning is always to deduce a conclusion from an premise. If the ought is the logical conclusion of the fact of reality, why can't it be attained through deduction?

There are two kinds of logic, deductive and inductive. Deduction is largely tautological: you can manipulate existing data but you cannot discover new truths (as in Socratic syllogisms). Looking at reality to determine an "is" is induction.

Furthermore, the choice to live is NOT an axiom of the Objectivist ethics; there are no ethical axioms, since ethics is a derived branch of philosophy. Ethics is a guide to living. An ethics that did not, in fact, guide you in some method for living would be a contradiction of terms. This is why ethics only applies to the living, and since you have volition, the fact of your continued existence is open to your choice. If it were not, you would not require a guide in order to live (you would do so automatically), and ethics would, again, not apply to you.

This is why Ayn Rand said that nature presents us with a great many "oughts", all of them conditional: IF you want to live, then you OUGHT to eat. If you want to eat, you ought to work. And so on. However, "want to live" is not the "is" here, it is the condition. The fact that you have to eat in order to live is the pertinant fact of reality (the "is"); it is not subject to any of your whims, feelings, etc. It simply is. No matter what you do, you will not be able to alter the fact that your life requires sustenance. However, you can alter whether you continue in existence or not by whether you behave according to the demands of this fact.

That is how you derive ought from is. Those who call this a dichotomy of some kind are, in effect, saying that men don't actually require food in order to live; men can live in any manner whatsoever and reality is malleable to anyone's whim.

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I think it's problematic to redifine the concepts in order to have things fit their case.

Good. Me too. Fortunately I was consistently applying the concepts in question without redefining them.

I am also confused with the fact that to live is optional.
Then you are denying a fundamental reality. People choose to kill themselves; sometimes intentionally and sometimes unknowingly. People choosing death do not need a system of ethics. And, people choosing to kill themselves do not always do so in such a bold and dramatic fashion as putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger. No, sometimes they make seemingly inconsequential decisions in denial that life has requirements; decisions which detract from the value and span of their existence; their life. Typically, these people don't even know they are choosing death by their actions, and they even contrarily think that they are "living their life". But each decision they make that denies a fact of reality brings detracts that much value from their life, either making their life that of an animal or that of a corpse.

I think the only correct conclusion is that "to live" is an axiom and cannot be reduced.

If this were the case, all the people who commit suicide must be figments of our imagination.

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If you're looking for an unconditional "ought," you won't find one. There is no categorical imperative. Why do you need one?

Another point: The choice to live or not is a binary one. Either you mean to live as a man qua man, or you are not, in fact, choosing to live. Choosing to live "for others" is rejecting your own life. That's why "other methods" are not accepted.

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Deduction is largely tautological: you can manipulate existing data but you cannot discover new truths (as in Socratic syllogisms).

I agree with everything in Megan's post except this. I've tried to argue against people who have said this a few times in these forums. Syllogisms and other methods of deduction do result in new truths. The truth in the conclusion is implied in the premises, but it is not contained in them. For example, just because you know that "all men are mortal" and that "Socrates is a man," does not mean that you already know that "Socrates is mortal." You have to put the two together, and perform a completely separate act of deduction to reach that conclusion.

Some people who have been Objectivists for a while, and had lots of time to "chew" on the concepts become impatient with newbies, who may have grasped some of the fundamental concepts, but have not fully integrated them and performed all the deductions that are possible from the premises they've accepted. But humans are not like Aquinas' angels-- we don't automatically grasp everything implicit in a concept in one act of simply contemplating the universal from which it all derives.

Francis Bacon was the first to make a famous argument that syllogisms don't result in new truths-- as if the value of deduction somehow subtracted from his revolutionary and valuable new methods of induction. But he employed a syllogism even in his argument that deduction does not reveal new truths! In order to provide a new truth, he seemed to reason, a syllogism would have to arrive at a conclusion which was not even implied in the premises, but syllogisms don't do that, therefore syllogisms don't contain new truths. So was he saying something new, or not? I say he was (but that he was wrong). :)

In order to derive an "ought" from an "is" one must employ deductive and inductive reasoning.

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Yes, but the difference is: with deductive logic, if you have correct premises and have reasoned correctly, your conclusions are automatic. That's why the end result isn't considered a "new" truth; it was fully contained in the premises, even if you haven't identified it. However, if you've concluded that all swans are white, and you encounter a black swan and proceed to form an induction and change your premise (that all swans are white), you are now in possession of a fact that was not implied by anything else that you already knew.

In order to begin learning, you always have to start with induction from observations on reality; the idea that you can arrive at knowledge of reality strictly by manipulation of ideas is rationalism, and it's also fallacious. I'm not saying that deduction can be dispensed with, you'd never get to higher-level conclusions if you did! I'm saying it's not the starting point . . . it's more like your mechanism of refining/applying what you've learned through induction.

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I want to know what are your definitions of "morality", "ethics" , "normativity", "ought", "should". What is the scope ethics focuses? When mentioning suicide you just dismiss it as something outside the realm of morality. Even if it is not in the realm of morality it is still in the realm of normativity. Does ethics only research morality and dismiss other normativity? Which discipline study other normativity?

Your logic seems that:

1. To live is a morality; to die involves no morality therefore it should be dismissed.

2. In order to live, people must take some course of action to support their lives or even further their lives.

3. What course of action should be taken is determined by facts and laws of morality.

You call this "derivation of an "ought" from an "is". But there is a question: why to live is moral? And the term "ought" seems open to different interpretations.

When I looked up dictionary, I found that "ought" has two usages: one is used to indicate an obligation or duty; the other one is used to indicate a probability or likelihood or expectation.

If I say, "She ought to finish her work in three days because she is clever.", I am using the second meaning. If I say, "You ought to eat in order to sustain your life.", I am still using the second meaning too. It seems that what can be derived from an "is" is the "ought" in the second meaning.

But how about the first meaning? Only this "ought" is an ethical concept. An obligation or duty cannot logically derived from a fact. It can only derived from a purpose. But a purpose can be a arbitrary thing. It can have no factual basis. It cannot be logically derived from facts.

If someone set him the purpose of death, he can still derived an "ought" from an "is" in an Objectivist way:

If I stop breathing I will die. ==> I ought to stop my breath ==> I should hang myself because according to the facts of reality this can stop my breath.

====================

Furthermore, the choice to live is NOT an axiom of the Objectivist ethics; there are no ethical axioms, since ethics is a derived branch of philosophy.
This seem just the Objectivist stance and not widely accepted.

Ethics is a guide to living. An ethics that did not, in fact, guide you in some method for living would be a contradiction of terms. This is why ethics only applies to the living

It seems an argument in a circle.

This is why ethics only applies to the living, and since you have volition, the fact of your continued existence is open to your choice. If it were not, you would not require a guide in order to live (you would do so automatically), and ethics would, again, not apply to you

.

If I choose death volitionally I still need some guides. How about those guides?

This is why Ayn Rand said that nature presents us with a great many "oughts", all of them conditional: IF you want to live, then you OUGHT to eat. If you want to eat, you ought to work.

This "ought" means a probability or likelihood or expectation, not an obligation or duty. Therefore this is not an ethical demonstrations. (I think now I understand that the problem lies on the meaning of "ought". Only the first meaning has something to do with ethics. You are confusing the concepts. Still I haven't see anyone who can reasonably derived it from any facts of reality. )

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1. To live is a morality; to die involves no morality therefore it should be dismissed.

2. In order to live, people must take some course of action to support their lives or even further their lives.

3. What course of action should be taken is determined by facts and laws of morality.

That's not the argument, you need to read Ayn Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics."

She says (p.16, VOS):

"The concept 'value' is not a primary, it presupposes ... an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative."

She is referring here to her theory of concepts. In the Objectivist epistemology, a concept is only valid if it can be reduced back to the perceptual level. For example in a universe where there were no animals with legs, "running" as we know it would not be a valid concept.

With respect to "value," she is listing the things that a universe must have for that concept to be valid.

"Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible."

One of the things required is an alternative. There must exist things, where it is not inevitable that you attain them. Gravity for example, is not an alternative.

"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence - and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms."

Life is a potential value since it is an alternative, but it also corresponds to the choice between existence and non-existence. Epistemologically, that makes it a fundamental. i.e. it is the point where you can't reason any further, and must simply accept what is. In the same way existence is the standard of proof for non-normative statements, the choice of existence or non-existence is the standard for normative statements.

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