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This month, Fabrizio Cariani (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University) comes back for his second appearance on the program, this time to tell us about the meaning of the word ‘ought.’ You can listen to our conversation by clicking here.

‘Ought’ is a pretty important word in human affairs.  Most famously, we use it to describe ethical obligations: when I say that you ought to be nice to your mother, I’m getting at the fact that some sort of moral rule is in place.  But interestingly, the word also has lots of non-moral uses: if I say, ‘my keys ought to be on the kitchen counter,’ no allusion to ethics is intended!  I’m simply saying something like, ‘I’m pretty sure the keys have to be on the counter, based on the information I have.’

The big question that arises for the philosopher of language here is: is there single meaning we can give the word ‘ought’ that captures both of these uses?  Or does it just have two completely different meanings, like ‘slide’ as in guitar slide vs. ‘slide’ as in playground slide?  In this episode, our guest goes through one compelling attempt at coming up with a single definition that encompasses both uses, then discusses some of that definition’s limitations.

Tune in to discover new shades of meaning in our talk about obligation that you never knew were there!

Matt Teichman

(P.S. And while you’re at it, check out his previous interview with us on judgment aggregation!)