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September 11, 2009


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I agree that a subjective view can be flexible. But I think that what you say here isn't really compatible with the view. If 'I ought to do A' means something like, 'A is the best thing to do given my evidence', then how can 'I don't know whether A is what I ought to do' mean 'I don't know whether A is what is really best'?

Note too that if 'I ought to do A' means 'A is the best thing to do given my evidence', then the right thing to say in your airport example would not be 'I don't know enough to be able to tell what I ought to do' but rather 'I ought to seek more information'. (To be clear, I'm not denying that the second statement is ok, only that subjectivism can account for the former, which is also ok).

Steve, I wouldn't take "I don't know whether A is what I ought to do" quite literally, or attempt to preserve its apparent conceptual structure, which I think is just slightly confused, though in practice people often enough derive correct implications from it, namely that one should think harder or gather information (if there's time for this). You are correct about the second two claims; I didn't say that the airport situation gave me insufficient info to commit to any action, but to "some", by which I meant some specific action, i.e. leaving at time X. I do have enough information to commit to information-gathering action.

However you may also be making the point that "I don't know what to do" doesn't always mean "I ought to gather more information." This is true; sometimes when one must choose between X, Y, etc. it is unclear whether it would be more useful to gather more information, think harder about the information you have, or just commit to X or Y etc. and hope for the best. I don't want to rule out ambiguity, but I think that to the extent that one's evidence about what is best is truly ambiguous (we're not just pretending it is out of self-serving convenience or laziness), then the ambiguously-matched options really are approximately equally right, and we ought, then, to choose between them. One of them may later turn out to have been truly leading to the best consequences, but given what we knew at the time, there was no truth of the matter as to which one option out of those evenly matched in subjective evidence of their goodness was the one we ought to have chosen.

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