What You Ought To Do Versus What You Have To Do
Janet Kuypers essay
Moral judgments often arrive to the conclusion that one person (the subject in a particular situation) ought to do something in a given situation. However, it has also been said in certain cases that a person had to do what he or she did (note the word had, as opposed to the word ought, is the word that makes the difference in the two statements). The question then arises:
Some moral judgments are to the effect that a certain person had to do what he or she did. How does this differ from the case where what a person ought to have done was what he or she did?
To fully understand the question at hand, the question must be appropriately analyzed - what exactly is the intent of the question? What is the question asking? Generally, it can be said that the question is asking for the comparison of two slightly different statements, and these statements are:
a person had to do what he or she did, and a person ought to have done what he or she did.
The differences, then, between these two statements, are the differences between the two concepts of having to do something and of doing what ought to have been done. To then fully understand the differences between these two concepts or cases (if there actually are and differences in the first place), the full understanding of these two phrases or words (had, in the context of “having to do something”, and ought, in the context of “having ought done something”) have to be understood, for the differences in the two parts to the question only boil down to (if any) the differences between the two different words that must be examined.
The definition of the word “had” is as follows:
had: to be compelled, obliged, or required (considering that “having to do something” can only be applied to the concept of “having to do something” in a specific framework.) And the word “ought” even has the same words used to describe it, for the definition is as follows:
ought: used to express obligation (ought to pay your debts), advisability (ought to take care of yourself), natural expectation (ought to be here by now), or logical consequence (the result ought to be infinity). Moral obligation, duty.
(the preceding definitions of the word “ought”, particularly visible considering the definition as a moral obligation, can only be considered as, for example, a moral obligation or a duty in a certain framework or society, much in the same way as the definition of the word “had”.) Even in their definition they share the same words, denoting their similarity in their meanings.
Upon further investigation of each of the singular words being compared, yet more enlightening information arises. In considering the word “ought” as a moral obligation (as one of the definitions of the word implies), the concept of having “ought” do something transfers into having “ought” to do the right thing. The word “right” must then be further examined, for one of the definitions that can be accepted for the word right is Acting in the most desirable way in a given situation or society ...which is very similar to the definition of the word “conform”, for the meaning of conformity is Action in accordance to some specified standard or authority. To be obedient or compliant.
The concept of being compelled or required in a given situation to accomplish a specific action (which entails the majority of the definition of the word “had”) is very similar in it’s meaning to the definition of the word “conform” (which has just been defined above). Obligation, which is a word that has been used in the definitions of both the word “had” (in the sense of “had to do”) and of the word “ought” (in the sense of “ought to do”), can also be directly related to the said definitions of the words “conformity” and “conform”. Because of these notes on the meanings of the two words, it can be said that in a number of cases (leaving out cases for the case where this line of reasoning may not apply; however, it does not seem that this safeguarding action necessarily needs to be taken), the word “had” has a similar meaning to the word “ought”, and in some instances the only reason that a person had to do something in a specific setting is because that person ought to have done or accomplished that something in that particular situation.
Put in variable terms, the following statements that have been made as the premise for this argument, 1) X had to do Y in S, therefore X did Y in S. and 2) X ought to have done Y in S, therefore X did Y in S.
(where X is the subject, Y is the action that had to be done or ought to have been done, and S is the specific situation or particular framework that the actions by the subject apply to.) ...are the same statements because of the fact that the definitions of the phrases “had to do” and “ought to have done” are often applied in the same fashion and have generally the same meaning.
In this light, and according to the preceding line of reasoning, it can then be stated that the only reason that a person had or has to do any certain specific action in a particular situation is because according to the standards of morality in the specific framework that they are in, they were acting in a certain way because they OUGHT to have acted in that certain way. In other words, the only way that a person HAS to do something is because they feel that they OUGHT to do that particular something.
The only possible difference in the two different phrases or statements (considering every possible difference in the definitions between the two words) is in the fact that the word “had” doesn’t on the surface seem to entail a sense of a moral obligation (although the true reason for the subject feeling as if they “had” to do something may actually be because of a moral obligation and simply not stated), where the word “ought” has the concept of a moral obligation in it’s meaning and automatically seems to imply it more when that particular term is used.
Therefore, a conclusion can then be drawn about the original question at hand, for now all of the evidence has been thoroughly examined. The question asked what the difference was between the following two cases:
1) a certain person had to do what he or she did in a certain situation.
2) what a certain person ought to have done in a certain situation is what he or she did in that certain situation.
The conclusion drawn from the information gathered is that there are not many differences at all.
How do they differ? In most, or even in all cases, they really don’t.
And the only possible difference between the two cases is the fact that the use of the word “had” doesn’t imply the sense of a moral obligation (although there may still be that sense of a moral obligation, even if it is not said) in the same way that the word “ought” does. In any other respect of the definitions or meanings of these words, the phrases or even the entire statements, they two different cases have the same meaning. It is also possible that when the majority of the average people use the word “had” (in the sense that someone had to something), they may not be taking into consideration the fact that the reason that the person “had” to do that specific action was because that that particular person felt the moral obligation within themselves to actually do that certain something, or, in other words, that person may not have realized that they felt that they OUGHT to have done that particular action.
This train of thought not only states that these two cases are extremely similar, but it also states that these two cases or examples my even be more similar than can be described, for the sense of ought may underlie everything that a person does.
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