10th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Feis

Guglielmo Feis

Is ‘Ought implies Can’ a Secondary or Higher Order Norm?

In this paper I enquiry Ian Carter’s claim according to which the ‘Ought’ implies ‘Can’ (OIC) thesis is an ethical norm of second order: OIC is:

a second-order ethical norm – an ethical norm about ethical norms. On this interpretation, we do not see OC as simply holding for any prescriptive use of ‘ought’. Rather, we see it as holding because we believe that its denial is wrong – because we think it ethically mistaken to prescribe impossible things. [Carter 2001:81].

I will compare both Carter’s ethical OIC and the thesis Carter argues against (semantic OIC) to: 1. the Hartian account of secondary rules; 2. the Kelsenian account of secondary norms; 3. the von Wrightian account of higher order norms. I claim that OIC secondariness has affinity both with Hart’s rule of recognition and von Wright’s conception of higher order norms. Nonetheless, at the end of the paper, I put forward another (weaker) proposal: the OIC thesis is a choice that we can make while constructing a normative system but it is neither a semantic or logical necessity nor an ethical norm.