Ought… a fascinating word really.  It’s a simple five letter word that has changed my life.  I know it sounds improbable, but this word acts as the axis of my worldview, which I try to apply to my way of life.  Ought is used to express propriety and appropriateness, duty and moral obligation, justice and moral rightness.  Either by name or spirit, it’s a word used by all.  Undoubtedly, we all know it’s there.  Ought is the operative word in our conscience and social contracts, and our interaction with the word exposes the essence of humanity, whether good or bad.  Ought is entirely relational.  We embrace it.  We reject it.  We ignore it.  Ought.
Does ought not demand a standard?  Ought according to what?  Contextually, ought doesn’t exist without a standard.  Why even use it without one?  We understand the charge of ought in relation to a standard, which provides the value to ought.  Standards are active everywhere, in everything, all the time.  We act on standards by using judgment, and it’s our judgment that puts into motion our thoughts, words and deeds that interact with ought.  And so, ought is a word dependent on judgment, by which I mean the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion.  Standards are unavoidable, just as is our interaction with ought.  We obey it.  We rebel against it.  We are apathetic to it.  Ought.
Ought implies standard, standard implies judgment, and judgment implies opinion.  I’ve yet to meet a person void of opinion.  And, I’ve yet to meet a person without an opinion pertaining to the oughtness of something.  When a person claims to be opinion-less, it affirms the presence of an opinion.  It’s the opinion that an opinion is not required and will not be provided.  How can the oughtness of something not demand an opinion?  Is not an opinion required to make a judgment on whether something satisfies the oughtness of something?  When confronted with the oughtness of something, one is required to interact with it and exercise some opinion.  We defend it.  We protest against it.  We acquiesce to it.  Ought.
The word opinion is defined as a belief that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.  I find it very interesting that postmodernists are so timid of the word belief when all it really is, is a conceptual variant of the word opinion.  Indeed, belief in inescapable.  Parallel to opinion, belief is an acceptance, conviction, confidence, faith, trust in the truth, actuality, or validity of something.  Is there really anyone void of all the aforementioned?  No, and this logic demonstrates that even the relativist holds belief, even if only in one absolute truth that there are no other truths.  But, logic can only take us so far.  There is no amount of logic or tangible evidence that can be provided that proves with 100% certitude that something is indeed true or fact.  G.K. Chesterton keenly said, “You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”
We all operate in a world populated with belief that requires faith and trust in something.  And, we all live in a world of perpetual oughtness.  This is a world where belief and ought are inextricably linked.  So look around.  Smell, taste, touch.  Listen here and there.  The world and all its inhabitants will tell you… tell you, it’s not how it ought to be.  It’s emblematically written on our hearts, and all but legibly written on our bodies: “I’m not how I ought to be.”  So ask yourself… ask yourself, if you don’t sense a world wailing for justice and weeping for peace.  Ask yourself… how ought it to be.  Maybe through discursion and responsibility we can, as Steve Garber says, “connect knowing and doing, heart and mind, belief and behavior, worldview and way of life.”  Maybe with faith, hope and love, we can make the world a little more how it ought to be.

2 responses to “Terrence

  1. Joseph

    Ought implies a grasping desire for what is not. When used in this way, it can lead to suffering on the part of the individual, and a loosened perspective on reality in the present. Believing things “ought to be” often implies that at some point in the future, things can be corrected in a permanent state.

    Because nothing is ever in a permanent state, there will always be “oughts” to deal with: things ought to change for the better, things ought to stay this way, things ought to cease, things ought to begin, etc.. No matter the changes we attempt to make, our world of oughts will never cease to be.

    This is not to say that specific actions should not be taken to correct injustice or ignorant behavior. The ought immediately becomes the new reality once a plan of action is put into motion. Once the situation of the now is clearly and correctly articulated, a million small strands of action can blossom into the very changes we seek, and become our new reality.

    Still, there will remain the ought, and our ignorant reaction to it. Our dives into the pond will always create ripples. It’s up to us to look into causes and effects of our actions. Not all effects can be seen, but we can at least compensate for this with acceptance and understanding.

  2. Ter…you absolutely crack me up! Phew…this is some deep stuff. I think you wrote a small novel all on “ought”.
    : )
    Thank you for your efforts in trying to increase my intelligence…

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