Ought implies can. Or does it?

Footnotes to Plato

Kant“Ought implies can” is one of those elementary notions that every philosophy student learns in introductory courses. Specifically, she will come across two formulations of the principle, both due to Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he says: “The action to which the ‘ought’ applies must indeed be possible under natural conditions.” And in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason he explains: “For if the moral law commands that we ought to be better human beings now, it inescapably follows that we must be capable of being better human beings.” (Of course one could deny the antecedent “if” condition, but the idea is that if one accepts it then what follows is entailed.)

This seems a pretty straightforward logical principle, i.e., entirely independent of empirical verification. Or is it? A recent paper by Vladimir Chituc, Paul Henne, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Felipe De Brigard argues otherwise. Published in the journal Cognition with the title “Blame, not ability, impacts…

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