Against Some Recent Arguments for ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’: Reasons, Deliberation, Trying, and Furniture


Many philosophers claim that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. In light of recent empirical evidence, however, some skeptics conclude that philosophers should stop assuming the principle unconditionally. Streumer, however, does not simply assume the principle’s truth; he provides arguments for it. In this article, we argue that his arguments fail to support the claim that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’.

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  1. 1.

    For this example, and for the rest of this paper, we take ‘slavery’ to refer to past legal chattel slavery in the United States—given that slavery unfortunately remains a moral problem today. We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this clarification.

  2. 2.

    Streumer defines ‘ought’ as having the ‘most reason’ to perform an act. Philosophers diverge greatly on how to understand oughts and obligations. Some consider oughts to be all-things-considered duties (Ross 2002) or obligations (Vranas 2007), while Streumer cashes out oughts in the OIC debate with what moral agents have the most reason to do (for discussion, see Mizrahi 2015b; Mizrahi 2012).

  3. 3.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this reading of Brown.

  4. 4.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  5. 5.

    Moreover, people often ought to perform complex actions which require a corresponding mental state, such as giving a genuine apology, but they are unable to have that corresponding mental state when it is beyond what they can will intentionally (King 2014).


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We are thankful to the members of MAD Lab and the IMC Lab at Duke University. We are also thankful for the comments of an anonymous reviewer at Philosophia.

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Correspondence to Paul Henne or Jennifer Semler.

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Henne, P., Semler, J., Chituc, V. et al. Against Some Recent Arguments for ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’: Reasons, Deliberation, Trying, and Furniture. Philosophia 47, 131–139 (2019).

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  • Ought implies can
  • Obligation
  • Ought
  • Blame
  • Ability