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Otolaryngology-ENT Research

Mini Review Volume 11 Issue 1

“Ought” as a speech-act

Erturk Demirel

Bogazici University, Turkey

Correspondence: Erturk Demirel, Bogazici University, Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey, Tel +905462647632

Received: February 06, 2019 | Published: February 14, 2019

Citation: Demirel E. “Ought” as a speech-act. J Otolaryngol ENT Res. 2019;11(1):73-82. DOI: 10.15406/joentr.2019.11.00413

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Justification of moral judgments subsists as one of the recalcitrant question marks of philosophy; are they somehow unlike the so-called factual judgments; do they have a cognitive value; what, if anything, could possibly justify them despite the assumed chasm between facts on one hand and values, on the other? I believe it is, at least in the early modern era, the Humean legacy in ethics to have eyes for the naturalistic fallacy and sometimes despair over the seemingly inexplicable bridge between “Is” and “Ought.” I shall investigate whether Nietzsche has a solution of his own to the problem and if he has, whether it is indeed a Humean one.

In what follows I shall try to produce a brief exegetical reading of Nietzsche’s main texts to reflect on the parallels between moral critique of Nietzsche and Hume’s epistemic understanding of moral judgments. With this aim, I shall connect Hume’s insights with Nietzsche’s related remarks, dwelling on three books by Nietzsche mainly: Human, All Too Human, Beyond Good and Evil, and Will to Power.

Nietzsche avers that causality of free will is no more than an associative feeling to connect an idea with another. In sum, the inferential guide that links “Is” with “Ought” is based on a social need to hold individuals morally responsible on the basis of their behaviour. Therefore the link traditionally provided between the I-sentences and the O-sentences is not a metaphysically necessary one, as implied by the causality of free will, but an outcome of societal forces that attribute free will to human beings.In other words, the relation between the I-sentences and the O-sentences is not metaphysically necessary according to the transcendental law of morality, but socio-political laws that changes empirical beings into moral beings. Furthermore, he claims that there are diverse canons of morality that apply to diverse characters.To put it into modern jargon, the moral judgments and arguments can be seen as performative statements, since they do not express the relations among facts which are independently and intrinsically moral, but acts on and constitute them as moral and the persons those facts are attributed to morally responsible.I argue that the O-sentences comprise a sub-set of speech-acts. They do not only express moral facts, but also constitute them as moral.


Justification of moral judgments subsists as one of the recalcitrant question marks of philosophy; are they somehow unlike the so-called factual judgments; do they have a cognitive value; what, if anything, could possibly justify them despite the assumed chasm between facts on one hand and values, on the other? I believe it is, at least in the early modern era, the Humean legacy in ethics to avoid the naturalistic fallacy and sometimes despair over the seemingly inexplicable bridge between “Is” and “Ought.”

I shall investigate whether Nietzsche has a solution of his own to the problem and if he has, whether it is indeed a Humean one. A Humean reading of Nietzsche is possible, and I believe tenable, since both authors have a peculiar philosophy of mind, and a hint of naturalism: the main common tenet seems to be belief in the causality as a psychological process based on a natural need to explain events and as a moral motivation. They both derived morality and moral virtues artificially, allowing no room for deontological shortcuts.

For the purposes of the argument, I might be expected to treat the Is-element in moral judgments, that is to say, factual premise(s) in moral syllogisms in traditional frameworks, as rather unproblematic, though I shall not take it self-evident that one party of the duality has transparency against, and theoretical priority over, another. The whole enterprise of seeking for a bridge between “Is” and “Ought,” I believe, may be traced back to an implicit assumption, or rather a bias that some utterances “refer” to ostensible experience, while some do not, and the former as being apparently verifiable in themselves has to form the ground on which the latter must be explained away.

Indeed, what most of the scholars puzzled by the problem have so far pursued is an “Is” that is capable of bridging the gap that lies between “Is” and its derivative counterpart, the inferior “Ought.” The motivation, it seems more often than not, is to eliminate moral judgments that stand out in the allegedly well-ordered discourse of facts,1 either by reducing the Ought-statements to Is-statements, or by showing the impossibility of the task and dismissing the former for the sake of the latter. It does not occur to them as a real possibility that perhaps “Is” is a fossilized, or rather a practically-ossified subspecies of “Ought”; that perhaps underlying the any statement of fact rests a hidden statement of morals in the sense that a human being ought to take “Is” as the basis of his/her judgments of any kind.2

I will try to produce a presentation of a certain, and quite well-accepted, interpretation of Hume as a naturalist, and an exegesis of the main works produced by Nietzsche within the interpretative framework. I shall take the interpretation of Hume for granted, since the main focus of my thesis will be on Nietzsche’s arguments in his Human, All Too Human, Beyond Good and Evil, and Will to Power. A conclusion will summarize my general argument, providing a comprehensive argument based on the former discussions of the previous sections. I will try to contribute to the literature with an original solution of the problem and raise some questions for further research.

In what follows I shall try to produce a brief exegetical reading of Nietzsche’s main texts to reflect on the parallels between moral critique of Nietzsche and Hume’s epistemic understanding of moral judgments. With this aim, I shall connect Hume’s insights with Nietzsche’s related remarks, dwelling on three books by Nietzsche, mainly: Human, All Too Human, Beyond Good and Evil, and Will to Power.

Nietzsche, as is well known, is not a system philosopher. Yet I will give a short outline of his views on the present issue, by a short review of his work Will to Power. His project is one that attempts to re-value all values, truth, knowledge, religion, morality and like (1967, Preface, p.3) and for that matter, an unfinished one.3

First of all, I will reformulate the problem of “Is vs. Ought” back in its historical, viz., Kantian context in a simple model that attempts to solve the problem. Given that freedom of will seems to be in tension with the all-arching physical causality, empirical self cannot be morally free, since it is subject to inexorable laws of physical causality too. The actions of empirical self can only be expressed by the I-sentences, and cannot make what is the case into what ought to be the case by the judgment. The empirical self cannot be the missing link between the amoral premises and the moral conclusion in moral judgments, since a judgment is a law, universal and necessary, but no moral law can be formulated out of empirical data for the obvious reasons mentioned before.

“Is” vs. “Ought”

Hume, as is well known, divided knowledge into four main categories as regards to two questions: whether the judgment yielding knowledge depends on experience (matters of fact); and whether it relates the subject and the object therein necessarily (the relations of ideas) (See Hume3: all the references will be to this edition throughout the present work). For simplicity, I shall take Hume’s categories of knowledge as corresponding to the distinctions of a priori/a posteriori and analytical/synthetical knowledge, even if they are not his own terms. To reiterate crudely, a priori knowledge is not obtained prior to, but independent from experience, whereas a posteriori knowledge is based on it. Analytic knowledge is said to be derived from a necessary relation between “ideas,” whereas synthetic one is contingent on the states of affairs on the world. Whatever the exact implications of Hume’s classification are, and how ever one needs to get him right, his distinctions, though debatable, influenced the greatest part of modern philosophy. He dismissed analytic a posteriori and synthetic a priori knowledge—or did he?      

He, however, seems to allow for synthetic a posteriori judgments to the effect that they are acceptable as knowledge gained by habit, even if they are based on associative relations between the matters of fact, not on necessity, as I shall argue below. He therefore showed the problematic aspect of induction, since one justifies induction by induction itself. Common folks believe that there is regularity in the universe to legitimate induction, but we gain the belief in such regularity back through induction: necessity operating in inductive beliefs is psychological necessity, as based on philosophical probability, he claimed.

Many believed that moral judgments are synthetic a priori for Hume, and hence un-informative. The literature is monumental. For a variety of articles defending this view one can see Hannaford,4 Morscher,5 Salkever,6 and for those against this view see, for instance, Hunter7, MacIntyre.8 He is taken to maintain that moral knowledge is impossible, (see for instance Broad9) or worse, that there are no moral facts (Hume,3 and for a cogent interpretation Platts,10 for an author that holds the Humean picture to imply the belief that there are moral facts, see Smith.11 Hume’s famous example (1985, p. 519) is that of a sprout killing the mother-tree, as opposed to human matricide. The so-called moral “fact” is invariant among species, whereas the judgment is not. Are there no necessary relations between the moral concepts and the amoral ones for Hume then? (One can see Raphael, 1947, p. 65; Frankena,12 Laing,13 where they argued that there is no such necessary relation). We do not blame the sprout, or call its killing the tree “evil,” but we do blame a man killing his own mother and call his action viciously evil. One can argue that the judgmental variance cannot be explained away by the presence of free will in his case, perhaps, since it makes no difference to the metaphysical nature of the relation between two creatures that kill and are killed on the factual level.

That presentation of Hume’s example reveals his naturalism to a considerable extent: man is a part of nature, and the same explanatory schema, i.e., the causal schema we apply to the natural phenomenon, must be used to account for human behavior. Hume seems to take the fact that human beings have reason and free will irrelevant to the nature of the fact: “Is” is prior to “Ought” in causal explanations of phenomenon as his famous empiricism indicates. And if Hume maintains that causal relations are not necessarily operative on human actions, then the link that enables moral inferences based on the factual evidence is missing. The moral value of the fact must precede the reason that it is evil, but in moral judgments it cannot. For if moral judgments had established necessary relations, the same would apply to, say, the incest relation among animals, but it does not. Therefore, it seems fair to argue that morality does not consist of the inner relations of the single fact, nor relations among facts, but of moral judgment itself. That would imply that moral judgments do not only describe some facts which are metaphysically necessarily moral, but constitute them as moral.

Morality, thus Hume seems to claim, cannot be explained in terms of analytic a priori propositions, or of synthetic a posteriori propositions. The shift from “Is” to “Ought” remains to be accounted for, though “Ought” is a distinct relation, viz. distinct from objective/physical causality as a metaphysical relation, and to be either observed or deduced from “Is.” I believe the considerations above provided the main motivation to believe in the gap between “Is” and “Ought.” The main explanatory schema applicable to the factual questions, viz., the causal one, does not seem to sit well together with the evaluative questions. The reason why, however, has to do the unique characteristics of the being upon which moral judgments are passed. Human beings are supposed to have free will, while causality relies on the notion of necessity. If there is no necessary relation among the human beings’ actions due to free will, one cannot come to a moral conclusion (an O-sentence from now on) necessarily implied by the Is-Sentences (I-sentences from now on) that express those actions. That is to say, if the necessary relation among the premises and the conclusion of a moral argument is to be grounded on the relation between the amoral facts expressed by the I-sentences and the moral action prescribed by the O-sentence,4 then the necessary link between the factual and the discursive level is missing. In the next part I will try to elucidate this point drawing on the philosophy of G. E. Moore, relating his remarks with the Humean picture.

“Is” but not “Ought”

Leading among those who defend in the last century that O-sentences cannot be inferred from the I-sentences is G. E. Moore. In his Principia Ethica (1903), he asks what “good” is and how it is to be defined. He claims that no verbal definition suffices since ethics deals with necessary judgments of goodness, whereas propositions about “the good” are synthetic, not analytic. Therefore he claims that the predicate “is good” is indefinable, or simple.

More importantly, definition of “good,” he maintains, in terms of natural or metaphysical qualities lead to what is known as “naturalistic fallacy”: “If good is defined as something else, it is then impossible either to prove that any other definition is wrong or even to deny such definition.” (Ibid., p. 11) Suppose that we defined “good” as “that which is pleasurable.” Then we can reasonably ask if pleasure is good? If it is, then we arrive at an analytic proposition, namely “pleasure is pleasure.” Naturalistic fallacy, he claims, generally brings about confusion on ends-means distinction: if going for a ride gives me pleasure, then riding is good as well, but riding is not pleasure. If one falls for that fallacy, one assumes that “the unique property does always attach to the thing in question, or else…the thing in question is a cause or necessary condition for the existence of other things to which this unique property does attach.” (Ibid., p. 21: original emphasis).

Therefore he characterizes the naturalistic fallacy as follows: “That a thing should be good, it has been thought, means that it possesses this single property, and hence (it is thought) only what possesses this property is good. The inference seems very natural; and yet what is meant by it is self-contradictory” (Ibid., p. 38: emphasis original). Accordingly both naturalistic ethics (which holds that “good” is a natural object) and metaphysical ethics (which holds that “good” is “an object which is only inferred to exist in a supersensible real world” (Ibid., p. 39) commit naturalistic fallacy. But I believe that Moore’s conclusion, though apparently following Hume’s steps, misreads him into a meta-ethical despair.5 Only if moral philosophy is assumed to be based on necessary axioms can “the good” be a primitive predicate for moral philosophy and after Quine and his followers the distinction between the analytical and synthetical propositions lost its appeal. Moreover, I see no reason why Hume, or any other thinker, must believe that moral philosophy is the study of the necessary relations among the facts.

What could be the reason why some philosophers including Moore believed it is impossible to draw the O-sentences from the amoral I-sentences? It seems to involve a tacit belief that while amoral conclusions necessarily follow from the I-sentences, the moral ones cannot. The basic definition of argumentative validity is given by the condition that whenever all the premises are true, the conclusion must be true necessarily. However, given the term inconsistency, it is formally impossible to show that the moral conclusion follows necessarily. Thus, it seems that it is on the basis of missing necessary connections that the formal inferential gap opens between the I-sentences and the O-sentences.

However, the formal gap on the sentential level is not sufficient to justify the uncoupling of the facts the two sets of sentences express. It is plausible to argue that when philosophers such as Moore argued for natural fallacy, what they have on their mind is a factual gap too. Here, as Moore devoted a book to the issue, formal solutions cannot deliver the task of bridging the gap, as I believe it is the form that opens up the gap. No matter how hard a logician attempts to revise the system of logic, it cannot be the single implicit premises which can be added to the argument that can do the trick, since no wave of a magical wand on the surface grammar can ever turn a two-letter word into a five-letter word if that is what is asked for. The question at the stake is rather a misnomer, for term consistency at the formal level is obviously impossible and therefore the formal requirement for validity cannot be met.

Intuitively the coupling of facts via causal links does not seem implausible, while commonsense fails when it comes to justify a necessary connection between facts expressed by the I-sentences and an action advised by an O-sentence. The necessity at stake can surely be seen as a token of casual necessity. Moore explicitly defines naturalistic fallacy in terms of postulating a property that causes something to be good. He then shows that the object that bears the property cannot be necessarily good since then moral propositions turn into demonstrably true sentences, but no formal derivation can demonstrate them to be true. Therefore causal necessity cannot bridge the gap between the I-sentences and the O-sentence in a moral argument.6

That is to say, underlying the tacit belief mentioned above is another belief that the fact expressed by the amoral conclusion can be seen to follow7 necessarily the facts expressed by I-sentences that cause the former, while the action prescribed by the O-sentence can not, since the type of causality operative is taken to be causality of free will. The example of Jones14 can be analyzed accordingly to elucidate.

The story is all too familiar: Jones borrows some five dollars. And then the question arises: ought he to pay it back or not? To take a theory of causality, say, the bodily movements of Jones can be inferred validly by stating a law-like statement among the premises of the argument as the facts described by them seem to display regularity being subject to the laws. The oscillation of the air by the bodily movements of Jones, for instance, can be seen as subject to regularity, since the physical analysis of the events can give regular patterns of the forces exerted by the movements of a body and the oscillation of the air waves caused by them. Thus amoral conclusions regarding, say, the pitch and the frequency of the air waves can be given based on the necessity of law-like statements, whereas the moral conclusion (“Jones ought to pay back some five dollars”) cannot be generalized on the basis of regularity.

That is to say, factually speaking, it is not necessary that Jones pays back, since moral beings’ actions seem to lack the regularity of the facts that follow one another. It is because moral beings are conceived to have freedom over their actions. Jones may not as well pay back even if he ought to, for he is traditionally believed to have free will. The debate of free will matters crucially to morality, since if Jones has no freedom in his paying back, then the O-sentences lose their force. The moral conclusion that he ought to pay is then rendered senseless since the main use and the force of O-sentences are related to guiding future actions by prescriptions and advises. If Jones is not able to guide his future actions freely, the prescriptions and advises are simply useless.

If he has free will, on the other hand, then his future actions cannot be regular. He may change his mind, or he may keep his promise as his will dictates. In other words, it seems to be the case that free will and absolute necessity among subsequent actions are mutually exclusive. Besides, if he does not pay back, the inferential gap seems to be there to stay. In this case, does the I-sentence, revised after he refused to pay back, “He ought to but he did not” close the inferential gap? I believe the inferential gap is left intact, as the moral conjunct “He ought to” seems to be redundant or ineffective in establishing a metaphysically necessary connection between the amoral premises and the moral conclusion. After all it is not reasonable to argue that something that is necessarily supposed to happen did not happen.

Therefore, as I attempted to show in the above conceptual analysis, the inferential link that philosophers following Moore are after is conceived as a necessary one. In the case of amoral arguments, causal law-like statements can be seen as providing the necessary link between the amoral premises and the conclusion that shed light to the regularity of facts. So the law-like statement “All bodies are subject to gravitational force that causes them to be attracted to the center of bodies of greater size,” provides the necessary connection between the premises “The piece of chalk there is a body,” “The Earth is of greater size than that of the piece of chalk there,” and the conclusion “Therefore, the piece of chalk there is caused to be attracted to the center of the Earth.”

That is not to say that each and every deductive argument must include a casual law-like statement, but the regularity of facts can always be captured by the universally quantified premise “All X facts are such and such that if a token of X is the case, then a token of Y is the case as well” can be translated into causal law-like statements in the form of “All X facts are such and such that a token of X which is the case causes a token of Y to be the case.” (For a similar type of the argumentation using law-like statements as universally quntified premises aiming to show the compatibility of free will with causal laws see Canfield.15 I should emphasize, however, that the choice of causality as the necessary relation that closes the gap in question can be just a traditional bias. In fact, any other necessary relation conceivable to hold between the tokens of events brings about a tension with the freedom of will.

Therefore, a noumenal self is postulated in the Kantian tradition whose actions are always as they ought to be—viz., according to a moral law.8 The Categorical Imperative, therefore, can be used as the universally quantified premise in a moral judgment and change it into a valid argument. If a human being is both noumenal and phenomenal, goes the Kantian solution, human beings can close the gap between the I-sentences and the O-sentences in the judgment since in a sense their moral actions are always as they are ought to be, provided they are caused by free will. The necessary connection between the I-sentences and the O-sentences is, therefore, causality of free will, viz., causa sui.

Kant also claimed explicitly that the main problem of morality is free will acting according to laws in Foundations of the Metaphysicsof Morals: “To see how the imperative of morality is possible, then, is without doubt the only question needing an answer” (1997, p. 419); “The will is thought of as a faculty of determining itself to action in accordance with the conception of laws” (p. 427) Most importantly, as Allison put it, “freedom of the will is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition of the moral law. Clearly, this thesis underlies Kant's attempt in the Groundwork to argue from freedom, (or at least from the necessity of the presupposition of freedom) to the moral law, and in the Critique of Practical Reason from the moral law (as a putative "fact of reason") to the reality of freedom.”(1986, p. 395) This is achieved by a noumenal link between the causality and free will: “it is enough for me to couple the concept of causality with that of freedom (and with…the moral law…). I have this right by virtue of the pure nonempirical origin of the cause, since I [here] make no other use of the concept than in relation to the moral law which determines its reality.” (1933,p. 54)9 And, the “nonempirical origin of the cause” refers to the noumenal self who legislates over the phenomena according to the laws of Pure Reason. That is to say, Kant’s aim can be seen as an attempt to endow metaphysical reality to the relation of causality which was conceived by Hume as a psychological habit in moral judgments. The reason how Hume allegedly awakened Kant from his dogmatic sleep can also be read in the context, too. I do not claim that this is the original picture in Kant’s mind when he wrote the three Critiques. This is only some interpretative tool to make clear what Nietzsche might be arguing against and as long as it makes sense in my reading of Nietzsche, it will serve its limited purpose.

On the other hand, according to Nietzsche inventions of “causality,” “self,” and “free will” are simply tools to give substance to the moral interpretation of the world that satisfies the metaphysical needs (see Will to Power, Book Three, Against Causalism, pp.293-306): “We have no ‘sense for the causa efficiens’: here Hume was right; habit (but not only that of the individual!) makes us expect that a certain often-observed occurrence will follow another: nothing more!” (Ibid., 550, p.295) And likewise, “‘[s]ubject,’ ‘object,’ ‘attribute’—these distinctions are fabricated and are now imposed as a schematism upon all the apparent facts” (Ibid., 548, p.294). In sum he means to take back the Kantian model above thatpostulates things-in-themselves as the ground of phenomena, as noumenal object, subject and real metaphysical relations. What he leaves intact is phenomenal flux, the blind battle of ontological forces (Ibid., 552:p.299).

First of all, in this context, he understands “by ‘morality’ a system of evaluations that partially coincides with the conditions of a creature’s life” (Ibid., Book Two 256, p. 148). I need to point out that he seems to conceive morality as a canon of judgment and interpretation: “there are no moral phenomena, there is only a moral interpretation of these phenomena. This interpretation itself is of extra-moral origin” (Ibid.,258, p. 149). That is to say, human beings do not confront morality as it is in the phenomenal realm, as self-evident facts out there which are intrinsically evaluative due to some objective/physical laws of causality, but rather pass moral judgments on the facts which are at best amoral. Therefore, morality is made, he claims, by the evaluations human beings attribute to things. It was a new language game10 based on a new pattern of behaviour, a pattern that was induced into amoral beings through the feeling of causa sui. I will clarify below what he attempts to put forward.

The new pattern of behaviour the genealogy of which he speculates upon, in fact, can be conceived as an empirical behaviour of a natural being with natural needs, as “[a]ll virtues are really refined passions and enhanced [physiological] states” (Ibid., 255, p.148) and the moral judgments give away “the processes of physiological prosperity or failure, likewise the consciousness of the conditions for preservation and growth…” (Ibid., 258, p. 149). There is more than enough material in the book to conclude that in his eyes morality is a function of a life form, though he goes farther than that. He seems to claim that ground of morality is physiological and psychological.

It has also a psychological component in so far as “moral evaluation is an exegesis, a way of interpreting… [as] a symptom of…a particular level of prevalent judgments: Who interprets?—Our affects” (Ibid., 254, p. 148. emphasis added). In other words, putting the two criteria together, one can say that the inferential guide in moral judgments is based on the feeling of growth and preservation of a life form. He also believes that the content of the feeling varies and gives rise to idiosyncratic moralities espoused by individuals by the mechanisms of “habitual moral interpretation of actual states of pain and displeasure” on the basis of “society’s model of virtue” (Ibid., 270, p. 154). In other words, one is educated into the moral habits of the society and thus, on the grounds of these habits, closes the inferential gap between the I-sentences and the O-sentences. To put it succinctly, morality, he believes, is a form of behaviour introduced by socio-political regulations, and moral judgments lay out the rules that regulate it.

I shall elucidate on the character of these habits and how they make possible the use of O-sentences. The interpretation of facts expressed by the I-sentences into moral ones stated by the O-sentences, he claims, is justified by the necessary metaphysical relations posed between the facts about actions and the moral agents. Yet necessity in this sense, i.e., causality of free will is no more than a psychological process, a mental habit to associate an idea with another. To summarize, causality of free will is no more than an associative habit of human beings. That must sound truly Humean to any trained ears, and the chapter will be devoted to glean the textual evidence in favor of the claim to present what Nietzsche has to say on causality.

Nietzsche on“Ought”

The issue dealt by Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human is the efficient cause of the human world, viz., all that is the case; or rather he argues against causality as causa sui which is, for a long time seen as the ultimate principle of morality. The belief that human beings cause their actions freely is not valid, since “the supposed cause is deduced from the effect and imagined after the effect.” (2004, p. 22) In other words, observation of the actions gives rise to the belief that someone must be their cause. However, that someone cannot be the empirical self, since the actions of the empirical self are subject to the causality in the first sense Hume uses. That is to say, natural/physical causality can account for such effects, placing one’s actions in a necessary relation, but if they are necessary, they cannot be free and moral. Hence the traditional belief that it must be the noumenal self that causes the moral actions, a self free from necessary empirical relations—a self with free will. Such a self has been supposed to be a unity lying beyond the phenomenal manifold. Yet Nietzsche claims that belief in noumenal self is not justified.

He relates that unjustified belief to the “primitive forms of deductions” (Ibid.) human beings perform in dream states: The dreamer believes that the cause of the snakes he has in his dreams must be those ties strapped around his feet, in real life. In other words, man posits some entities as the real cause of his stimulated feelings, some entities which lie beyond the scope of the state he is in, such as noumenal self.

However, it is invalid to attribute causal powers to such objects, since causality of noumenal self is no more than a “deep feeling,” one formed by habit of associating other feelings and moods: “Thus habitual, rapid associations of feelings and thoughts are formed, which, when they follow...upon one another, are eventually no longer felt as complexes, but rather as unities. In this sense, one speaks of moral feelings, religious feelings, as if they were all unities: in truth they are all rivers with a hundred sources and tributaries.” (Ibid., emphasis original) I believe now it is clear that Nietzsche’s characterization of causality of human will is Humean. Nietzsche rejected the noumenal world which secures an adamant link between the logos of the world and the logos of reason: once the so-called sufficient reason for appearances is rejected, the only causality that remains for moral subjects is causality as associative habit of human mind. What about natural/objective causality, or better the notion of causality in the second sense employed by Hume? I shall turn to that question later.

Thus, he claims that the “real” world, the noumenal one is a chimerical idea, and so are the moral substances, viz., the subject and God, that reside in the super-natural: he argues against them by attacking at the supreme principle that glues the nature and the super-nature, the principle of sufficient reason. This principle is based on a metaphysical principle of causality as independent of human mind, but “[w]e see all things by means of our human head, and cannot chop it off…” (Ibid., p. 17) Causality as causa sui, is merely an associative function of our mind, that which correlates free-standing impressions, though it is no more than another impression itself. Our mind unifies the assorted impressions (Kantian “manifold of representations”) as if they are already one; however, human mind deduces the cause, here, from the effect, indeed its own effect. Induction is justified by further induction, and is, for Nietzsche, invalid.

Since he is a self-professed follower of science, however, he must not reject physical conception of causation, and I believe he does not: “When we see a waterfall, we think we see freedom of will and choice in the innumerable turnings, windings, breaking of the waves; but everything is necessary; each movement can be calculated mathematically. Thus it is with human actions; if one were omniscient, one would be able to calculate each individual action in advance, each step in the progress of knowledge, each error, each act of malice”.16

He must be seen, then, as rejecting the causality in the sense of free will, the idea that moral subjects cause their actions freely, drawing their causal powers from an intelligible world. No, all actions, he argues, can be grasped scientifically,11 and causation of free will is a mere feeling cultivated by habit of culture and custom. Causation of free will is attributed to human beings from outside, thus labeling some of the actions as one’s own actions. The subject is an abstraction from the actions attributed to him/her: “you” are the one who did so-and-so.12

To conclude this part, Nietzsche avers that causality of free will is no more than an associative feeling to connect an idea with another. The habit of causal explanations brings together the actions to represent a moral agent, freely acting. Human mind is full of particular “feelings,” all ephemeral, disconnected and free-floating. “Even now, it is one of our indispensable beliefs that all feelings and actions are acts of free will; when the feeling individual considers himself, he takes each feeling, each change, to be something isolated, that is, something unconditioned, without a context. It rises up out of us, with no connection to anything earlier or later…Rather that feeling seems to assert itself without reason or purpose; it isolates itself and takes itself to be arbitrary.” (Human, All Too Human, p. 26: emphasis original).

To apply this insight to the problem of “Is vs. Ought,” the use of “Ought” is connected with the idea of free will, a causality free from the factual constraints. The inferential rules of morality, Nietzsche implies, are centered on a notion of causality to attribute moral responsibility to a subject. The subject, in order to be responsible, must be free from physical causality, but the factual judgments based on physical causal relations cannot articulate the relation that should hold between the moral actions and the moral subject. In sum, the inferential guide that links “Is” with “Ought” is based on a social need to hold individuals morally responsible on the basis of their behaviour. Therefore the link traditionally provided between the I-sentences and the O-sentences is not a metaphysically necessary one, as implied by the causality of free will, but an outcome of societal forces that attribute free will to human beings. I shall clarify what Nietzsche means in the next part.

“Ought” as a Speech-Act

In Beyond Good and Evil where Nietzsche attempts to provide a natural history of morality, he explicitly refers to the characters who shaped the prevalent moral judgments in a culture (1997; p. 4). In other words, as he explains later, what actions are attributed to one, and what canon of impulses are best seen as the explanans in one’s culture give away what morality is, in philosophical terms, seen to be in the culture. He therefore rejects synthetic a priori judgments on the grounds that moral self is not transcendental, but “’mortal soul,’ and ‘soul of subjective multiplicity,’ and ‘soul as social structure of the instincts and passions” (Ibid., p.9).This is not a feeble attempt to explain the world as it is metaphysically (Ibid., p.10), on the basis of causal mechanisms independent of human mind; it is an exposition of the social structure of the multiplicity of human mind through which we close the gap between the facts and values (Ibid., p.15).

That is to say, given that human beings are only empirical beings, the empirical psychological operations of the human mind that associates the ideas together for causal relations are usually disciplined into a regular unity by socialization. Therefore, the causality in the second sense Hume uses is just a residue of the societal forces. One can pass moral judgments not because one has a transcendental self that unites the facts and norms, but because one is taught how to unite them by social conventions and canons. Nietzsche takes up the age-old dichotomy of instinct and reason, and concludes, rather harshly, that “reason is only a tool” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 60; cf. p. 88) of instincts. The allusion to instrumental reason, as Hume once did, is salient, and moral judgments are rendered possible by the drill of the emotions, even in simple epistemological process such as sensation: just as we make up the parts of a tree we do not see wholly, and unify the manifold “impressions” into a so-called object out of habit, we come to believe that “If X is such-and-such, then Y ought to do this-and-that,” by the “force” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 61) of established emotions we had been disciplined to feel whenever X is such-and-such.

In other words, the relation between the I-sentences and the O-sentences is not metaphysically necessary according to the transcendental law of morality, but socio-political laws that changes empirical beings into moral beings. Furthermore, he claims that there are diverse canons of morality that apply to diverse characters.

The chapter 5 of the book (The Natural History of Morals) is by far the most insightful one that paves way to “a theory of types of morality.” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 55; emphases original) He scorns the philosophers’ reluctance to problematize morality itself, taking it granted in good faith. Yet, given that a philosophy is an effigy of the author in personality, the value system embraced by one reveals what one really is. “In short, systems of morals are only a sign-language of the emotions,” (Ibid., p. 57, emphases original) given that one emotes oneself as someone-in­general in public by the actions one’s values orients. In other words, moral judgments are used to perform the moral self of an individual as a moral character, as a type. I argue that Nietzsche believes that moral judgments are a species of language games through which human beings are rendered moral, rather than an expression of the necessary relation between the facts.

He elucidates that point emphatically, warning that the only self one can talk about is the empirical one. Therefore, the moral self must be sought in the realm of nature. Nature’s Categorical Imperative appeals to “nations, races, ages and ranks; above all, however, to the animal “man” generally” (Ibid., , p. 58); hence moral self is a cross-categorization of nationality, race, age, rank and species, and the total sum of those categorizations as performed in public are the so-called facts about particular human beings.

The second point, one relating with the “old, inherited habit” is to be revealed by him in the second section of his Human, All Too Human since “science rules which asks after the origin and history of moral feelings” (p. 41). It is worth noticing that he calls moral motives as “feelings,” just as Hume calls them “sentiments,” but more remarkable is that his task is demanded by “true science, which is the imitation of nature in concepts.” (Ibid., p. 42: emphasis original) In other words, he is trying to produce a conceptual replica of human behaviour by psychological observation.

According to Nietzsche’s diachronic presentation of the introduction of “Ought” into language, moral evaluations are justified, at the first stage, by the “beneficial or harmful consequences” (Ibid.) of moral actions. At the second stage, the moral quality of the consequences is transferred to the actions themselves, and that is invalid since “we take the effect to be the cause” (Ibid.). At the following stages, the motives of the actions, then actors having those motives, and finally the nature of the actors are predicated to be “good” or “evil.”“Ultimately we discover that his nature cannot be [morally] responsible either, in that it is itself an inevitable consequence, an outgrowth of the elements and influences of the past and present things.” (Ibid.).

The gist of the matter is that one cannot justify moral feelings simply because they exist: In order for “Is” to justify “Ought” there must be a necessary link between them, but this link could not be universal human nature that guides the behaviour and belongs to the beyond of empirical world, since it has been brought about by the social framework in which individuals are trained to have appropriate feelings. As for the feeling of guilt one feels over some action one is responsible for, for instance, Nietzsche maintains, “this displeasure is a habit that can be given up…Tied to the development of custom and culture, it is a very changeable thing, and present perhaps only within a relatively short period of history.” (Ibid., p. 44) In other words, Nietzsche believes that “Ought” was the outcome of the socio-political culture playing on the patterns of behaviour, introduced into language by an interpretation of actual behaviour of human beings.13

The critical approach of Nietzsche, in one respect, is to take back the influences of metaphysical doctrines on human nature and behaviour. He swiftly moves to the question whether that is a feasible task in the passage titled “The unchangeable character”: “In the strict sense, it is not true that one’s character is unchangeable; rather this popular tenet14 means only that during a man’s short lifetime the motives affecting him cannot normally cut deeply enough to destroy the imprinted writing of many millennia”15 (Ibid., p. 45). Notice the change in the terminology of Nietzsche: he is now talking about “characters,” not simply universal human nature.

How do human beings build up their characters? Or are they simply given by the prevailing moral schema in their cultures, or by the fates, or one’s physiological constitution? He is not clear at this stage. All the same he declares that “an action is judged moral or immoral according to the prevailing determination,” (Ibid., p. 46) and “[t]he hierarchy of the good…is not fixed and identical at all times” (Ibid., p. 45). Once again, there is no character-in-itself; what one is seems to be only a matter of comparison, of rank order. Then, one is “good” vis-à-vis the other. He further elaborates his point in studying the “double pre-history of good and evil.” (Ibid., pp. 46-47) We are told here that previously characters are attributed collectively. (Ibid., p. 47)

The “Is” then can be seen Leiter’s type-facts, which according to the “Doctrine of Types,” reveal what character one is:

Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person.

We may call the relevant psycho-physical facts “type-facts.” It is type-facts, in turn, that figure in the explanation of human actions and beliefs (including beliefs about morality). One of Nietzsche’s central undertakings, then, is to specify the type-facts—the psychological and physiological facts—that explain how and why an essentially ascetic or “life-denying” morality should have taken hold among so many people over the past two millennia. (Leiter, 2002, p. 8)

 Yet the type-facts can only be translated into O-sentences by socio-political institutions, since the metaphysical source of “Ought” is destroyed by him: “For there is no ‘ought’ anymore. Morality to the extent that it was an “ought” has been destroyed by our way of reflection ... Knowledge can allow only pleasure and unpleasure, benefit and harm, as motives… [but t]hese motives, too have to do with errors (to the extent that inclination and disinclination, and their very unfair measurements, essentially determine, as we have said, our pleasure and unpleasure).”

Therefore, one becomes a moral subject through the authority of collective feelings, as the culture attributes some motives or impulses to its members as the explanans of the actions, and morally trains them by inducing pain and pleasure.“To be moral, correct, ethical means to obey an age-old law or tradition…We call “good” the man who does the moral thing as if by nature, after a long history of inheritance.” (Ibid., p. 66)

This inheritance is passed on collectively: “The ground of all morality can only be prepared when a greater individual or collective-individual, as for example, society or the state, subjects the individuals in it, that is, when it draws them out of their isolatedness and integrates them into a union” (Ibid., p. 69). To be a moral subject, for Nietzsche, seems to require a communal feeling, since communities, apparently, judge actions of their members by that measure (Ibid.). Their actions and patterns of behaviour, on the other hand, are judged to be theirs by what they are, viz., characters as members of a community. The moral judgment, the connection between the I-sentences with the O-sentences is provided by such communal feeling, since the fact at the stake is one of character which is strengthened by the feeling: “Bound views, when habit has made them instinctive, lead to what is called strength of character. If someone acts from a few motives which are always the same, his actions take on great energy” (Ibid., p. 141). All human civilization so far, according to Nietzsche, strengthened or weakened some types of character: civilization does not constitute what is called by Leiter type-facts, but selectively builds upon them by communal feeling of what is to be a moral character.

That is to say, the moral feelings are man-made, “artificial virtues” in Humean terms.16 The socio-political laws, and not the objective/physical laws of causality, inculcate into human beings the feelings that place connections between the I-sentences and the O-sentences.

That is why the relation between the I-sentences and the O-sentences should not be seen as metaphysically necessary, but as the reflection of the socio-political rules that induce moral feelings for each type of character. Given that causality of free will cannot be demonstrated saving in the feeling that human beings are the cause of their actions, and that causality of free will is necessary for the socio-political institutions to hold moral subjects responsible, one can conclude safely that the connections between the I-sentences and the O-sentences are reflections of the socio-political institutions that inject the feeling of responsibility into the moral subjects.

To put it into modern jargon, the moral judgments and arguments can be seen as performative statements, since they do not express the relations among facts which are independently and intrinsically moral, but acts on and constitute them as moral and the persons those facts are attributed to morally responsible. The moral judgments are one of the ways we do things with words, the ways we edify, accuse, find guilty, punish or reward other human beings and mould their behaviour into patterns, making them moral agents. That is to say, utterance of the O-sentences is the moral action par excellence.

Nietzsche also attempted to illustrate that there are no moral facts. If there were facts timelessly, intrinsically and independently moral,17 human beings could not change them. If it was beyond their capacities to change them, they cannot be held responsible for them. If they cannot be hold responsible, then the idea of morality is a joke.

In this case, the O-sentences used to indicate moral responsibility are senseless as well. Given that the necessity on the factual level transfers to the linguistic level, the O-sentences must be taken as expressing the eternal truths, but they do not since human beings can and do act immorally against the moral prescriptions. Therefore postulation of facts which are intrinsically and independently moral leads into a contradiction or a paradox on the linguistic level as well.

Therefore, to avoid the contradiction and the ruin of moral institutions, one feels compelled to admit that moral facts must be human-made, judged as moral. If a judgment constitutes the character of what is judged as an action, it is performative.17–30 In other words, the human beings who utter O-sentences perform a moral action, viz. advice, edification, punishment, reward and like. In other words, the utterance of O-sentences is to be seen as a free action, as well.30–65

1 I shall not take up the question how one could draw the line demarcating between the two tokens of so-called “facts,” since I believe the fact-discourse exhausted the possibilities of individuating them without success. It is also of highest import to emphasize that I employ the term “fact” merely in its vulgar sense, viz., in the sense that there must presumably be a non-conceptual material preceding the formation of concepts , or language-learning; and one can safely use other similar terms in its stead, such as “condition,” and “state of affairs.” The occurence of “ought,” and in some cases “must” and “should,” on the other hand, makes it easy to distinguish, at least formally, between the moral utterances and amoral ones. I shall not argue for the proviso, though, given that, without postulating the conceptual-non-conceptual distinction, it seems so hard to account for the discovery and justification of knowledge, I feel content with the distinction. This type of argumentative strategy I owe to Bac.1

2 I also shall keep the traditional terms of art, viz., terms “deduction,” and “entailment,” as I take each to convey banal truth-saving operations on the sentential level via syntactical necessity. As for the notion of “necessity” itself, I shall make use of Karmo’s proviso that if the relation between the premises and the conclusion of a moral judgment is not a necessary one, then “[t]here is a plausible sense of “ethical “in which, for some sentences S, S is ethical in one logically possible world, and non-ethical in another…That is, there exist sentences for which being-ethical is a contingent property”.2

3 Leaving aside the concerns about the textual manipulations of his sister, his sanity and condition of health while he dictated the fragments, which may shadow the credibility of the collection, I will try to be charitable to him, and read his comments paying attention to his famous irony.

4 I do not endorse any correspondence theory, or for that matter, any other theory that accounts for the shift from the factual level to the discursive level, but it must be taken granted that we justify arguments, in the final analysis, by the factual evidence in support of the conclusion.

5 However, “it would seem that obligation statements are factual for Moore; this is stated unequivocally by him in his reply to William Frankena's article in the Schilpp volume.” (Bruening, 1971, p. 148).

6 The reason why they are not demonstrably true sentences, however, is the lack of necessary relation between the amoral facts and the moral action, presumed prior to his analysis by other philosophers. Thus there seems to be a circularity involved in the chain of thought throughout the history of philosophy.

7 It follows not in the usual logical sense, but in the sense that it takes place after it.

8 I shall discriminate between the empirical and the noumenal self, only in terms of the freedom the latter enjoys as it is not subject to the natural causality. As for the distinction between what is “noumenal” what is “appearance,” I will not dare undertake such an ambitious project here.

9 The whole set of references by Kant to free will and causality is scattered among the three Critiques and cannot be given here.

10 The Conclusion of the present thesis will work on this idea, but at this point I will keep the term “language game” as a term of art.

11 Is he therefore arguing for moral determinism? That seems more than unlikely to the extent that he blew the clarion call against morality. That is to say, he seems to believe that human beings, or his super-man can determine the moral worth of actions, though not by use of will as understood in the metaphysical sense. He himself claims that “[n]ecessity is not a fact but an interpretation” (Will to Power, Book Three552, p.297) and therefore “from the fact that I do a certain thing, it by no means follows that I am compelled to do it.” (Ibid.)

12 “In Nietzsche’s account ‘object’ is nothing more than the sum of its properties and ‘subject’ is nothing more than the sum of its actions, deeds.” (Durgun, 2000, p. 84)

13 “As the empiricists do, Hume also grounds his moral theory on the observable realities of men’s moral behaviour and derives the principle of morals from man’s nature as it really is.” (Röttgen, 1998, p. 26)

14 “Cf. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 6.13.1: “The several kinds of character are bestowed by nature,” or Heraclitus: “Character is destiny.” (Ibid.)

15 “...Hume explicitly showed that he looked for the foundation of morals in the character of man.” (Röttgen, 1998, p. 26)

16  See Röttgen (1998), p. 78, and Wand (1956), pp.155-156 regarding the question how Hume conceives the action prescribed by an O-sentence, viz., duty, not as metaphysically necessary, but provided by socio-political framework of institutions.

17 The independency at stake must be taken as independency from human interpretation and action.


As I attempted to show above, the Kantian tradition finds the solution to the problem in preconditions of free action human beings feel that they are capable of. McIntyre elaborated and specified these conditions as needs, interests, desires and happiness as facts to be expressed by I-sentences. On the other hand, Austin and Searle held the mirror to the judgment side of the problem, and gave some hints that moral judgments as expressed by O-sentences can be seen as speech-acts. That is to say, the O-sentences not only express those facts, but building upon them as the ineluctable preconditions of what they aim at, viz., free action, they constitute the moral facts.

In fact, that is what my Humean reading of Nietzsche implied as well. Conditions of free action, to be sure, relates to free will and causality of will as an inexplicable feeling that enters into the moral picture. If morality be intelligible and moral actions be possible after all, one may presume freedom of action in metaphysical terms as a necessary relation, too. Yet that is not to say that freedom will is to be taken as a tangible and observable causal relation that makes itself manifest in the action as Hume and Nietzsche put it. And if that relation is not possibly observable, it cannot be expressed by the I-sentences. If it cannot be expressed by them, then the formal gap between them and the O-sentences opens up. At this point, following Searle, I argue that the O-sentences comprise a sub-set of speech-acts. They do not only express moral facts, but also constitute them asmoral.

I believe Hume’s second definition of causality must come into the picture to account for freedom of action that enables the use of speech-acts as capable of articulating moral facts. Human beings feel that they are the cause of their actions. Indeed as compatibilists argue, causality of free will and physical causality may be co-operating on human actions, though the former is not demonstrable by any means, since it is not observable, ostensible and determinable. In fact, to put it brashly, it makes no difference to the argument from free will at all that causa sui is indemonstrable. The gist of the matter is that unless one is willing to give up the whole edifice of morality and related institutions, which is Nietzsche’s point and aim, one is compelled to presume causality in the second sense.

Moreover, given the naturalistic fallacy, one cannot demonstrate moral properties and actions by the I-sentences. Thus human beings need a second set of judgments, viz., the O-sentences, to express them. But then the problem is that, given that causality of will is indemonstrable as well, the odds are against the attempts to establish the necessary semantic connection between the I-sentences and the O-sentences, as the rules of the speech-game are centered on freedom, i.e., freedom from the factual constraints. It is in fact not a paradoxical situation where one is supposed to establish the necessity imposed by factual restraints when the game is designed to illustrate that one can get rid of them in free action.

That a necessary connection is indemonstrable does not boil down to the conclusion that there is no such connection. The semantic necessity in question seems to be established by fixing the referent of the moral terms, though we may not demonstrate their semantic content. The notion of “fixing the referent” goes back to Kripke (1972,p. 59), who distinguished between the two functions of Sinn, viz. that of determining the semantic content and that of determining the referent. People in the past referred to the same natural object as we do to as a piece gold but did not know the factual restrictions on the speech-act at stake before they discovered physical properties of the element described by the semantic content of the term “gold.” Even then the necessary relation between the factual restrictions and the speech-act did hold. Analogously, we may never point to the necessary relation between the semantic content of the moral terms and operators and that of amoral ones, but that is no reason to deny that there may be necessary relations between the moral speech-acts and the amoral facts.

To conclude, my reading of Nietzsche via Hume put in sharp relief three points: the subjective feeling of human causality gives a sense of the necessary connection between the O-sentences and I-sentences. Human beings feel, after a long history of moral education, that they are the cause of their own actions and they act, on the beliefs expressed by the I-sentences and as prescribed by the O-sentences. It is necessary for them to assume causality of will as natural and social beings in order to satisfy their needs, pursue their interests, and aim at happiness in the context of socio-political institutions. That in turn assumes they can cause the facts to change accordingly if these preconditions of free action are satisfied. The I-sentences in a moral argument thus can be seen as expressing the facts about their interest, needs, and happiness as the preconditions of free action.

However, causality of free will also implies freedom from factual constraints, whether in causal relations, or in any other metaphysically necessary relation, and that is why constitution of a distinct speech-act in the form of the O-sentences is inevitable, since the action of uttering an O-sentence is a moral one too. Given that causality of free will is not demonstrable on the factual level, the factual speech-acts, i.e., the I-sentences cannot convey the autonomy presumed in moral actions. The O-sentences on the other hand, given the shift of the logical operator from the copula “is” to “ought,” give a sense that moral action is divorced from the factual constraints. However, all that they demonstrate is the feeling that human beings cause their own actions. It is not a formal epistemological ground from which the O-sentences can be derived from the I-sentences. Yet, they act on the belief that they ought to cause the action prescribed by an O-sentence when it contributes to their interest, needs, and happiness.

Thus in the feeling of causa sui, there is no gap to be bridged. It seems obvious that there are only amoral facts to form beliefs and act upon. The shift from the I-sentences to the O-sentences, however, is based on a selective interpretation of some facts. Minimally, those facts must, in principle, relate to the rules of the moral speech-act, viz., necessary conditions of free action.

Once expressed by a moral speech-act, those facts are constituted as moral. Thus the feeling of causa sui, which divorces the O-sentences from the I-sentences, re-connects them since some of the I-sentences express the factual preconditions of this feeling. It seems obvious that human beings must satisfy some of their needs, and pursue their interests to enjoy freedom of action. Therefore the I-sentences that express those needs and interests which are the prerequisites of enjoyment of freedom of action can be seen as expressing the facts which are evaluative in themselves. Some of the facts Nietzsche calls type-facts seem to be promising in this context. The facts relating to biological-physiological and psychological needs are no doubt cut out for the job of the inferential shift between the I-sentences and the O-sentences as such needs must be met so freedom of action must be enjoyed.

To clarify the conclusion, the rules of the moral speech-act in the O-sentences serve to express the feeling of causality in the second sense of the term Hume uses. Moral action must be caused freely, and the feeling of moral freedom finds its expression in the modal shift from “Is” to “Ought.” As it is the case, some of the I-sentences express the preconditions of the enjoyment of freedom in the action prescribed by an O-sentence, and as such, they can be used to close the gap opened up by the feeling of moral freedom. Even if free will is not indemonstrable, then, provided that free will is to be possible at all, if morality is to be possible at all, one should be able to demonstrate what makes its factual enjoyment possible.

All human beings need food, sleep, shelter, recognition, education, social interaction and context, among many other things, so they can enjoy their moral freedom implied in the moral speech-act. The previous sentence above can be taken as an instance of the conjunction of the basic I-sentences that makes use of the O-sentences possible. That is to say, in order for the gap to be possible, in order for the problem of “Is vs. Ought” to be intelligible, the factual preconditions and implications of the problem must be possible and finally in order to close up the gap and solve the problem, one should inquire into what makes its expression possible. Moral freedom expressed on the linguistic level, thus, must be traced back to the preconditions of its enjoyment on the factual level.

Further study is required to dig deeper into the litany of the basic needs and preconditions that would make freedom of action possible. I believe it would be wise to pursue the naturalist strand of thought in Hume and Nietzsche to pursue the question at stake.



Conflicts of interests

The author declares there is no conflict of interest.


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