How to Think Better: is-ought fallacy

In philosophy there’s this thing called the is-ought fallacy.

It boils down to this: Because something is or has been it ought to be.

If you’re like me, you have to let that sink in for a minute.

The is-ought fallacy is at work when we assume that because things are a certain way, they should be that way.

We derive an “ought” from an “is”.

Is-Ought fallacy in real life

I’m borrowing this fallacy from the realm of philosophy because I see a version showing up all around me—in my clients, my friends, myself.

  • I’m not an entrepreneur, so I shouldn’t be one.
  • We’ve always celebrated the holidays this way, so we should continue.
  • I’ve always struggled with putting too much on my plate, so I always will.

The reasoning is full of holes.

In these examples, someone is coming to a conclusion about what tomorrow should or will be like based on what’s happening today.

Here’s one I heard recently, We have trouble talking about money. That’s just the way it is. In other words, because it’s always been that way it will continue to be true in the future.

You can see how disempowering that reasoning is.

What if the fact that today you have trouble talking about money is the very reason you will do things differently so this isn’t the case in the future?

Status quo is not your friend

The essential problem is this: There is nothing about how the world is that tells you how it ought to be.

The is-ought fallacy is all about the status quo. When we live our lives as if what is ought to be, then we keep getting what we have. Comfort zones remain static. There is no growth. Nothing changes.

Bringing it closer to home: There is nothing about how your life is today that tells you how it ought to be tomorrow.

Is-ought. Status quo. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a small way to live.

Are you living the is-ought fallacy by maintaining the way something is for its own sake? What if how things ought to be in your life are not based on what is?

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