Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Normativity Objection to Metaethical Naturalism

Call the view that normativity is reducible to natural properties 'Metaethical Naturalism'. I take it that the main motivation for non-naturalism is the conviction that naturalist views simply don't take normativity seriously enough: You just can't capture the distinctive qualities of normative facts by merely talking about natural facts. And if that's right, naturalists should simply own up to being error theorists about normativity, rather than claiming to be realists. Sure, they're realists about whatever natural phenomena they're ultimately referring to (be it happiness, desire satisfaction, or whatever), but redefining normative words to refer to natural properties is not enough to make those natural properties normative.

As Nagel puts it, in The View from Nowhere (1986: 138)
If values are objective, they must be so in their own right, and not through reducibility to some other kind of objective fact. They have to be objective values, not objective anything else.

Of course, naturalists are apt to think it question-begging of us to charge them with changing the subject in this way, since whether they've given a successful naturalistic reduction of values (as opposed to just using the word 'values' to talk about something completely differnet) is precisely the issue under dispute. This leads Schroeder, in Slaves of the Passions (p.82) to conclude that:
[F]iguring out whether any reductive view is true is not the sort of thing that we can do without getting our hands dirty.... [T]he way to see whether normative properties can be analyzed, is to propose your analysis, and see whether it checks out.

Perhaps it's poor form to ever deny the need for hard work, but I really do think that sometimes it's easier than Schroeder makes out. For example (possibly borrowed from Parfit?), suppose that someone were to propose that the property of being a normative reason just is (or is constituted by) the property of being a cabbage. I don't think we need to "get our hands dirty" working out all the implications of this proposed analysis to see whether it "checks out". Instead, this analysis is plainly a non-starter. Anyone with the slightest grasp of normative reasons can know that, whatever they are, they ain't cabbages. Likewise, I think, for any other physical entity. Normativity, if there is any such thing, is (like qualia) in a class of its own, and cannot be reduced to any other (independently specifiable) thing.

Here's one way to spin this underlying thought into an argument (what we might call, with a tip of the hat to Frank Jackson, the Normative Knowledge Argument):

(1) The full nature of normative facts can only be grasped via normative concepts. (Someone who lacked all normative concepts would be importantly ignorant; they could not fully grasp the normative facts.)

(2) Natural facts can be fully grasped using merely natural, non-normative concepts.

Therefore, (3) Normative facts aren't natural facts.



  1. I agree with everything here up to this startling claim:

    > Normativity, if there is any such thing, is (like qualia) in a class of its own, and cannot be reduced to any other (independently specifiable) thing.

    I suspect we simply have different intuitions about the concept of normativity. But if that's your concept of normativity, then I'm an error theorist about it.

    I continue to use the term 'normativity', though, because it's a useful word for me in the sense by which I mean it: that which can be captured by 'ought' or 'should' language.

  2. Wow. The leap from "x isn't a cabbage" to "x isn't any physical entity" positively takes my breath away. Do you really think it's that easy?

  3. Aaron - I'm obviously not inferring the latter claim from the former (at least, I hope that's clear!). Rather, the thought is that our understanding of normativity rules out various proposals for what it consists in. The cabbage case is an especially obvious example of this, but I think that we can ultimately see that any non-normatively specifiable thing is likewise going to fail, because of the argument given at the end of the post.

    Luke - Just to clarify: I take it you would deny premise (1), then?

    I'm pretty sure that you don't use 'normativity' to mean "that which can be captured by 'ought' or 'should' language." I don't think you want to say that cabbages are really normative in possible worlds where people speak a language where 'ought' means cabbage (even though cabbages really can be captured by 'ought' language in such worlds). Right?

  4. Physical entities have a long history of turning out to have surprising, unexpected properties. I have little confidence that I know the limits of what physical entities are capable of. I also have little confidence that I fully understand the nature of normative properties. I thus find myself utterly without this strong intuition you seem to have that there couldn't possibly be overlap between the unknown capacities of physical entities and the unknown nature of normative properties.

  5. Richard,

    Right, I deny (1).

    No, I only meant that on planet Earth in the English language, I intuitively associate 'normativity' with 'ought' and 'should' language.

    But I'm not going to argue over definitions for too long if differing definitions are causing us trouble. If arguing about definitions is a key role of the philosopher, the fine, but so much the worse for philosophy.

    Instead of talking about normativity I can talk about what is likely to bring about the specified end, or would fulfill an agent's own utility function (using 'utility function metaphorically), or whatever the situation calls for. Or I can make up a new word to get the speed-of-communication benefits I was hoping to get from 'normativity.'

    And you can use the definition of 'normativity' that best fits your own intuitions if you like, though I'll start complaining about deliberate obfuscation if you use 'normativity' to mean 'cabbage'. If normativity_Richard is intuitively a non-natural thing, then my default take is to deny the existence of normativity_Richard until good reason is given to think normativity_Richard exists.

    My own understanding of meaning and morality and physics in this universe already works without normativity_Richard, so I'm not emotionally concerned about thinking that normativity_Richard doesn't exist, either.

  6. Whatever natural entity (or fact) you may think of as normative (say, pain), the claim that it's a normative entity (or fact) is itself not a natural claim, i.e. a claim about a natural property of a natural entity (or fact).

    That people could disagree whether pain is (or not) normative (or, more particularly, "what matters") doesn't seem to be construed (or construable) as a dispute over natural entities, facts or properties.

    Rather, it seems that -- assuming pain's aversiveness is in itself reducible to natural properties -- by claiming "pain ought to be prevented", one is to the least assigning a normative property to such natural properties, that is, one is taking a normative stance on that which has natural properties prone to arouse normative discussion.

    So, I guess one may have to accept (1) and (2). But shouldn't we try to account for one's ability to grasp the normative significance of non-normative facts through normative concepts? I mean, can your argument account for transitions from nature to normativity through non-natural means. Right?

  7. Just realized there's sort of a response here [] already

  8. Aaron - The following strikes me as a conceptual truth: Whatever physical entities turn out to be capable of doing, "doing" just isn't the right kind of category to constitute a normative property.

    But even if you deny this, I'd be pretty content to merely secure agreement on the following, weaker claim: None of the familiar physical properties so far discovered are the kinds of things that could constitute normative properties. Do you agree with this weaker claim? E.g. Would you agree that metaethical naturalism would be a non-starter in a simple Newtonian universe?

    If so, this would be an important point of agreement, since I take it that most metaethical naturalists merely appeal to familiar macroscopic properties in their reduction base, rather than resting their case on quirky quantum properties or the like.

    Luke - Sure, you can just talk about means-end relationships. I do think that's clearly changing the subject from what most people interesting in normativity are interested in. (There's nothing particularly philosophically interesting, puzzling, etc. about means-end relationships as such. They don't provide correctness conditions for our decisions. There's nothing necessarily irrational about acknowledging that a means-end relationship holds and yet failing to be motivated by it, etc.)

  9. Richard,

    A few ideas:

    1.) Isn't 2. only true if Naturalism is false? Most versions of Naturalism I see would argue that a natural fact is any one that a natural science can study, and since there are natural sciences that deal with normative facts (psychology/ political science) then some normative facts are natural facts.

    2.) The conclusion establishes that there is a difference between natural and normative facts. But A and B can be different if A is a subclass of B, so normative facts can be different from natural facts by merely being a subset of them. But Naturalism consists in holding that all facts are contained under natural facts as a class or subclass. Therefore the argument you give is compatible with the truth of Naturalism.

  10. Hi Thomism,

    I'm not sure I follow your first point. I'd expect naturalists to happily grant my second premise. Are you perhaps confusing normative facts with normatively-significant natural facts? Psychologists and political scientists use natural concepts to study natural facts. (They may be normatively significant facts, which imply ought claims, but they are not themselves ought-claims.)

    My conclusion is not just that the set of normative facts is distinct from the set of natural facts. It is the stronger claim that any normative fact is distinct from any natural fact(s). (Read premise 2 as stating that "Any natural fact can be fully grasped...")

  11. Richard,

    Good! Now I see the point you were making. There is a real distinction between those two sorts of facts, and I see that a science like physics or chemistry deals with natural facts as opposed to normative ones, but I'm unsure if the same can be said for social/ political science and psychology. It sure seems like those sorts of sciences try to discover things that ought to be done, and seek to give reasons for action. What say you?

    But the argument does show that a Naturalism that tries to reduce all actions to the sort studied in physics and chemistry cannot be realist about normativity, or more strongly that the reality of the normative would falsify reductive Naturalism.

    Luke, Boyden... still out there?

    James Chastek

  12. James - as I understand them, the social sciences are merely descriptive. They tell us how people do behave. If they were to make further normative claims on top of this then they would be veering away from science and into ethics / political philosophy. (There's no way to empirically verify normative claims, after all!)

  13. Richard,

    Using my suggested concept of normativity, an act is normatively 'correct' if it is likely to bring about the intended result, given the actor's knowledge.

    I'm just importing all this from AI, btw. Agency and rationality and normativity are all precisely and usefully defined in AI. AI is agent-talk without ghosts. As Dennett said, "AI makes philosophy honest. "

  14. Hi Richard,
    I think a denial of premise (2) is also quite plausible, at least, the version of premise (2) that is required to make the argument go through.
    It is a natural fact that the planets orbit around the sun. In order to “fully grasp” this fact, you must be roughly familiar with Copernican theory, or perhaps more modern observational theory. In order to be aware of this fact as a fact (that is, accept it as true) you therefore have to accept these theories over their rivals. Since we know that a huge number of contrary theories can explain any observational data, you cannot fully grasp the fact that the planets orbit the sun without accepting the normative considerations that make Copernican theory superior: the familiar concepts of theoretical parsimony, explanatory power, coherence, etc.
    It follows that there are a huge number of natural facts which could not be accepted as facts if the person in question did not have a grasp of a large network of normative concepts. Whatever the final truth about concepts may be, it is unlikely that the normative and the descriptive can be separated so cleanly as you might like, here.

  15. Richard,

    I have two worries about your argument. The first is autobiographical. I had a near conversion experience to metaethical naturalism when I read Michael Smith's work [you have a normative reason to do x in C if your fully rational self would advise you to do x in C, where full rationality is cashed out in terms of full information and a naturalistic account of desiderative coherence]. If you haven't had such an experience reading broadly naturalistic philosopher then this won't motivate you, but to me it speaks in favor of Schroeder's conclusion - sometimes a concrete program is more persuasive than you thought possible. (Even if you haven't had such an experience, if some other philosopher whose judgment you respect has I'd think considerations of epistemic peerage would likewise counsel in favor of Schroeder.)

    Second, I worry that your premise (1) is like the principle of sufficient causation in an earlier age. The principle of sufficient causation - including the fully-discredited version holding that every event must have a cause - was at one point accepted as a conceptual truth by excellent philosophers. It isn't now - from this vantage it looks more like a recherche outgrowth of theological prejudice. Particularly if Mackie is right that folk-metaethics is (inchoately) committed to non-naturalism, there is a rough analogy to be drawn between your premise (1) and the principle of sufficient causation [both are highly abstract, both cohere with the dominant pre-theoretical view] that suggests it may be infected with ideology.

  16. As someone inclined towards (but by no means convinced of) metaethical naturalism, I simply want to ask why I should accept #2. Perhaps this is simply because I'm a bit unclear about what it is to "fully grasp" a fact. Here's something that seems true: If normative facts are natural facts, then there are at least some natural facts such that, in order to "fully grasp" them, one must employ at least one normative concept.

    Relatedly: Suppose I am a naturalist who does not identify normative facts and natural facts, but believe that they can be reduced to the natural. Couldn't I then happily concede the truth of 2? Suppose that biological facts are reducible to chemical facts. Take the set (S) of chemical facts that constitute the reduction base of the fact (F) that male baboons respond amorously to pheromone Y. Isn't it plausible to say that one could fully grasp each fact in S and still not grasp F?

  17. Nick - For my argument, "grasping" a proposition merely requires understanding what its truth would consist in; it doesn't require accepting the proposition as true. In any case, someone could believe Copernicism simply because someone told them it was true, or even for no reason at all, without having any normative concepts.

    Angus - I'm all in favour of letting a thousand flowers bloom, so people sympathetic to reductive programs should certainly feel encouraged to iron out the details and see where they end up. But I also think that the non-naturalist's arguments are quite powerful, and that it isn't a sufficient response to dismiss them as Schroeder does.

    Bracketing a problem argument, while you attend to a different line of inquiry, is quite a different matter from dismissing the prior arguments. I'm fine with the former, but wish to push back against the latter. I think there's a real challenge here that naturalists (eventually) need to address.

    I'm not sure I follow your second objection. Mackie agrees with me that normativity is incompatible with naturalism, and hence that the choice is between non-naturalism and error theory. An important disanalogy with the Principle of Sufficient Reason is that I'm not here making a positive claim about how reality must be. I'm merely making the negative claim that genuine normativity is incompatible with naturalism. That leaves open which of the two we should believe in.

    hbarnwheeler - fair question. I was thinking that biological facts could (in principle, say by a Laplacean demon with unlimited cognitive capacity) be grasped using merely microphysical and logical concepts. It would be rather long-winded to restate the claim using these more fundamental concepts, but they wouldn't necessarily be "missing" (i.e., ignorant of) anything.

    Two further points worth clarifying:

    "Isn't it plausible to say that one could fully grasp each fact in S and still not grasp F?"

    That's far from obvious. Fully grasping all the microphysical facts would entail a full understanding of their dispositional properties, both in isolation and in the aggregate. This would seem to entail an understanding of the behavioural dispositions of the baboon-shaped collections of atoms, just under a different name. But regardless: My argument really just requires that an agent with only the base concepts could thereby grasp any putative fact (they have the conceptual resources to do so), not that they must do so.

    "If normative facts are natural facts, then there are at least some natural facts such that, in order to "fully grasp" them, one must employ at least one normative concept."

    Why think that? Suppose that normative facts are really just facts about preference satisfaction. Such facts can be fully grasped using the (natural) concept of 'preference' and related concepts. If the metaethical naturalist is right then one could also refer to this fact using 'ought' talk, but it isn't necessary -- one could do without normative concepts and still grasp all the facts that there are.

  18. Sorry if this post is a little long; I'm not a philosopher, etc., so I hope you'll be patient with me.

    I think Luke's concept is more like 'prudence', but I also think it would be strange indeed if Richard, Nicolas mean to deny that prudence has a normative force. If they meant, however, that there is more to normativity than just prudence, then I agree, although I still cannot understand at all what their idea of normativity is, and I hope they will write out clearly what criteria they are using to evaluate proposals like Luke's.

    Personally, I agree with (1). Really, it seems to me that all normative claims are in some way 'hypothetical' (which isn't to deny that they might be universal), and it doesn't make sense to discuss what one 'should' do without reference to some normative concept / value system. Even so, I consider myself an ethical naturalist, and believe in 'objective' morality. The meaning I take from these terms is that ethics or morality is concerned exclusively with natural facts, although 'ethics' or 'morality' is itself a normative concept. It is objective in the sense of being observer-independent, although it is relational, which seems to be more what Nagel was talking about (I guess?). What I'm trying to say is: 'morality' is essentially the same type of thing as a credit score, although it is a unique and particularly interesting object of that class.

    So, (normative fact = normative concept + natural facts) and (morality ∈ normative concepts). If you wish to say that this is not naturalism, then I think you are the one redefining terms, since my view would require all claims about what is "morally good" to rely only on natural facts (indeed, to 'reduce to natural properties'), and there is no non-natural object which could be taken as data for the evaluation. It may be that this is merely ethical naturalism, and not _meta_ ethical naturalism. If that is so, then I wonder who exactly you think is a 'meta ethical' naturalist? For it seems to me that all naturalism I have read (and I admit I'm not well read) is more like what I have written here, and that it contrasts with stuff like Moore not because it denies that moral claims require knowledge of morality (or that morality is a normative concept), but because it claims that what is "morally good" can be reduced to natural properties, as I have said.

    Really, my view and what I take to be the view of other ethical naturalists is more like (moral fact = f(natural facts)), where f() is the morality "function."

    I also think you dismissed Nick too quickly, for it seems to me that even knowledge of any sort of natural facts relies on an inescapable string of normative concepts. Any knowledge of a chair or cabbage or whatever relies on at least one level of abstraction, which is to say a normative concept. If you don't have some idea about valuing and putting together your sensory input, I don't understand how you could grasp anything. That is, (natural fact = g(sensory input)), where g() is a normative concept function. I think sensory input is too primitive to be a natural fact, at least how that term is usually used.. I'm essentially trying to invoke the buddhist saññā / saṅkhāra concepts (though I'm not a buddhist).

  19. Richard,

    The analogy I meant to draw between the Principle of Sufficient Causation and the proposition that naturalism and normativity are incompatible is that just as PSC was held to be axiomatic by a number of excellent philosophers because of the “ideology of [their] age,” so the incompatibility of naturalism and normativity might be thought axiomatic by excellent philosophers because of the ideology of this age.

    I mentioned Mackie as an example of somebody who’d given a good account of folk-metaethics [I think it was too simplistic to be, as he thought it was, a full and nuanced account of folk-morality itself, but he did capture one prominent way in which “the folk” think about morality.] My point was that if Mackie is onto something with his account of folk-metaethics then a recherché version of the metaethical component of the ideology of our age is the view that naturalism and normativity are incompatible. If that view really is just an outgrowth of ideology then it casts doubt on the proposition that “it is a conceptual truth that naturalism and normativity are incompatible” by explaining how it could seem plausible even if false. [Much as understanding why the Principle of Sufficient Causation was thought axiomatic by a number of excellent philosophers casts doubt on its conceptual status.]

    Finally, I'm not sure I see why the formal fact that the principle of sufficient causation is a positive claim, while yours is negative, has a bearing here.

  20. Angus, you seem to take the PSR/PSC case to support the methodological principle that we should be suspicious about claims of reason in general. But it seems to me to merely warrant suspicion about positive claims that the world must be a certain way (cf. the common caution against "defining into existence", as found in the ontological argument). I'm not aware of evidence that our judgments of conceptual incompatibility are unreliable.

    Perhaps you're just making the more general point that it's always possible, for any philosophical claim whatsoever, that its proponents merely believe it because of "ideology" rather than because it's true. But given the total generality of this skeptical possibility, it doesn't strike me as so helpful. If a claim strikes me as true, I'd need to see more specific grounds for doubt in order to undermine my belief in it. (Actually, I'm pretty suspicious of "debunking" strategies and related attempts to utilize "higher-order evidence" in philosophy.)

    William - I think that animals and young children can know many facts about the natural world, even though they don't possess normative concepts.

  21. Angus - I forgot to add: It's odd to take the (putative) fact that folk metaethics takes normativity and naturalism to be incompatible as evidence that the claim is mere "ideology". After all, this is also what we would expect to find if in fact it was a conceptual truth and the folk are conceptually competent. (In general, having folk agree with you is not evidence that your view is unjustified or false!)

  22. I think I am inclined to agree with you that they can know facts, although I would disagree that they don't possess normative concepts. For it seems to me, that given any set of stimulus or sensory perception, there are an infinite number of ways that it may be interpreted; but, a rabbit wanting to live ought to interpret a flash of fur and the smell of a fox as some sort of danger, value such an interpretation more highly, and so 'select' such an interpretation.

    If you say that it does this unknowingly, then I do not see how that defeats the claim, for one can have a concept of something without knowing that one has a concept of something (that is to say, the proscriptions of an intuitionist are just as normative as those of a kantian, though I doubt the former could explicitly declare any normative concept) If you say that I am just speaking of prudence again, then I shall simply fall back on my earlier post, and marvel that anyone could think prudence not normative.

    Even in cases not directly concerned with practical reason, it seems to me that one must choose between interpretations (or facts), and that there is more reason to take certain interpretations than others, and that this process is essentially normative. That is, normative for ideas, rather than actions, so that according to deductive logic (the normative concept) there are certain things we _ought_ to believe given some other beliefs (or facts), and if it seems we are in water, it is better to (and so we should) believe that we really are in water rather than believing we are on solid ground, and so on.

    But whatever you say, I think I ought to hold my tongue for now, because I ramble and cannot yet say all I want in so few words, like you and the others do, and I do not yet have an adequate grasp of all the underlying concepts, like you and the others do. No doubt you will claim 'normativity' is one of those that I don't adequately grasp, that I have cast too wide a net, but if it is so, it is only because you have not yet given me a smaller net to try. For I cannot find any account of what exactly you think the "distinctive qualities" of normativity are, although I see you repeatedly objecting to naturalists and others "redefining" normativity. I do not ask that you attempt to reduce normative properties to something else, only that you declare how exactly you are "checking out" proposed reductions or analyses.

    And really, I would be quite content to just end the discussion, because I feel I have not thought everything through nearly enough yet, and I sincerely think I am mostly just making a fool of myself with these ramblings, and am not yet ready to hold such discussions; probably it is largely pointless unless we agree on a great deal of epistemology, etc., anyway, and there is much I have not resolved in my own mind about those questions. I will happily continue to read your blog, but not respond until I have thought through my point more carefully, and can reply more concisely.

  23. William - it'd be a mistake to assume that whenever there are multiple possible interpretations of a stimulus, the perceiver must "choose" (in the ordinary, volitional sense) which is correct. A creature might just be biologically programmed to respond one way rather than another. Otherwise you're going to be attributing normative concepts to phototropic plants. (It's one thing to say that a plant or animal ought to respond in such-and-such a way. It's quite another to attribute the normative thoughts to the plant or animal itself! Worms wriggle, but it doesn't follow that worms themselves think "worms wriggle". It would be quite extraordinary if worms turned out to have such concepts!)

    It'd also be a mistake to think that, whenever such a choice is made, it must be made on the basis of an evaluative judgment. Again, just because a choice is normatively significant doesn't mean that the chooser must be thinking about its normative significance.

    For some minimal criteria for concept attribution, see my old post: What Behaviour is About.

  24. Oh, and a few possible criteria for the normative concept of what one ought to do (just to clarify what I have in mind here):

    * When one attributes this property to a possible action, one thereby tends (barring any rational impediments) to be motivated to perform that action.

    * One is warranted in considering others irrational insofar as they attribute this property to an action and yet aren't motivated to perform that action.

    * Conceptually competent agents can disagree about which natural properties of an action warrant attributing this normative property to it.

    I think naturalistic views will have trouble accommodating these criteria...

  25. Yes, I agree that the 'perceiver' isn't necessarily 'choosing' (in the ordinary, volitional sense) in any case of multiple possible interpretations, etc. However, I don't see anything strictly limited to volition in your criteria. I don't see why this 'tending to be motivated', 'disagreement', may not be met mechanically (it may depend on how you cash out 'considering', 'irrational,' etc., but anyway, you merely say that "one is warranted," so that can be met merely by something being 'normatively significant,' even without the chooser thinking it, as you say)

    The final criteria, does it require that they can disagree _even when fully informed_? I assume so, since otherwise it wouldn't be worth saying. It seems to me that criteria alone obviously rejects any possibility for a naturalistic view, which would deny the possibility of such disagreement for _well-informed, conceptually competent_ agents. But, this is no surprise, and really no great discovery, for what naturalist hasn't essentially challenged that criteria, arguing that some group was 'correct' and another 'wrong,' and trying to demonstrate the point somehow?

    And more importantly, it seems to lose the contextualized way of using that normative concept .. for instance, what about when we talk about _what one ought to do_ in light of some agreement they've made, or _what one ought to do_ according to christian ethics, and so on? What I mean is, I see that we have set aside epistemic normativity, and I wonder if we are now also setting aside all non-decisive practical normativity, and only considering the _very narrow_ realm of normativity concerned with _what one ought to do_ all things considered (that is, only considering that most general use of 'ought'). For surely something can normatively pull one in some direction, without concluding the decision-making process altogether.

    But very well, let's take that most general use of 'ought' for a second, and see whether it has anything at all to do with what our concern is (presumably, morality). First, if morality were normative in this sense, it would seem to bind questions of "the meaning of life" to morality, and this is not at all how 'morality' is commonly used (by 'folk', as you say). Ask someone on the street, "Do you consider the meaning of your life to be the pursuit of moral good?" I think it's obvious that most people would say no. Indeed, I have never met someone who even aspired to such single-minded devotion to 'morality.' Secondly, I don't see how your portrayal of normativity allows for things such as supererogatory acts, which I do think are an important moral concept - we can praise mother theresa without necessarily going out to try to emulate her, and not merely from some akrasia or whatever, but quite willfully and knowingly. Thirdly, if you really mean morality to be normative in accordance with the criteria you've listed, then it seems to me that you're bound to moral relativism, again by this strange 3rd criteria. I would also argue that this absolute view of morality, as being the ultimate arbiter of the decision making process, obliterates the significance of aesthetics, free-will, purpose-making, and a great many other things.

    No one is or even tries to be perfectly moral, except those with a very stunted view of morality (especially constraint views). We try not to be perfectly immoral, but in general, we balance our moral concerns with our other concerns. I very much take morality to be more concerned with the 'contextualized' or relegated type of normativity (not decisive); I consider this more in line with 'folk' usage of the terms; I consider morality to remain substantively important and worth investigating, and a unique object in this class of value systems; and I suspect a good many naturalists would agree with these positions.

  26. let me just say that after my first paragraph, I meant to accept that normativity requires volition (although I'm not entirely sure I agree), and apologize again for the length and simplicity of my posts, but truly, I know no other way to talk about these things. And also apologize that, for all my better judgment, and perhaps this properly from akrasia, I can't seem to stay quiet as I said earlier.

  27. No need to apologize, comments are welcome. Three quick responses:

    (1) I wasn't thinking of the final criterion as involving full information at all. Merely the possibility of conceptually-competent moral disagreement, as per Moore's Open Question Argument. Naturalists may certainly try to accommodate this datum (e.g. by appeals to the necessary a posteriori), but I think all such attempts ultimately fail. I may write another post about that sometime.

    (2) You may be interested in my old post on hypothetical imperatives. Note that they need not "pull" at all, unless one already accepts that one ought to be pursuing the presupposed goal.

    (3) I'm really interested in the all-things-considered 'ought', not any narrower conception of 'morality'.

  28. Yes ok, I'm satisfied for now, thanks for the conversation. I still disagree with your account of normativity, and with many of your complaints against hypothetical imperatives, but I'm content that I understand where you stand on everything much better than I did before. I also very much liked boramlee's account of "Humean" normativity; it is nearer to my intuition but has many more nuances that I haven't thought about, and I'm not sure whether it's valid or not. Anyway, I'll look forward to your post about moore's open question, etc.

  29. Hi Richard

    Somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, but does it not make sense to say that the normative universe I arrive at follows from an axiomatic choice of utility function determined by the descriptive fact of my evolved brain?


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