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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Defining 'normative'

Defining 'normative'

A former member
Post #: 10
Hey Folks (not that you are 'the folk'),

I'd like to figure out what 'normative' means. My goal here is to get a handful of terse definitions to gain leverage for building metaphysical arguments.

I'd like to start with necessary conditions, then work towards sufficiency.

First, I'd like to see what kind of thing the predicate 'normative' refers to...

'Normative1': x is normative only if x is a proposition

'Normative2': x is normative only if x is a property

'Normative3': x is normative only if x is a belief

Please feel free to chip in with alternatives or explanations.

Second, I'd like to know what the relationship between normativity and morality is. This is bound to be messy, since most meta-ethical literature isn't written by metaphysicians. Here are some options...

(A) the set of all normative things includes as a subset all moral things

(B) the set of all moral things includes as a subset the set of all normative things (I think this is obviously false)

(C) normative and moral things share some property, phi, and differ with respect to psi, and phi is ____ and psi is ____

Let me know what you think.
Cheers,
John
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 160
Thanks, John, for starting this thread. Normativity has long been a keen philosophical interest of mine. I am slowly working toward some introductory presentation on the general idea. I think it is at the heart of other seemingly unrelated philosophical problems. (The monist/dualist debate is a case in point but I think just the tip of an iceberg.)

Some time ago I found this post by a philosopher who is also puzzled by it and offers these introductory thoughts.

The term "normativity" hasn't been around that long, I don't think, as the name of an explicit problem in philosophy. Though the underlying notion of inserting value into an otherwise matter-of-fact-world and the philosophical implications has been kicking around since at least David Hume in the fact/value distinction, but in other guises, I think, much longer.

There's a collection of pieces on the concept in relation to naturalism which I hope to work through this summer.

There is, of course, Christine Korsgaard's "The Sources of Normativity" which explores the deontological aspect which I studied some years ago and Judith Jarvis Thompson's "Normativity," which I haven't read yet.

...


In response to your prompt above, I am inclined to see something as normative if it is an imperative, which would include some beliefs. But I'm not sure any kind of belief per se is necessary to something's being normative. An unconscious way of life may be normative. I think lower forms of life can express normativity in some degree. Much less do I think it is necessary that it be a formal proposition.

As for its being a property *of* something, my feeling is that the preposition is wrong. Normativity is not a property *of* anything so much as something emanating *from* something. It is something conferred by a certain type of entity.

But sticking to propositions for now, here's a basic picture of the emergence of normativity:

An eight-year-old girl tutors her five-year-old brother in arithmetic.

He asks, "What is two plus two?"

She answers, "Two plus two is four."

So far, no normativity. Pure question and informational answer.

The boy gets ornery, "No, it's five!"

She says, "Two plus two is four!"

Now the formerly descriptive proposition has become normative. I think the exclamation point was invented to mark normativity.

A rule is not just handed out, take it or leave it, but laid down, almost treated like a threat. It is an imposition of structure. Wittgenstein's famous obsession with getting at what it means to follow a rule was about normativity.

Rules are the core of logic and ethics and--less often remarked--aesthetics. Built on a logic of some sort is reason and sense. On ethics, social and political philosophy. On aesthetics, I think just about every stricture or permission in the world, not already covered, that matters. Indeed, something's mattering is a mark of normativity.

Wittgenstein was noticing the common normative element when he said ethics and aesthetics are one. He was expanding on an earlier Viennese philosopher, Otto Weininger (whom Wittgenstein greatly admired), who said logic and ethics are one.

You offer

"(A) the set of all normative things includes as a subset all moral things"

I think so.


"(B) the set of all moral things includes as a subset the set of all normative things (I think this is obviously false)"

I agree, absolutely.


"(C) normative and moral things share some property, phi, and differ with respect to psi, and phi is ____ and psi is ____"

phi is normativity. Normativity, in other words, is the more inclusive category. Morality is normativity applied specifically to human behavior. Normativity, then, is the root concept, hence its importance.


psi is that morality is more specific than normativity. Non-moral forms of normativity pervade everything experienced (hence the connection with consciousness and the philosophy of mind). In fact, I like to think of ethics as the branch of aesthetics specific to human action or behavior. Aesthetics is more general than ethics. And normativity is the most general notion of anything's mattering.

These are my thoughts for now.

Victor
A former member
Post #: 16
As for its being a property *of* something, my feeling is that the preposition is wrong. Normativity is not a property *of* anything so much as something emanating *from* something. It is something conferred by a certain type of entity.
for all x, if x is assigned any relevantly similar evaluative properties [true/false, good/bad, right/wrong, reasonable/unreasonable, mattering/not mattering, etc.], then x is normative

She says, "Two plus two is four!"

Now the formerly descriptive proposition has become normative. I think the exclamation point was invented to mark normativity.
That's cool.

A rule is not just handed out, take it or leave it, but laid down, almost treated like a threat. It is an imposition of structure.
for all x, if x is assigned any relevantly similar evaluative properties [true/false, good/bad, right/wrong, reasonable/unreasonable, mattering/not mattering, etc.] *and demanded to be treated as such by others*, then x is normative

Am I getting it?
A former member
Post #: 18
I'm wondering about cases of normativity that happen, for lack of a better word, naturally. For example, I don't treat the environment with respect because I feel I owe it to anyone or because I legislate rules that bestow normativity. Instead, I feel that nature itself demands this of me. When I write it out like that, though, it sounds dumb. So maybe we can disregard. However, only disregard if you think it sounds dumb. But explain it if you do that. So don't disregard, regardless of the obvious requirement that you disregard dumb thoughts. Anyway, what do you think about non-sentient stuff being normative regardless of what anyone wills upon the world?
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 161
John,

for all x, if x is assigned any relevantly similar evaluative properties [true/false, good/bad, right/wrong, reasonable/unreasonable, mattering/not mattering, etc.], then x is normative...

for all x, if x is assigned any relevantly similar evaluative properties [true/false, good/bad, right/wrong, reasonable/unreasonable, mattering/not mattering, etc.] *and demanded to be treated as such by others*, then x is normative

Am I getting it?
Normativity is odd if treated like a property of something.

The essential aspect of normativity is not what may or may not instantiate some property but the act or agent who confers it.

To assign evaluative properties is to engage in normative activity. The idea of "demand to be treated as such" adds nothing to the normativity of the act. Or, put another way, to evaluate is already to demand.

Perhaps one of the simplest acts of normativity is to name an object. Something has been singled out for attention. Giving it a name is to say, for some normatively sensitive agent, this thing is worth bothering this much over.

So the phrase "Let x be..." is normative. This happens long before we say anything property-wise about x. Even to consciously ignore x is a normative act. In "letting x be" we are giving x propositional content in order to do further work on it, but normativity is already in the picture.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 162
John

I'm wondering about cases of normativity that happen, for lack of a better word, naturally. For example, I don't treat the environment with respect because I feel I owe it to anyone or because I legislate rules that bestow normativity. Instead, I feel that nature itself demands this of me. When I write it out like that, though, it sounds dumb. So maybe we can disregard. However, only disregard if you think it sounds dumb. But explain it if you do that. So don't disregard, regardless of the obvious requirement that you disregard dumb thoughts. Anyway, what do you think about non-sentient stuff being normative regardless of what anyone wills upon the world?
I think what you are getting at is related to something that comes up in environmental ethics and in the philosophy of art, the idea of intrinsic vs instrumental value.

Here's a description of a famous thought experiment, the Last Man argument, that gets to the point:

At a conference in 1973, Richard Sylvan (then known as Richard Routley) proposed a science fiction thought experiment that helped to launch environmental ethics as a branch of academic philosophy...

The thought experiment presents you with a situation something like this: You are the last human being. You shall soon die. When you are gone, the only life remaining will be plants, microbes, invertebrates. For some reason, the following thought runs through your head: Before I die, it sure would be nice to destroy the last remaining Redwood. Just for fun.

Sylvan’s audience was left to ponder. What, if anything, would be wrong with destroying that Redwood? Destroying it won’t hurt anyone, so what’s the problem? Environmental philosophers have been trying to answer that question ever since,...

[from: http://research.biolo...­ ]
If there are normative forces loose in the natural world independent of us, it might explain why some philosophers feel that even in Sylvan's concocted morally aseptic world, it would *still* be possible to do wrong. If one has the intuition that it is still wrong to destroy the Redwood, then, as you say, nature may make demands on us. But there are ways to explain and justify the feeling that it is still possible to do wrong without leaving essentially anthropocentric moral theories (or some, at least). This would be a good topic in environmental ethics for a meetup...
A former member
Post #: 25
Normativity is odd if treated like a property of something.

The essential aspect of normativity is not what may or may not instantiate some property but the act or agent who confers it.

To assign evaluative properties is to engage in normative activity. The idea of "demand to be treated as such" adds nothing to the normativity of the act. Or, put another way, to evaluate is already to demand.

Perhaps one of the simplest acts of normativity is to name an object. Something has been singled out for attention. Giving it a name is to say, for some normatively sensitive agent, this thing is worth bothering this much over.

So the phrase "Let x be..." is normative. This happens long before we say anything property-wise about x. Even to consciously ignore x is a normative act. In "letting x be" we are giving x propositional content in order to do further work on it, but normativity is already in the picture.
Two things. First, it seems to me we might have different views of what properties are. I actually don't know what they are. In my book, they are whatever makes a predicate's application true. So that might actually fit with what you're saying and what I'm wondering at.

Second, I really like this thing you're saying about normativity. I wonder if it can be broken into parts, though. For example, maybe the act of naming something is somehow exclusionary, like to say 'x is phi' is to say 'x is not anything that would rule out phi'. Also, it could be more monadic or brute, and naming it is normative because it has intentionality, so maybe intentionality (aboutness or something) is normative.

I don't know, what do you think?
A former member
Post #: 26
But there are ways to explain and justify the feeling that it is still possible to do wrong without leaving essentially anthropocentric moral theories (or some, at least).
What's the motivation to do away with non-anthropocentric moral theories? I think I'm on board, but I'm not sure why.
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