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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractMany philosophers think that morality possesses a particularly robust kind of normativity that other systems of norms, such as etiquette or the rules of chess, lack. My dissertation addresses, first, what exactly this robust normativity is supposed to come down to and, second, the implications for our practical lives if morality ultimately isn’t robustly normative–indeed, if no system of norms is. Regarding the first issue, ethical naturalists believe that the robust normativity ascribed to morality can be captured in fully naturalistic terms; moral facts just are natural facts. On the other hand, metaethical nonnaturalists object that normative properties are just too different from natural ones to be a subset of them. In their view, moral properties are irreducibly normative. I agree with nonnaturalists that robust normativity, if it exists at all, isn’t a naturalistic phenomenon. However, while nonnaturalists provide compelling criticisms of ethical naturalism, they currently lack an informative positive account of the nature of robust normativity that explains how it is different from the purely formal normativity of, say, etiquette. Against this background, my dissertation argues that we can illuminate the elusive concept of robust normativity through metaphors. However, even if we can indeed make sense of robust normativity through metaphors, that leaves open whether robust normativity exists. Some scholars deny the existence of irreducibly normative properties because they consider them to be metaphysically “queer.” Taking such skeptical concerns seriously, I ask: if robust normativity does not exist, what would be the practical implications for our lives? I hold that, in the absence of robust normativity, in an important sense, our practical questions of what to do lack answers. This means that we have to make what some existentialist philosophers call “radical choices,” i.e., spontaneous choices that are not based on pre-existing reasons that could guide our decision-making. However, I suggest that, in the absence of robust normativity, we can rely on our subjective concerns for practical guidance because many of our subjective concerns survive a belief in antirealism about robust normativity and because they enjoy a privileged connection to our motivational system.
Degree ProgramGraduate College