Normative Uncertainty

Dissertation, University of Oxford (2014)
  Copy   BIBTEX


We are often unsure about what we ought to do. This can be because we lack empirical knowledge, such as the extent to which future generations will be harmed by climate change. It can also be because we lack normative knowledge, such as the relative moral importance of the interests of present people and the interests of future people. However, though the question of how one ought to act under empirical uncertainty has been addressed extensively by both economists and philosophers---with expected utility theory providing the standard formal framework---the question of how one ought to act under normative uncertainty is comparatively neglected. My thesis attempts to address this gap. In my thesis I develop a view that I call metanormativism: that there are second-order norms that govern action that are relative to a decision-maker's uncertainty about first-order norms. In the first part of the thesis, I defend one specific metanormative view: that under normative uncertainty decision-makers should maximise expected choice-worthiness, treating normative uncertainty analogously with empirical uncertainty. Drawing on the analogy between decision-making under normative uncertainty and social choice theory, I defend this view at length in response to the problem of merely ordinal theories and the problem of intertheoretic value comparisons. In the second part of the thesis, I explore the implications of metanormativism for other philosophical issues. I argue that it has important consequences regarding the theory of rational action in the face of incomparable values, the causal/evidential debate in decision-theory, and our assessment of the value of moral philosophy.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 89,621

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Meta-Reasoning in Making Moral Decisions Under Normative Uncertainty.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2016 - In Dima Mohammed & Marcin Lewiński (eds.), Argumentation and Reasoned Action. College Publications. pp. 1093-1104.
Smokers, Psychos, and Decision-Theoretic Uncertainty.William MacAskill - 2016 - Journal of Philosophy 113 (9):425-445.
Moral uncertainty.Krister Bykvist - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (3):e12408.
Against Moral Hedging.Ittay Nissan-Rozen - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy (3):1-21.
Justification Under Uncertainty.Re’em Segev - 2012 - Law and Philosophy 31 (5):523-563.
Decision Making Under Great Uncertainty.Sven Ove Hansson - 1996 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 26 (3):369-386.
Decision making under great uncertainty.Sven Ove Hansson - 1996 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 26 (3):369-386.


Added to PP

479 (#34,170)

6 months
83 (#45,427)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

William MacAskill
Oxford University

Citations of this work

Attitudinal Ambivalence: Moral Uncertainty for Non-Cognitivists.Nicholas Makins - 2022 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 100 (3):580-594.
Decision under normative uncertainty.Franz Dietrich & Brian Jabarian - 2022 - Economics and Philosophy 38 (3):372-394.
Intertheoretic Value Comparison: A Modest Proposal.Christian Tarsney - 2018 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 15 (3):324-344.
Moral Uncertainty for Deontologists.Christian Tarsney - 2018 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (3):505-520.

View all 32 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references