Norms are a pervasive yet mysterious feature of social life. In Explaining Norms, four philosophers and social scientists team up to grapple with some of the many mysteries, offering a comprehensive account of norms: what they are; how and why they emerge, persist and change; and how they work.
Many of us feel internally conflicted in the face of certain normative claims that make infeasible demands: say, normative claims that demand that agents do what, given deeply entrenched objectionable character traits, they cannot bring themselves to do. On the one hand, such claims may seem false on account of demanding the infeasible, and insisting otherwise may seem to amount to objectionable unworldliness – to chasing “pies in the sky.” On the other hand, such claims may seem true in spite (...) of making infeasible demands, and insisting otherwise may seem to amount to treating the agents in question with undue lenience – to mistakenly letting them “off the hook.” What is going on? One possibility is that we are making a mistake. I explore the alternative hypothesis that our ambivalent reactions, far from involving any mistake, are entirely consistent and appropriate. Rather than some single privileged ought such that the idea that “ought” implies “feasible” is either true or false, there are simply different oughts that are supposed to be capable of operating in the service of, and playing distinct roles associated with, what I shall call different core normative practices. In particular, there is a) some salient core practice-serving ought for which it’s true that “ought” implies “feasible” and b) some other salient core practice-serving ought for which it’s false that “ought” implies “feasible.” I sketch a framework for understanding different core practice-serving oughts in general and then use this framework to consider which particular core practice-serving oughts might be capable of vindicating our ambivalence. I begin by considering and rejecting a prevalent and prima facie promising account according to which the relevant oughts are the prescriptive ought and the evaluative ought. I then propose a different account that holds that the oughts we need are instead the deliberative ought and the hypological ought. (shrink)
William Alston’s argument against the deontological conception of epistemic justification is a classic—and much debated—piece of contemporary epistemology. At the heart of Alston’s argument, however, lies a very simple mistake which, surprisingly, appears to have gone unnoticed in the vast literature now devoted to the argument. After having shown why some of the standard responses to Alston’s argument don’t work, we elucidate the mistake and offer a hypothesis as to why it has escaped attention.
I argue that the "why be rational?" challenge raised by John Broome and Niko Kolodny rests upon a mistake that is analogous to the mistake that H.A. Pritchard famously claimed beset the “why be moral?” challenge. The failure to locate an independent justification for obeying rational requirements should do nothing whatsoever to undermine our belief in the normativity of rationality. I suggest that we should conceive of the demand for a satisfactory vindicating explanation of the normativity of rationality instead in (...) terms of the demand for a philosophical characterisation of rationality that can do something to explain why rational requirements are the kinds of things that are, by their very nature, normative. I consider several accounts that have recently been offered – the distinctive-object account, the proper functioning account, and the subjective reasons account – and argue that none succeeds in meeting this challenge. I then sketch a new account, the “first-personal authority account”, which holds that rational requirements are what I call “standpoint-relative demands” concerning the attitudes we ought to have and form; and that complying with rational requirements is a matter of honouring our first-personal authority as agents. I suggest that the first-personal authority account does a better job of meeting the challenge. (shrink)
It is commonly taken for granted that questions of feasibility are highly relevant to our normative thinking – and perhaps especially our normative thinking about politics. But what exactly does this preoccupation with feasibility amount to, and in what forms if any is it warranted? This article aims to provide a critical introduction to, and clearer characterization of, the feasibility issue. I begin by discussing the question of how feasibility is to be understood. I then turn to the question of (...) feasibility’s role, suggesting that there are two quite different kinds of role questions that may be at play, though they are often run together: a question about feasibility’s normative significance; and a question about its proper use in informing our normative thinking. Finally, I consider how the feasibility issue differs from certain other related issues: the demandingness issue; the issue of whether “ought” implies “can;” and the “ideal versus non-ideal theory” issue. (shrink)
The familiar complaint that some ambitious proposal is infeasible naturally invites the following response: Once upon a time, the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women seemed infeasible, yet these things were actually achieved. Presumably, then, many of those things that seem infeasible in our own time may well be achieved too and, thus, turn out to have been perfectly feasible after all. The Appeal to History, as we call it, is a bad argument. It is not true that (...) if some desirable state of affairs was actually achieved, then it was feasible that it was achieved. “Actual” does not imply “feasible,” as we put it. Here is our objection. “Feasible” implies “not counterfactually fluky.” But “actual” does not imply “not counterfactually fluky.” So, “actual” does not imply “feasible.” While something like the Flukiness Objection is sometimes hinted at in the context of the related literature on abilities, it has not been developed in any detail, and both premises are inadequately motivated. We offer a novel articulation of the Flukiness Objection that is both more precise and better motivated. Our conclusions have important implications, not only for the admissible use of history in normative argument, but also by potentially circumscribing the normative claims that are applicable to us. (shrink)
A familiar complaint against the principle that “ought” implies “can” is that it seems that agents can intentionally make it the case that they cannot perform acts that they nonetheless ought to perform. I propose a related principle that I call the principle that “the thing to do” implies “can.” I argue that the principle that “the thing to do” implies “can” is implied by important but underappreciated truths about practical reason, and that it is not vulnerable to the familiar (...) complaint against “ought” implies “can.” Moreover, I suggest that “the thing to do” implies “can” has interesting implications for “ought” implies “can” - implications that depend on the relation between claims about what we ought to do and claims about the thing to do. (shrink)
Contractualism has a venerable history and considerable appeal. Yet as an account of the foundations or ultimate grounds of morality it has been thought by many philosophers to be subject to fatal objections. This book argues otherwise. It begins by detailing and diagnosing the shortcomings of the main existing models of contractualism, “Hobbesian” contractualism (or contractarianism) and “Kantian” contractualism. It then proposes a novel, "deliberative" model, based on an interpersonal, deliberative conception of practical reason. It argues that the deliberative model (...) of contractualism represents an attractive alternative to its more familiar rivals and that it has the resources to offer a more compelling account of morality’s foundations, one that can do justice to the twin demands of moral accuracy and explanatory adequacy. (shrink)
Despite the prevalence of human rights discourse, the very idea or concept of a human right remains obscure. In particular, it is unclear what is supposed to be special or distinctive about human rights. In this paper, we consider two recent attempts to answer this challenge, James Griffin’s “personhood account” and Charles Beitz’s “practice-based account”, and argue that neither is entirely satisfactory. We then conclude with a suggestion for what a more adequate account might look like – what we call (...) the “structural pluralist account” of human rights. (shrink)
In this article we develop and defend what we call the “Trust View” of promissory obligation, according to which making a promise involves inviting another individual to trust one to do something. In inviting her trust, and having the invitation accepted (or at least not rejected), one incurs an obligation to her not to betray the trust that one has invited. The distinctive wrong involved in breaking a promise is a matter of violating this obligation. We begin by explicating the (...) core notion of “inviting someone to trust one to do something”, suggesting that it involves signaling to the other individual one's recognition of the importance the relevant action has for her, and one’s willingness to license her to have faith or optimism in one's character with regard to the performance of that action. We then turn to a defense of the Trust View, arguing that it has considerable appeal in its own right, that it is distinct from and superior to three similar accounts (T.M. Scanlon's Assurance View, Judith Jarvis Thomson's Reliance View and David Owens' Authority View), and that several objections to it can be answered. (shrink)
Imperialism seems to be deeply antithetical to democracy. Yet, at least one form of imperialism – what I call “hands-off imperialism" – seems to be perfectly compatible with the kind of self-governance commonly thought to be the hallmark of democracy. The solution to this puzzle is to recognize that democracy involves more than self-governance. Rather, it involves what I call self-rule. Self-rule is an example of what Philip Pettit has called a modally demanding value. Modally demanding values are, roughly, values (...) the instantiation of which depends not only on what actually happens, but on what would happen in certain non-actual circumstances. Self-rule is the modally demanding counterpart of self-governance, since it requires, not merely that the members of a state actually govern themselves, but that they would continue to do so across a range of non-actual situations. Moreover, the value of self-rule (and hence democracy) is not reducible to the value of self-governance. Understanding the modally demanding character of democracy allows us to appreciate what is democratically objectionable about occupation by a foreign power, even if there is no prospect of the foreign power intervening in the governance of the occupied state by its members. (shrink)
What is the relation between norms (in the sense of ?socially accepted rules?) and conventions? A number of philosophers have suggested that there is some kind of conceptual or constitutive relation between them. Some hold that conventions are or entail special kinds of norms (the ?conventions-as-norms thesis?). Others hold that at least some norms are or entail special kinds of conventions (the ?norms-as-conventions thesis?). We argue that both theses are false. Norms and conventions are crucially different conceptually and functionally in (...) ways that make it the case that it is a serious mistake to try to assimilate them. They are crucially different conceptually in that whereas conventions are not normative and are behaviour dependent and desire dependent, norms are normative, behaviour independent, and desire independent. They are crucially different functionally in that whereas conventions principally serve the function of facilitating coordination, norms principally serve the function of making us accountable to one another. (shrink)
A difficult problem for contractualists is how to provide an interpretation of the contractual situation that is both subject to appropriately stringent constraints and yet also appropriately sensitive to certain features of us as we actually are. My suggestion is that we should embrace a model of contractualism that is structurally analogous to the “advice model” of the ideal observer theory famously proposed by Michael Smith (1994; 1995). An advice model of contractualism is appealing since it promises to deliver a (...) straightforward solution to the so-called “conditional fallacy.” But it faces some formidable challenges. On the face of it, it seems to be straightforwardly conceptually incoherent. And it seems to deliver a solution to the conditional fallacy at the cost of being vulnerable to what I shall call “the concessional fallacy.” I shall consider how, if at all, these challenges are to be met. I shall then conclude by considering what this might mean for the so-called “ideal/non-ideal theory” issue. (shrink)
The object of this paper is to explore the intersection of two issues. The first concerns the role that feasibility considerations play in constraining normative claims – claims, say, about what we (individually and collectively) ought to do and to be. The second concerns whether normative claims are to be understood as applying only to actions in their own right or also non-derivatively to attitudes. In particular, we argue that actions and attitudes may be subject to different feasibility constraints – (...) and hence that how we conceive of the role of feasibility in an account of normativity will depend in part on how we conceive of the role of actions and attitudes in normative theorising. (shrink)
It is natural and relatively common to suppose that feasibility is a constraint on what we ought to do all-things-considered but not a constraint on what we ought to do as a matter of justice. I show that the combination of these claims entails an implausible picture of the relation between feasibility and desirability given an attractive understanding of the relation between what we ought to do as a matter of justice and what we ought to do all-things-considered.
Given constructivism’s enduring popularity and appeal, it is perhaps something of a surprise that there remains considerable uncertainty among many philosophers about what constructivism is even supposed to be. My aim in this article is to make some progress on the question of how constructivism should be understood. I begin by saying something about what kind of theory constructivism is supposed to be. Next, I consider and reject both the standard proceduralist characterization of constructivism and also Sharon Street’s ingenious standpoint (...) characterization. I then suggest an alternative characterization according to which what is central is the role played by certain standards of correct reasoning. I conclude by saying something about the implications of this account for evaluating the success of constructivism. I suggest that certain challenges that have been raised against constructivist theories are based on dubious understandings of constructivism, whereas other challenges only properly come into focus once a proper understanding is achieved. (shrink)
This article provides a critical introduction to contractualism as a moral or ethical theory, that is, as a theory of the rightness and wrongness of individual conduct – focusing specifically on the influential 'Kantian' version of contractualism due to T. M. Scanlon. I begin by elucidating the key features of Scanlon's contractualism: justifiability to others; reasonable rejectability; the individualist restriction; and mutual recognition. I then turn to discuss both its appeal and the main objections that have been raised to it (...) – objections concerning our duties to the cognitively limited and impaired, aggregation, demandingness, normativity and explanatory adequacy. I conclude by mentioning some contractualist alternatives to Scanlon's theory. (shrink)
The conditional analysis of ability faces familiar counterexamples involving cases of volitional incapacity. An interesting response to the problem of volitional incapacity is to try to explain away the responses elicited by such counterexamples by distinguishing between what we are able to do and what we are able to bring ourselves to do. We argue that this error-theoretic response fails. Either it succeeds in solving the problem of volitional incapacity at the cost of making the conditional analysis vulnerable to obvious (...) counterexamples to its necessity. Or, it avoids the counterexamples to its necessity but fails to solve the problem of volitional incapacity. (shrink)
How does it happen that our beliefs about what we ought to do cause us to intend to do what we believe we ought to do? This is what John Broome calls the "motivation question." Broome’s answer to the motivation question is that we can bring ourselves, by our own efforts, to intend to do what we believe we ought to do by exercising a special agential capacity: the capacity to engage in what he calls enkratic reasoning. My aim is (...) to evaluate this answer. In doing so, I shall focus on three core aspects of Broome’s overall account: his account of ought, his account of enkratic rationality, and his account of enkratic reasoning in particular. In each case I suggest there are problems. (shrink)
It is tempting to think (1) that we may sometimes have hopelessly utopian duties and yet (2) that “ought” implies “can.” How might we square these apparently conflicting claims? A simple solution is to interpret hopelessly utopian duties as duties to "pursue" the achievement of manifestly unattainable outcomes (as opposed to duties to "achieve" the outcomes), thereby promising to vindicate the possibility of such duties in a way that is compatible with “ought” implies “can.” The main challenge for this simple (...) solution is to say what the relevant “duties to pursue” are supposed to involve. We survey several existing candidates (duties to try, duties to approximate, duties to do our part, and dynamic duties) and argue that none of them succeeds in delivering on the promise of the simple solution. We then propose a previously untheorized class of duties that we call "duties to devote ourselves" to achieving an outcome, and argue that such duties provide us with an interpretation of hopelessly utopian duties that is up to the task. (shrink)
Breaking a promise is generally taken to involve committing a certain kind of moral wrong, but what (if anything) explains this wrong? According to one influential theory that has been championed most recently by T.M. Scanlon, the wrong involved in breaking a promise is a matter of violating an obligation that one incurs to a promisee in virtue of giving her assurance that one will perform or refrain from performing certain acts. In this paper, we argue that the “Assurance View”, (...) as we call it, is susceptible to two kinds of counterexamples. The first show that giving assurance is not sufficient for incurring the kind of obligation of fulfillment that one violates in breaking a promise. The second show that giving assurance is not necessary. Having shown that the Assurance View fails in these ways, we then very briefly sketch the outline of what we take to be a better view—a view that we claim is not only attractive in its own right and that avoids the earlier counterexamples, but that also affords us a deeper explanation of why the Assurance View seems initially plausible, yet nonetheless turns out to be ultimately inadequate. (shrink)
A persistent worry concerning conventionalist accounts of law is that such accounts are ill equipped to account for law’s special normativity. I offer a particular kind of conventionalist account that is based on the practice-dependent account of conventional norms I have offered elsewhere and consider whether it is vulnerable to the Normativity Objection. I argue that it isn’t. It can account for all the ways in which law can justly claim to be normative. While there are ways of being normative (...) that it cannot account for, it is an error to suppose that law is normative in any of those ways. (shrink)
The so-called "Human Nature Constraint" holds that if an agent is unable, due to features of human nature, to bring herself to act in a certain way, then this suffices to block or negate the claim that the agent is required to act in that way. David Estlund (2011) has recently mounted a forceful objection to the Human Nature Constraint. I argue that Estlund’s objection fails – but instructively, in a way that gives Estlund resources for a different way of (...) resisting attempts to negate normative claims by deploying the Human Nature Constraint. (shrink)
Constructivists hold that truths about practical reasons are to be explained in terms of truths about the correct exercise of practical reason (rather than vice versa). But what is the normative status of the correctness-defining standards of practical reason? The problem is that constructivism appears to presuppose the truth of two theses that seem hard to reconcile. First, for constructivism to be remotely plausible, the relevant standards must be genuinely (and not merely formally or minimally) normative. Second, to avoid circularity, (...) the relevant standards must be non-reason-involving, i.e. prior to and independent of practical reasons. From the standpoint of the contemporary philosophy of normatively, this is a surprising combination to say the least. What could these genuinely normative but non-reason-involving standards possibly be? The standard constructivist response is to insist that the relevant standards possess a special kind of necessity inasmuch as we only count as occupying the “deliberative standpoint” or as a “deliberative agent” insofar as we comply with or accept the relevant standards. I offer a different response. My response holds that the special normative status of the relevant standards consists in their exhibiting a distinctive kind of practical necessity that derives from the fact that they determine what I have called elsewhere truths about “the thing to do” – namely, truths about correct answers to the question of what to do. Understanding the norms of practical reason in these terms vindicates the idea that standards of practical reason are genuinely normative since truths about the thing to do plausibly possess the hallmarks of genuine normativity. And it vindicates the idea that the standards are not reason-involving since truths about the thing to do are plausibly prior to and independent of truths about practical reasons. (shrink)
The open borders view is frequently dismissed for making infeasible demands. This is a potent strategy. Unlike normative arguments regarding open borders, which tend to be relatively intractable, the charge of infeasibility is supposed to operate as what we call a "normative argument-stopper." Nonetheless, we argue that the strategy fails. Bringing about open borders is perfectly feasible on the most plausible account of feasibility. We consider and reject what we take to be the only three credible ways to save the (...) charge of infeasibility: by proposing an alternative account of feasibility; by proposing an alternative, more circumscribed interpretation of the subject-matter of feasibility claims; and by proposing a more expansive account of the addressees of the demand for open borders. The first fails to vindicate the claim that infeasibility is a normative argument-stopper. The second does not provide an argument against open borders at all. The third underestimates the power of at least some non-state actors. We conclude by drawing some lessons for the open borders view and the use of feasibility in politics more generally. (shrink)
Are institutional principles of justice subject to a minimal realism constraint to the effect that, in order to be valid, they must not make wildly unrealistic demands? Most of us say “yes.” David Estlund says, “no.” However, while Estlund holds that 1) institutional principles of justice are not subject to a minimal realism constraint, he accepts that 2) institutional principles of justice are subject to an *attainability constraint* to the effect that, in order to be valid, they must not make (...) demands we are unable to meet; and 3) what he calls “institutional proposals” are subject to a minimal realism constraint. I argue that these three theses do not represent a plausible combination, at least given Estlund’s account of the principle/proposal distinction. Given this account, Estlund is either wrong to reject a minimal realism constraint on institutional principles of justice, or wrong to accept an attainability constraint on institutional principles of justice and/or a minimal realism constraint on institutional proposals. Either way, this has significant implications for the plausibility of his overall case against the minimal realism constraint on institutional principles of justice. (shrink)
Empirical support is offered for the claim that the original Knobe effect, whereby our intentional action ascriptions exhibit certain asymmetries in light of our moral attitudes, can be successfully cancelled. This is predicted by the view that the Knobe effect can be explained in purely pragmatic terms (Adams and Steadman 2004a, 2004b, 2007). However, previous cancelling studies (Adams and Steadman 2007; Nichols and Ulatowski 2007) have failed to identify evidence of cancellability. The key to the successful cancelling strategy presented here (...) is to provide subjects with the opportunity to assent to statements that involve sufficiently strong forms of moral censure. (shrink)
Despite an impressive philosophical pedigree, contractualism (or contractarianism) has only been properly developed in two ways: by appeal to the idea of an instrumentally rational bargain or contract between self-interested individuals (Hobbesian contractualism) and by appeal to the idea of a substantively reasonable agreement among individuals who regard one another as free and equal persons warranting equal moral respect (Kantian contractualism). Both of these existing models of contractualism are susceptible to apparently devastating objections. In this article, I outline a third, (...) `deliberative' model of contractualism, which is based on the idea of a deliberatively rational agreement and which, I argue, represents a significant improvement on the Hobbesian and Kantian models in certain important respects. Key Words: contractualism • contractarianism • deliberation • deliberative rationality • Scanlon • Gauthier. (shrink)
How should contractualists seek to accommodate and respond to the existence of radical pluralism within contemporary liberal states? Ryan Muldoon has recently argued that a) the dominant Kantian liberal model of contractualism is hopelessly ill equipped to do so but that b) there is a particular kind of Hobbesian contractualism that can do much better. I raise some problems concerning the capacity of Muldoonian contractualism to respond appropriately to the problem of radical pluralism. I then propose a very different kind (...) of solution that involves embracing an advice model of contractualism. Keywords: contractualism; contractarianism; pluralism; diversity; disagreement . (shrink)
I raise three objections to Pettit’s republican account of justice: 1) that it fails to account adequately for the role of certain values such as substantive fairness; 2) that it represents an uncomfortable hybrid of egalitarianism and sufficientarianism; and 3) that it fails Pettit’s own “eyeball test”. I then conclude in a more constructive vein, speculating about the kind of account of justice it is supposed to be and suggesting that, construed a certain way, it may have resources for answering (...) the three objections. (shrink)
This volume brings together previously unpublished papers by leading scholars that deal with the theme of practical reasoning and normativity. The volume includes contributions by Michael Bratman, Donald Bruckner, David Enoch, Elijah Millgram, Andrew Reisner, François and Laura Schroeter, Mark Schroeder, and William White.
Claims about what is feasible and infeasible are pervasive, divisive, and often normatively consequential, especially in politics. But how should we understand the nature of such claims? A natural thought is that we should answer this question by adopting what I shall call a "functionalist approach," which looks to what is required to do justice to the functional role of claims about feasibility. The challenge is to provide a sufficiently precise characterisation of this functional role that is both plausible in (...) its own right and capable of helping us to adjudicate certain disagreements about feasibility in a principled way. I aim to meet this challenge. First, I propose and argue for a novel characterisation according to which the functional role of claims about feasibility is to determine which actions count as "deliberation-worthy" – that is, as fitting objects of practical reason or deliberation about what to do. Second, I argue that this characterisation has significant implications for the question of how to understand the nature of our talk and thought about what is feasible. For one, it suggests that the main existing accounts of feasibility are unsatisfactory and should be rejected. For another, it suggest that we have at least some reason to embrace not merely a functionalist approach to theorising about feasibility but also a novel "functionalist account" of feasibility according to which the property of being feasible is to be identified with the functional property of determining the domain of the deliberation-worthy. (shrink)