Normativity for Naturalists

Forthcoming in Ram Neta (ed.), "Normativity," Philosophical Issues (supplement to Nous)

U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 527

30 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2015 Last revised: 10 Apr 2015

Date Written: March 29, 2015


Normativity is thought to be a problem for naturalists because the explanatory modalities of the empirical sciences do not make any reference to deontic or normative properties related to reasons, as distinct from nomic or descriptive ones. Naturalistic explanations operate in the idiom of causes, not norms, and casual mention of norms in such explanations are always shorthand for causal explanations that are norm-free. Thus, for the naturalist, what we call normativity is simply an artifact of the psychological properties of certain biological organisms, i.e., what they feel or believe or desire (or are disposed to feel, believe, or desire). I consider and respond to three objections to this naturalistic view of normativity. First, naturalism is self-refuting, since the naturalistic outlook itself presupposes epistemic norms whose status is not naturalistically vindicated. Second, naturalism imposes domain-specific standards on domains of thought where they do not belong. Third, naturalism fails to do justice to the real, practical nature of normativity: it can explain what we call normativity, but it can not explain real normativity. I argue that none of these objections succeed.

Keywords: normativity, naturalism, reasons, epistemology, Quine, Nietzsche, Hume, Scanlon

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Normativity for Naturalists (March 29, 2015). Forthcoming in Ram Neta (ed.), "Normativity," Philosophical Issues (supplement to Nous), U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 527, Available at SSRN:

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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