Can Moral Principles Change?

36 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2017 Last revised: 1 Feb 2018

See all articles by Joseph Raz

Joseph Raz

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law; Columbia University - Law School; King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: August 22, 2017


The paper considers the main arguments against the possibility that basic normative principles can change, and finds them wanting. The principal argument discussed derives from the claim that normative considerations are intelligible, and therefore that they can be explained, and their explanations presuppose the prior existence of basic normative principles. The intelligibility thesis is affirmed but the implication that basic change is impossible is denied. Subsumptive explanations are contrasted with explanations by analogy. Later in the paper, other objections are considered more briefly: that normative properties are queer, that they are unconnected to the rest of reality, and therefore cannot play an explanatory role, etc.

Keywords: Normative principle, normative explanation, intelligibility, explanations, analogical arguments,

Suggested Citation

Raz, Joseph, Can Moral Principles Change? (August 22, 2017). King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 2017-40; Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 58/2017. Available at SSRN: or

Joseph Raz (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
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King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

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London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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