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    In defence of robust metanormative naturalism

    Beardsley, Tobias (2021) In defence of robust metanormative naturalism. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    There is a common perception that the very idea of a science of ethics is a hopeless chimera—that the doors of ethical truth are eternally locked to the investigative methods of science. In this dissertation, I defend a metanormative view which I believe could provide the key to a future science of ethics. According to this view, which I call “Robust Metanormative Naturalism,” there are mind-independent, irreducibly normative facts and properties, which are distinct from all descriptive facts and properties and which sometimes secure the truth of our normative judgements. But these irreducibly normative facts and properties are nonetheless perfectly continuous with science: knowledge of them can be acquired through a combination of observation and inference to the best explanation, and they are thus of the same kind as other irreducible posits of natural science, like subatomic particles and forces of nature. In defence of this view, I develop an argument for the existence of mind-independent normative truths which is essentially a refined version of Pascal’s Wager. I argue that we have Pascalian reasons, given to us not by our contingent desires, but by the normative content of certain epistemically possible worlds, to engage in the project of normative deliberation—which is the project of seeking determinate answers to normative questions—and that this implies the existence of mind-independent normative truths. I then argue that the truthmakers for these truths are facts and properties which are irreducibly normative, rather than descriptive, but which are also involved in correct causal explanations for non-normative, empirical facts, and that fundamental normative truths can therefore be known on a genuinely empirical basis. In particular, I make the case that we cannot adequately explain why conscious beings universally respond in certain ways to certain of their conscious experiences (such as by wanting to avoid agony) without positing that these experiences have normative properties. And finally I suggest that, if we combine this (non-reductionist) metanormative view with a reductionist view of personal identity and the self, we can potentially arrive at a robust from of ethical objectivity in a fully naturalistic manner.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2021 14:40
    Last Modified: 27 Oct 2021 14:40


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