Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

I am trying to promote the idea of a moral principle (‘EP3’: see for example A moral universe) governing how we acquire and hold descriptive beliefs.

Descriptive beliefs are about what is or is not the case. They exclude for example beliefs representing our personal preferences and beliefs about what ought to be the case.

I am going to use the word ‘normativity’ to refer to any aspect of anything which relates to whether it ought to be, whether it is permissible, whether it is justified, and so on.

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments
1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Moses receiving the Ten Commandments
1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
[Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Normativity relates not to what or how something is, but to how it may be evaluated, extending for example to whether or not that evaluation is justified. Moral normativity is a type of normativity: think of ‘moral norms’ like the Ten Commandments. But it is not the only type. If we say ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is wrong we are being normative but not morally normative. The ‘wrong’ of ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is not a moral wrong but a wrong according to the rules of arithmetic.

We have looked at a couple of writers who start from the idea of purely epistemic normativity in relation to belief. When we appraise a belief (or the way it was acquired or held) epistemically, we are judging whether it makes logical sense, how soundly it is supported by evidence, or how consistent it is with other beliefs. We are not judging whether there was anything morally right or wrong with the belief or the way it was acquired or held.

Susan Haack (see Susan Haack: “The Ethics of Belief” Reconsidered #1) agrees that belief can have an aspect of moral normativity. She thinks the moral normativity of belief can overlap with its epistemic normativity, but only sometimes and not always. She also offers no account of how or why this overlap occurs.

Jonathan Adler (see Jonathan Adler: Belief’s Own Ethics #1 onwards) insists not only that epistemic normativity is primary, but that it is primarily conceptual. What makes a belief (or the way a belief is acquired or held) sound or unsound is not its morality or even its rationality, but primarily a matter of how closely it conforms to the very nature of belief.

In the next few instalments I want to suggest a way to explain the overlap between the moral and epistemic normativity of belief. I’ll use Adler’s conceptual normativity as a test case. This is because it seems on the face of it most remote from the kind of moral normativity which William Clifford’s ‘CP’ (see for example Tweedledum said to Tweedledee) and my EP3 both assume.

© Chris Lawrence 2021

3 thoughts on “Normativity

  1. Pingback: Susan Haack: “The Ethics of Belief” Reconsidered #2 | some strong language

  2. Pingback: Raising expectations | some strong language

  3. Pingback: *Press This* Normativity #173 | Its good to be crazy Sometimes

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