Normativity: Epistemic and Practical

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities

Abstract

What should I do? What should I think? For as long as there has been philosophy, philosophers have investigated questions like this. Traditionally, ethicists tackle the first question, while epistemologists tackle the second. This division of labour corresponds to a distinction theorists draw between practical and epistemic normativity, where normativity is a matter of what one should or may do, what one has reason or justification to do, or what it is right or wrong to do, not simply of what one in fact does. So conceived, practical normativity concerns how one should act, while epistemic normativity concerns how one should think.

The tendency is to investigate the issue of what to do independently of the issue of what to think. But there is a growing awareness that treating the two issues separately leads to distortions and misunderstandings. Debates over epistemic normativity have failed to take on board developments on the practical side; those discussing practical normativity often make general claims whose implications in the epistemic case remain unexplored. Our project, which takes off from our highly successful research project, 'Aims and Norms', aims to explore issues about practical and epistemic normativity together, to examine the norms which concern us as agents alongside the norms which concern us as inquirers.

Normativity raises many questions. What are the norms? What is their source? How do they fit into the world as revealed by the sciences? The tendency to explore such questions separately with regard to practical and epistemic norms is surprising. First, 'ought' and related terms do not appear to have radically different meanings in practical and epistemic contexts, e.g. when asking 'Ought we believe that carbon emissions cause global warming?' or 'Ought we cut emissions?' Second, there seem to be deep dependences between practical and epistemic norms. Whether I have reason to believe Kim is diabetic looks relevant to whether I should give her sweets. Third, the line between practical and epistemic norms is more blurred than is often supposed. Epistemic norms seem to govern not only beliefs but also actions, e.g. gathering evidence; equally, there seem to be practical or ethical norms which govern us as believers, e.g. one should be open-minded. Fourth, many of the issues that arise concerning practical norms arise concerning epistemic norms. For example, if there is a question as to how practical norms can fit into a natural world of inert matter and blind mechanical forces, then surely the same question arises about epistemic norms. These points strongly support exploring practical and epistemic normativity together.

The project is organised in three stages. First, we will examine connections between practical and epistemic norms. How does what one ought to think influence what one ought to do and vice versa? Second, we will consider whether one can explain practical norms by appeal to epistemic norms or vice versa. Third, we will investigate the nature of normative judgment and the place of norms in the natural world. Ethicists have developed sophisticated frameworks for thinking about these issues regarding practical normativity. We will consider whether those frameworks can be applied to epistemic normativity and what this might tell us about both.

The project will foster collaborative research on the above issues involving an international team of philosophers participating in three workshops, corresponding to each stage of the project, and a major conference. It will make available the results of this research through a series of well-placed publications and encourage wider involvement in thinking about the issues through activities aimed at a non-academic audience. The ambition is to see whether, by investigating practical alongside epistemic norms, we might pave the way for a unified conception of normativity and, thereby, a unified conception of ourselves, as both thinkers and doers.

Planned Impact

The priority of the project is to promote excellent and important research that will make a lasting contribution to its subject. In addition, the project will benefit those outside the academic research community through a 'Cultural Day', provisionally titled 'Thinking Well and Doing Right', the aim of which is to make the project's concerns accessible to the public and to offer its members an opportunity to reflect upon and discuss them and related matters. This event will transfer knowledge and skills to those outside academia. It will bring to the awareness of a wider audience the issues surrounding practical and epistemic normativity, help that audience to appreciate their significance, and indicate avenues for exploring them. More generally, it will introduce individuals outside academia to the practice of philosophical reflection on fundamental questions concerning how to live, how to think, and our place in the universe. It will thereby contribute to cultural enrichment.

The project aims to foster high-level, cutting-edge and specialised research. The talks and discussions of the Cultural Day will not seek to duplicate this research but will be thoroughly informed by it. Its aim is to enable those who attend to appreciate the key ideas and their importance, to offer points of view with respect to them, and to provide an opportunity for guided and informed reflection. Audiences will be given the opportunity to discuss and reflect upon the relevant issues and problems in a disciplined and productive way.

Philosophy at Southampton, supported by the University's dedicated Lifelong Learning team, has a very successful track-record of delivering research-led activities designed to benefit those outside Higher Education. Its energetic programme of events include annual Cultural Days of the sort proposed, the topics of which to date include two of Southampton's other areas of overlapping research expertise, Nietzsche and aesthetics. Other activities include its ongoing 'Philosophy Café' series of open talks run in conjunction with the John Hansard Gallery (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/lifelonglearning/philosophy/public_events/cafe.page) and the successful series of public lectures given at the Southampton City Gallery, now in its third year (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/lifelonglearning/philosophy/public_events/artgallerylectures.page).

The Principal and Co-Investigators are experienced in organising and delivering philosophical talks and seminars to those outside academia and Higher Education, having participated in many of these activities, as well as numerous informal discussion groups, introductory talks, and outreach activities aimed at students and tutors at local and not-so-local schools and colleges.

Publications

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Levy Y (2017) Why cognitivism? in Canadian Journal of Philosophy

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McHugh C (2016) Against the Taking Condition in Philosophical Issues

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Mchugh C (2014) Exercising Doxastic Freedom in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

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McHugh C (2015) Engel on doxastic correctness in Synthese

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McHugh C (2016) Fittingness First in Ethics

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McHugh C (2014) The Normativity of Belief in Analysis

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McHugh C (2014) VIII-Fitting Belief in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Hardback)

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McHugh C (2015) Attitudinal control in Synthese

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McHugh C (2016) Fittingness First in Ethics

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McHugh C (2018) What is Good Reasoning? in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

 
Description The aim of the project, in short, was to explore substantive and explanatory connections between epistemic normativity - the norms governing belief and judgement - and practical normativity - the norms governing action and intention, with a view to arriving at a unified account of normativity across both domains. In the singly- and jointly-authored publications emerging from the project, the investigators advance and explore numerous novel ideas and arguments. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

1) Both beliefs and actions can be said to be correct or fitting. In different ways, we have advanced the idea that correctness or fittingness is the primitive normative notion, in the sense that other normative notions - such as that of goodness, or of reasons, or of what a person ought to do - can be explained in terms of it. In turn, we have explored the proposal that the standards for correctness or fittingness for attitudes like belief and intention in the functions or aims of those attitudes.

2) There are reasons for belief and reasons for action. A common and intuitive suggestion is that reasons are guides. However, it is not entirely clear how to understand talk of guidance in this context. We have outlined a way of unpacking the suggestion, defended it against influential objections, and brought it to bear on a number of important debates in ethics and epistemology.

3) It is commonplace that justified false beliefs are possible. We have argued for an exception to this rule: if a person has a justified beliefs about what they ought to do, it is true. In addressing objections to this claim, we defend the view that epistemic and practical norms are in an important sense unified.

4) Testimony is in general an important source of knowledge and justified belief about the world. However, we have defended the view that testimony is not a source of knowledge or justified belief about the normative domain. For example, it is not possible to come to know that something is good, or that a person ought to do something, on the basis of testimony alone.

5) Reasoning is a paradigmatic way of responding to reasons and thus being guided by norms. We have argued that for something to be a reason just is for it to play a certain role in good reasoning. Furthermore, we have defended a novel account of the standards for good reasoning, be it reasoning towards beliefs or reasoning towards intentions or actions. In this way we have described an important structural feature shared by epistemic and practical norms.
Sectors Education

 
Description The primary route via which the research has had an impact on those outside academia is via a Study Day, organised in conjunction with the University of Southampton's Lifelong Learning department, titled Thinking Well, Living Well. This event, open to the general public, involved presentations by the project investigators, as well as a doctoral researcher, sharing in an accessible and engaging fashion ideas, arguments, and issues arising from the research project. Each talk was followed by discussion and debate with members of the audience.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Aarhus University
Department School of Culture and Society
Country Denmark, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Free University of Berlin
Department Department of Philosophy
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Stockholm University
Country Sweden, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Tel Aviv University
Country Israel, State of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation University of Barcelona (UB)
Country Spain, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation University of Fribourg
Department Department of Philosophy
Country Switzerland, Swiss Confederation 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation University of Helsinki
Department Department of Political and Economic Studies
Country Finland, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation University of Leuven
Department Institute of Philosophy
Country Belgium, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation University of Oslo
Department Faculty of Humanities
Country Norway, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation Uppsala University
Country Sweden, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description European Normativity Network 
Organisation École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the European Normativity Network (ENN). The aim of the network is to provide platforms for research and communication for philosophers based in Europe who work in the philosophy of normativity.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of ENN is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Fribourg, Barclona, and Berlin. The next conference is to take place in Oslo. In addition, the ENN hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Southern Normativity Group 
Organisation Cardiff University
Department School of English, Communication & Philosophy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the partner institutions, members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the Southern Normativity Group (SoNG). The aim of the network is to facilitate and promote research collaborations between philosophy departments that work on normativity in the south of the United Kingdom.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of SoNG is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Kent and Cardiff. In addition, the SoNG hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Southern Normativity Group 
Organisation University of Bristol
Department Department of Philosophy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the partner institutions, members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the Southern Normativity Group (SoNG). The aim of the network is to facilitate and promote research collaborations between philosophy departments that work on normativity in the south of the United Kingdom.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of SoNG is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Kent and Cardiff. In addition, the SoNG hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Southern Normativity Group 
Organisation University of Kent
Department Department of Philosophy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the partner institutions, members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the Southern Normativity Group (SoNG). The aim of the network is to facilitate and promote research collaborations between philosophy departments that work on normativity in the south of the United Kingdom.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of SoNG is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Kent and Cardiff. In addition, the SoNG hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Southern Normativity Group 
Organisation University of Reading
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the partner institutions, members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the Southern Normativity Group (SoNG). The aim of the network is to facilitate and promote research collaborations between philosophy departments that work on normativity in the south of the United Kingdom.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of SoNG is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Kent and Cardiff. In addition, the SoNG hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Southern Normativity Group 
Organisation University of Sussex
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution With colleagues at the partner institutions, members of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (Conor McHugh, Jonathan Way, and Daniel Whiting) established the Southern Normativity Group (SoNG). The aim of the network is to facilitate and promote research collaborations between philosophy departments that work on normativity in the south of the United Kingdom.
Collaborator Contribution The principal activity of SoNG is an annual conference at which philosophers working on issues relating to normativity present and discuss research. Each event is hosted by a member of the network. To date, conferences have been held at Kent and Cardiff. In addition, the SoNG hosts a website which provides information about its activities and research outputs.
Impact For lists of papers presented, please see the website. Many of these papers have since been published in international journals or as part of books.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Thinking Well, Living Well Study Day (University of Southampton) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Approximately 40 members of the public attended a Study Day at the University of Southampton at which members of the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project "Normativity: Epistemic and Practical" shared the results of their research with a non-academic audience. The project participants gave short presentations outlining issues and ideas emerging from the project, followed by discussion and debate involving the audience. Podcasts of the talks were made available via the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/lifelonglearning/news/events/2015/12/12-normativity.page