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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L135-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2001
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Something is said by philosophers to have ‘normativity’ when it entails that some action, attitude or mental state of some other kind is justified, an action one ought to do or a state one ought to be in. The philosophical area most distinctively concerned with normativity, almost by definition, is ethics. Arguably, every ethical concept or category involves normativity of some kind. One area of lively debate within ethics concerns the precise kind of normativity that is possessed by different ethical concepts: moral wrongness, virtue, well-being and so on. For example, if an action is wrong, does that entail that there is reason not to do it or just that there is reason to take a certain attitude (blame) towards those who do act in that way?

A second way in which ethics is concerned with normativity is in investigating how an ethical proposition’s normative claim might be vindicated and considering whether it actually is vindicated. For example, if an action is morally wrong only if there is reason not to do it, can we then satisfactorily establish that any actions actually are wrong?

Yet a third kind of engagement with normativity concerns the very sources of normativity itself. An attempt to vindicate or debunk the implicit normativity of some specific ethical claim will ultimately face the question of what could support claims to normativity in general. Here we find a fertile debate between Humeans, who seek to ground practical normativity in instrumental rationality, and Kantians, who argue that practical reason necessarily includes formal constraints that extend beyond means/end coherence.

Philosophical discussion of normativity is by no means restricted to ethics, however. Epistemology has an irreducibly normative aspect, in so far as it is concerned with norms for belief. And the idea that meaning is implicitly normative has sparked some of the most exciting discussions in recent philosophy of language.

Citing this article:
Darwall, Stephen. Normativity, 2001, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L135-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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