Mittwoch, 12. Januar 2011, 18 Uhr c.t.

Campus Westend, Hörsaalzentrum HZ5

Prof. Thomas M. Scanlon (Harvard University)

Metaphysical Objections to Normative Truth


Thaltomas M. Scanlon is Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University. He received his B.A. from Princeton in 1962 and his Ph.D. from Harvard. In between, he studied for a year at Oxford as a Fulbright Fellow. He taught at Princeton from 1966 before coming to Harvard in 1984. Professor Scanlon’s dissertation and some of his first papers were in mathematical logic, but the bulk of his teaching and writing has been in moral and political philosophy. He has published papers on freedom of expression, the nature of rights, conceptions of welfare, and theories of justice, as well as on foundational questions in moral theory. His teaching in the department has included courses on theories of justice, equality, ethical theory, and practical reasoning. His  book, What We Owe to Each Other, was published by Harvard University Press in 1998; a collection of papers on political theory, The Difficulty of Tolerance, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2003. His most recent book is Moral Dimensions Permissibility, Meaning, Blame, published by Harvard University Press in 2008. Professor Scanlon gave the John Locke Lectures, Being Realistic about Reasons, in Oxford in 2009.


The idea that there are irreducibly normative truths about reasons for action, which we can discover by thinking carefully about reasons in the usual way, has been thought to be subject to three kinds of objections: metaphysical, epistemological, and motivational or, as I would prefer to say, practical. Metaphysical objections claim that a belief in irreducibly normative truths would commit us to facts or entities that would be metaphysically odd, incompatible, it is sometimes said, with a scientific view of the world. In this essay I argue that the idea that there are irreducibly normative truths has no problematic metaphysical implications. Explaining why this is so requires an explanation of what „ontological commitment“ comes to. It also requires an explanation of the relation between normative facts and non-normative facts, and how normative facts can depend on („supervene on“) non-normative facts without being reducible to them.


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