Guiding Concepts : Essays on Normative Concepts, Knowledge, and Deliberation

Dissertation, Uppsala University (2020)
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This thesis addresses a range of questions about normativity, broadly understood. Recurring themes include the idea of normative ‘action-guidance’, and the connection between normativity and motivational states, the possibility of normative knowledge and its role in deliberation, and the question of whether normative concepts can themselves be evaluated. The first two papers, ‘The Entanglement Problem and Idealization in Moral Philosophy’ and ‘Weighting Surprise Parties: Some Problems for Schroeder’, critically examine various versions of the view that what we ought to do depends on some motivational states, such as desires. It is suggested that such views are, for different but interrelated reasons, extensionally inadequate. The third paper, ‘From Evolutionary Theory to Moral Skepticism, via Disagreement’, proposes that two arguments for moral skepticism can be combined in a mutually supportive way. A central role is played by the principle that a subject S knows that p only if S adherently believes that p, where this roughly means that S could not easily have failed to believe that p unless her epistemic position were worse or p were false. It is suggested that evolutionary considerations and facts about moral disagreement together indicate that moral beliefs violate this principle. The fourth paper, ‘Ethics and the Question of What to Do’, offers an account of the so- called ‘central deliberative question’ that is highlighted by several kinds of choice situations, including those that involve normative uncertainty and normative conflicts. It is proposed that this question is not best understood as the question of what one ought to do, not even in an ‘all things considered’ sense, but as the question of what to do. A meta-normative view that involves elements of both cognitivism and non-cognitivism is put forward as the best explanation of this fact. The fifth paper, ‘Meta-Skepticism’, develops a novel skeptical challenge to beliefs about the external world, the central idea being that even if beliefs about the external world can constitute knowledge, there are various other knowledge-like concepts that they cannot satisfy even if they are true. This raises the question of whether some of these concepts are epistemically more important than the others, and, in particular, the further question of how the relevant notion of ‘epistemic importance’ should be understood. Several answers to this question are considered and found wanting.



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Olle Risberg
Uppsala University

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