Normativity from Nothing


Many metaethicists find a tension between Naturalism and the Is/Ought Principle. Naturalism seems to require that all facts either be natural or ultimately grounded in solely natural facts. The Is/Ought Principle seems to require that no normative facts be natural or solely grounded in natural facts. Both principles appear plausible, yet many metaethics think they are incompatible. In this paper, I argue that Naturalism and the Is/Ought Principle are in fact compatible. We can see this once we adopt a framework that treats metaphysical grounding as involving both grounds as well as connections between grounds and grounded. If the most basic normative facts are null grounded from no grounds but via solely natural connections, then normative facts are generated in a naturalistically acceptable manner that is consistent with normative properties having sui generis normative natures. Thus, Naturalism and the Is/Ought Principle are both satisfied. I sketch a view where certain normative facts are socially generated by joint intentions.


2 thoughts on “Normativity from Nothing

  1. Zachos, Dimitrios says:

    Hi Christopher, thank you for the thought-provoking presentation and the interesting Q & A, and good luck with your research and your PhD- I think you have a very interesting project going.

    Just one observation- you might want to consider doing some re-calibrating or adjusting of your approach -be it one on a purely terminological basis, to address more convincingly the concern that Kenneth raised above and in the Q & A, which was also restated by Duygu’s last question regarding transitivity – if one of your relata is a nothingness, i. e. , if you don’t really have a relation, how can you operate with this notion? Treating normativity as socially constructed is interesting, but you are certainly not building normativity out of nothing, I’d say. I wonder if looking at this through the notion of “grounding”, as you’re trying to do in the talk, illuminates or confuses your main idea. Maybe you’d like to work on this a bit more? Just an idea!

  2. Ehrenberg, Kenneth says:

    Can you explain more how there can be connections where at least one of the elements connected is nothing? What would be the distinction between not having a connection and being connected to nothing? That seems to be something that needs a clear metaphysical distinction. Also I would be worried that null grounding (using the example of the empty set) is still an example of a grounding that is natural (in accord with the weak naturalism principle). How can the connection be natural if it is connected to nothing?

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