Philosophy | Seminar in contemporary philosophy
P730 | 27897 | Leite

Note: This section is team-taught by Profs. Leite and Toh

Seminar:  Practical and Epistemic Normativity.

People have reasons to behave in particular ways, to believe certain
things, to feel a certain way, to be a particular kind of person. Or
so we think. Recently, many philosophers have zeroed in on these
phenomna, and tried to come up with a better understanding of (or at
least some theories about) them. Consequently, talk of “normativity”
is increasingly common in a number of sub-areas of philosophy,
including ethics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of
mind, metaphysics, etc. Our aim in this seminar is to get a better
understanding of the normative aspects of our thoughts and practices
by taking a unified approach to the study of reasons in ethics and
epistemology. Our hope is that taking such a unified approach will
highlight some features of our practical and theoretical thoughts and
practices that have been overlooked, and also generally lead to a
better understanding of our dealings with and in reasons. We will
read a broad selection of classic and contemporary writings in ethics
(mostly in metaethics, but also in related areas of practical
reasoning and philosophy of action) and in epistemology, and may
dabble a bit in philosophy of mind. Some of the questions that we
would like to explore are: Does taking seriously the normative nature
of ethics and epistemology exclude or threaten purely naturalistic
approaches to them? Or can we successfully “place” our normative
thoughts and practices within a naturalistic conception of the world
and our place in it? What is the nature of practical and epistemic
agency? Are there any nonoptional or constitutive norms that regulate
our practical or theoretical deliberation? Can all practical or
epistemic norms be considered norms of instrumental reasoning? What
is meant by “realism”, and can our commitment to practical and
epistemic norms meet the criteria of realism? Is an “error theory” in
ethics or epistemology a serious option? What are the prospects for
expressivist conceptions of our normative thoughts and practices in
ethics and epistemology? Particular authors that we will read include
some subset of: G.E. Moore, H.A. Prichard, W.V. Quine, J.L. Mackie,
Bernard Williams, Simon Blackburn, Allan Gibbard, John McDowell,
Peter Railton, Michael Smith, J. David Velleman, Christine Korsgaard,
T.M. Scanlon, Hartry Field, Jonathan Adler, and Nishi Shah. Some
background in contemporary metaethics and epistemology will be
helpful, but should not be essential.