Beyond Normativity: Can Metaethics Escape Samsara's Wheel? - Stephen Finlay (ACU)

Speaker: Stephen Finlay

Abstract: What is the future of normativity? What should it be? I distinguish a narrow, recent inquiry conducted under the rubric ‘normativity’ (meta-‘normative’ theory) from a broad, timeless inquiry (metaethics), characterizing meta-‘normative’ theory as merely the latest epicycle in a futile circle of metaethical debate by analogy to the doctrine of Samsara’s Wheel. This futility is attributed to a four-way ambiguity running systematically through all “normative” terminology. I present a two-dimensionalist (or perspectivist) interpretation of paradigmatically and uncontroversially “normative” thoughts which enables us to explain the three major camps in metaethics (noncognitivism, objectivism, and subjectivism) as generated by the three different ways of collapsing the two-dimensional phenomenon into a single dimension (either of content or perspective). This reveals the characteristic errors made by each camp, and finds their claims about “normativity” to be addressing different subject-matters with diverging extensions. Four obstacles to metaethical enlightenment are identified: illusion/delusion and attachment (especially in objectivists), charity (in their opponents), and forgetfulness. I close with practical proposals about what to do next.

Date & time

Thu 14 Jul 2022, 2:00pm to 3:30pm


Lectorial 2, Level 1, RSSS building, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601


Stephen Finlay (ACU)


Sarita Rosenstock


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