Metanormative regress: an escape plan

Philosophical Studies 181 (5) (2024)
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How should you decide what to do when you’re uncertain about basic normative principles? A natural suggestion is to follow some "second-order:" norm: e.g., obey the most probable norm or maximize expected choiceworthiness. But what if you’re uncertain about second-order norms too—must you then invoke some third-order norm? If so, any norm-guided response to normative uncertainty appears doomed to a vicious regress. This paper aims to rescue second-order norms from the threat of regress. I first elaborate and defend the claim some philosophers have made that the regress problem forces us to accept normative externalism, the view that at least one norm is incumbent on all agents regardless of their normative beliefs. But, I then argue, we need not accept externalism about first-order norms, thus closing off any question of how agents should respond to normative uncertainty. Rather, we can head off the threat of regress by ascribing external force to a single second-order norm: the enkratic principle.

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Christian Tarsney
University of Texas at Austin


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