Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Questions that interest me on norm institution and grounding

For any norm Nk that we institute, there is a prior norm Nk − 1 that specifies that when the acts of institution of Nk are performed, then Nk has such-and-such force.

On pain of a regress incompatible with the empirical facts of humanity’s finite past, any instituted norm must be grounded in an uninstituted norm. What are these uninstituted norms like?

Are they specific to our human nature or do they apply to all rational beings or are some of one sort and some of the other? Thinking about some issues in ethics, language, epistemology and decision theory has made me think that it is likely that at least some of the uninstituted norms are specific to human nature rather than to all rational beings.

Also, what types of norms are the uninstituted norms, and how do they relate to the types of norms that they ground? For instance, are instituted linguistic norms grounded in uninstituted linguistic norms or in some other kinds of norms, say moral ones?

For those of us who love theoretical simplicity, it would be a great joy if it turned out that all the uninstituted norms were of one type. If so, that type would be the moral. For, plausibly, no norm can ground an instituted norm that has greater force than itself, and moral norms have greater force than any others. In any case, either there are multiple types of uninstituted norms, or they are all moral. In the latter case all norms are moral or derive by institution from moral ones.

Note that the uninstituted norms need not be fundamental. There could be grounding relations between uninstituted norms. For instance, neither the moral norm not to torture the innocent nor the moral norm not to torture innocent blue-eyed people is instituted, but the latter (assuming it really counts as a norm, rather than an application or something like that) is clearly grounded in the former. If it turns out that, as I think, some uninstituted norms are specific to our human nature, it could still be the case that all the uninstituted norms that are specific to our human nature are grounded in a norm not specific to human nature—say, the universal norm to act in accordance with one’s nature.

Furthermore, there are norms that govern rational behavior as such and norms that do not govern rational behavior as such, such as the norm that two legs is good for humans and four legs is good for pigs. What grounding relationships are there between these? Are all the uninstituted norms of one sort or the other, or are they of both sorts?

There is material for interesting dissertations exploring questions like this. Of course, such questions have been explored in multiple contexts, but perhaps not quite in the above structure.

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