Monday, November 26, 2007

Every fact is normative

A sufficient condition for a fact to be normative is that it is a reason to do or not to do something. But a fact F is a reason not to deny that F obtains. Hence, every fact is normative.


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Vlastimil Vohánka said...

I like the argument.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

I would be interested in your further thoughts about the identity of moral and epistemic reasons.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The only good reason for anything is love or lovability. But love/lovability provides a moral reason. :-)

The lovability of truth, for instance, provides epistemic reasons. But those epistemic reasons are clearly moral.

Derrick said...

I'm not clear on something in your last comment. What exactly do you mean by "moral" in this context? Do you intend it to mean simply any kind of normative claims, such as "Fatty foods lead to heart disease, and thus should only be eaten in moderation" count as moral, too? Good argument, by the way.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Fatty foods should be eaten only in moderation. That's ambiguous between two claims. One is what Kant calls a hypothetical imperative: If you want to stay healthy, you should eat fatty foods only in moderation. Arguably this just says: "Eating fatty foods only in moderation conduces to health." And that is not a normative statement at all. The other claim is genuinely normative; (ceteris paribus) you ought eat fatty foods only in moderation. What is the sanction of that? Charity towards self (=prudence). You owe it to any human person to feed her only healthy food (ceteris paribus), and you are a human person, so you owe it to yourself to feed yourself only healthy food (ceteris paribus).

Of course this requires that you have duties to yourself. But it would be odd to treat yourself as an exception to general moral rules.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I've been told that there is a Reformed theologian who earlier came up with my argument for the normativity of all facts.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that the normative fact in the vicinity was "F is a reason not to deny that F obtains."

(I guess we could argue about the definition of normative facts at this point.)

Alexander R Pruss said...


That's related to an interesting substantive issue, I think. I personally rather like the idea that certain facts are directly normative, rather than through further normative principles or the like, and my "argument" is a case of that. So, that George asked me to tell him the time is itself a reason to tell him the time, and not through some intermediary like the fact that George's asking me to tell him the time gives me a reason to tell him the time or some principle like that there is reason to give people what they ask for. "Why did you tell him the time? Because he asked me."

Besides, on your suggestion, F is still a reason, since you say it's a fact that "F is a reason not to deny that F obtains." But aren't reasons normative? A reason justifies. But that means it's normative, no?

Anonymous said...


I agree that F is a reason, specifically, a reason not to deny that F. It might also be a reason for any number of other things. In this particular case we have a normative relation between a fact F and an action(-type) "denying that F". The relation is one of "being a reason against".

Now these normative relations are very common. They include "being a reason for [an action/belief]", "being evidence for/against [a proposition]" etc.

It seems to me useful to distinguish between statements about the relata and statements about the relation. I would say that it is the relation which is normative and hence that statements about the relation that are normative statements.

Not all normative statements are relational. Statements including "good", "best", "ought", "justified", "morally permitted" etc. are statements about actions or propositions. All actions and propositions either have or lack these properties/statuses/modes/whatever. But it is useful to distinguish between the statements of the proposition/action and the statements which describe the normative properties of the proposition/action. I would say that the latter but not the former are normative statements.

(And for "(true) normative statement" you can put in "normative fact".)