Make no Mistake

I’ll cop to the charge of questionable judgment when I thought it fitting to christen my meta-normative position ‘normative nihilism’.  I was trying to be provocative but for the most part no one noticed.  So I appreciate that Stephen Finlay thought me footnote-worthy in his 2010 Analysis survey of “Recent Work on Normativity”.

That the position I occupy in logical space can be ‘set aside’ in the sort of survey Finlay conducts is of course disappointing, but it is nevertheless understandable. It is especially so (understandable, that is) when it is construed, as it is by Finlay, as being an ‘error theory about normativity.’ If I were doing a survey of positions on normativity I’d set a global (rather than a localized version focused on, say, ethical matters) error theory aside as well.  I’d do so because the position is incoherent. ERROR is a normative concept if any is, and so an error theory is explicitly committed to the existence of (at least one) robust standard against which judgments are to be assessed (and found wanting).  You can be an error theorist about moral facts (e.g. Mackie), but being so commits you to a global normative realism.  Normative nihilism, however unfortunate its name, implies that no ocurrent first-person-perspective-independent mistaken judgments concerning normativity are possible.  Normative nihilism is really just a global normative irrealism.

Or so, anyway, I believe.



  1. Ethics is a contemplative force field which, if anything, may only help to keep yourself in check. Unless you change the frequency of the force field. Which is easy. All you need to do is reevaluate and thus rethink your position in a world filled with exciting forbidden fruit. Anyway cheers

  2. Cheers to you. As I was saying in the post (and Finlay – nor anyone else discussing these matters – wouldn’t disagree) the ethical is usefully construed as a subset of the normative.

    As for your ‘ethical force field’, it is indeed subject to fairly continuous modulation, but just how ‘easy’ it is to ‘reevaluate’ only given individuals can say (and I’d wager many would say ‘not very’).

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