How to Do Things with Norms: A Speech Act Approach to Metanormative Theory

Morgan, Andrew, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brewer, Talbot, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

When we use normative language terms like ‘good,’ ‘vicious,’ or ‘beautiful,’ what exactly are we up to? On the one hand, it feels as though we are trying to express our beliefs to one another. On the other hand, it also feels as though we are trying to express other attitudes like praise, condemnation, or awe. This creates a puzzle for philosophers: how do we adequately capture both aspects of our normative language? In this dissertation I argue, first, that existing strategies for resolving this puzzle fail, either because they tie the expression in question too closely to the semantics of normative terms or because they tie it too loosely to the features of a speaker’s context. I then present my own positive view, the hybrid speech act theory. The central insight of my view is that when we make normative claims, we are making use of distinct (and hitherto unrecognized) types of speech acts. What sets normative speech acts apart is that their constitutive sincerity conditions require speakers to possess both cognitive and motivationally efficacious states. My dissertation concludes with a discussion of what we are up to when we have normative thoughts. By taking a closer look at the phenomenon of inner speech, I demonstrate how my normative speech act theory may be used to explain normative thoughts as well.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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