Normativity: Epistemic and Practical

About the project


What should I do? What should I think? For as long as there has been philosophy, philosophers have investigated questions like this. Traditionally, ethicists tackle the first question, while epistemologists tackle the second. This division of labour corresponds to a distinction theorists draw between practical and epistemic normativity, where normativity is a matter of what one should or may do, what one has reason or justification to do, or what it is right or wrong to do, not simply of what one in fact does. So conceived, practical normativity concerns how one should act, while epistemic normativity concerns how one should think.

The tendency is to investigate the issue of what to do independently of the issue of what to think. But there is a growing awareness that treating the two issues separately leads to distortions and misunderstandings. The aim of this project is to explore issues about practical and epistemic normativity together, to examine the norms which concern us as agents alongside the norms which concern us as inquirers.

The project is organised in three stages. First, we will examine connections between practical and epistemic norms. How does what one ought to think influence what one ought to do and vice versa? Second, we will consider whether one can explain practical norms by appeal to epistemic norms or vice versa. Third, we will consider whether the theories which ethicists have offered of ethical discourse and its subject matter – e.g. expressivism, fictionalism, non-naturalism – can be applied to the epistemic domain and what this might tell us about both.

The project aims to foster collaborative research involving an international team of philosophers participating in three workshops, corresponding to each stage of the project, and a major conference. It will make available the results of this research through a series of publications and encourage wider involvement in thinking about the issues through activities aimed at a non-academic audience. The ambition is to see whether, by investigating practical alongside epistemic norms, we might pave the way for a unified conception of normativity and, thereby, a unified conception of ourselves, as both thinkers and doers.

Normativity: Epistemic and Practical is supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Early Career Research Grant.