Building Reasons Without Authority
Doctor of Philosophy
My dissertation defends a comprehensive version of meta-nonnative skepticism which holds that no standard, norm, or principle has objective authority or normative force. The view does not deny either that there are norms, standards of correctness, and principles of various kinds or that it is possible both to succeed or fail in measuring up to their prerogatives. What it does deny is that any norm has the status of commanding with objective authority, the status of giving rise to objective normative reasons to take seriously and follow its demands. Many believe objective authority is required if we are to make sense of and explain the significance of our normative practices. Without authority, they fear, any critical standpoint vis-à-vis our practices would evaporate, even when we have reached a consensus regarding critical matters, which, without correctness, appears to reflect nothing but an ultimately arbitrary choice. I disagree, and argue that while authority cannot be accommodated within the world as we know it, we don't need it either. A chief goal of my dissertation is to propose a positive interpretation of our normative practices that dispenses with authoritative facts directing us what to do. The practical question of what to make of our practices and our involvement with them, I counter, retains significance only when pursued from an engaged rather than a detached perspective - one that we adopt when, driven by our concerns and commitments, we actively participate in the resolution of practical problems, including the selection and development of norms to live by, searching for common ground for how to coordinate our individual and joint endeavors. Even though there are no definitive answers, this deliberative enterprise is not unconstrained; it is carried out within a tight web of norms that we do already accept, a web we continuously spin and expand.