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Normative Pluralism Worthy of the Name Is False

by Spencer Case

Normative pluralism is the view that practical reason consists in an irreducible plurality of normative domains, that these domains sometimes issue conflicting recommendations and that, when this happens, there is never any one thing that one ought simpliciter to do. Here I argue against this view, noting that normative pluralism must be either unrestricted or restricted. Unrestricted pluralism maintains that all coherent standards are reason-generating normative domains, whereas restricted pluralism maintains that only some are. Unrestricted pluralism, depending on how it is cashed out, is either nihilism about practical reason or else it is subjectivism. Neither view is consistent with normative pluralism; hence, pluralism must be restricted. Restricted pluralism, however, faces two problems. The first stems from the question: “Why is it that some standards are normative domains while others are not?” The question seems to demand an answer, but it is hard to give any answer without appealing to considerations that imply facts about what we ought simpliciter to do. Second, restricted pluralism has difficulty accounting for our intuitions about cases in which one option is optimal in all domains, but not better than each alternative in any one domain. The unique option that is optimal in every domain seems better than its competitors, though it isn’t better within any domain. This is different than the widely discussed argument from notable-nominal comparisons. So I conclude that we have good reason to reject restricted pluralism, the only form of normative pluralism really worthy of that name.

ISSN 1559-3061
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