Billy Dunaway


It is often claimed that realism about normativity entails that it is difficult for us to know anything about it. I refine this thought by characterizing realism as a thesis which is committed to explaining a semantic thesis about possible uses of normative language: that normative terms like ‘ought’ are semantically stable, in the sense that the term refers to the same property even if it is used differently. There are independent arguments which show that a realist view, if it is plausible, should entail semantic stability for ‘ought’. In this paper I argue that, if the realist succeeds in explaining semantic stability, the realist view implies that normative beliefs will be at risk of being false, and hence not knowledge. Central to this argument is a phenomenon I call meta-semantic risk. I argue that the phenomenon of meta-semantic risk gives rise to a significant dose of normative skepticism for the realist, but it does not entail wholesale skepticism, since the epistemic threats are only contingent, and threatens only precise normative beliefs. I close by sketching two arguments that may show that even this limited form of skepticism counts significantly against the realist view.