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Davidson’s Meta-Normative Naturalism


  • Robert Myers York University



Although Donald Davidson is best known for his account of motivating reasons, towards the end of his life he did write about normative reasons, arguing for a novel form of realism we might call anomalous naturalism: anomalous, because it is not just non-reductive but also non-revisionary, refusing to compromise in any way on the thought that the prescriptive authority of normative reasons is objective and reaches to all possible agents; naturalism, because it still treats normative properties as perfectly ordinary causal properties, and thus avoids many of the epistemological problems that bedevil realisms of the sort recently advanced by Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, and T. M. Scanlon.

In the first section of the paper, I discuss Davidson’s understanding of objective prescriptivity and one important challenge that it faces. In the second section, I show how an answer to this challenge can be found in Davidson’s holism of the mental. As we shall see, Davidson’s holism of the mental makes the possibility of strongly prescriptive properties much easier to take seriously. In the final section of the paper, I take up various grounds for doubting that such properties could also be causal.


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