Rationality and the Normative Facts

Mathias Sagdahl


My project is an investigation into the nature of normative facts, and what rational requirements might govern them. I therefore have a double aim. First, to throw light upon what kinds of normative facts there are and how they relate; and second, to examine what (if any) requirements of rationality might govern our attitudes to such facts.

A central claim that I try to defend is that there are several different types of normative facts. In addition to moral facts about what we ought, there are also prudential facts about what we ought. These oughts can in many circumstances come into conflict. Satisfying moral requirements may incur costs on myself that are not warranted from a prudential point of view. I argue that there is no good way to put these types of oughts together, and consequently that there is no normatively priviliged way of making an all things considered judgment about what one ought in such cases. The oughts aret hen said to be incommensurable. Other types of ought might also exist, further complicating the picture. This view, which I call ’normative pluralism’, is related to Henry Sidgwick’s ’Dualism of Practical Reason’, but is a picture of normativity that so far has not been properly considered in moral and normative philosophy.
I then aim to examine whether there are any rational requirements governing such oughts. Philosophers such as John Broome and Ralph Wedgwood (among others) have proposed that there is a rational requirement to intend what one believes one ought, but it is clear that this requirement can only hold for ’all things considered’-oughts, else rationality would make inconsistent requirements on you. I try to show that there are still rational requirements of a weaker sort that governs moral and prudential oughts, and that such requirements must exist insofar as we are prepared to treat them as genuine types of ought.


mathias sagdahl

Master in Philosophy

Doctoral fellow at Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature

E-mail: m.s.sagdahl@ifikk.uio.no

Phone  ++47 - 22 84 16 69

Postal address:
IFIKK/CSMN Postboks 1020, Blindern
0315 Oslo