In 2015, the Department of Philosophy established a new research group, focusing on questions concerning reasons and norms. Questions about normativity and rationality arise in many contexts in philosophy, including epistemology and philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind and action, and the philosophy of health and well-being. The group aims to promote research into questions about reasons and norms in all these subject areas and, where appropriate – to explore parallels between them. These questions are important, not only to philosophers, but also to people working in a range of disciplines, especially in the social sciences. Hence, the group aims to promote discussion and collaboration across disciplines. It sponsors cross-disciplinary projects, working groups, conferences and seminars. Information about the activities of the group and its membership is available through the links on the left of the page.
The Reasons and Norms Research Group is the successor of the Department’s Mind, Meaning and Rationality Group. Follow this link for information about the past activities of the Mind, Meaning and Rationality Group.
Dr Carolyn Price (Director)
Dr Cristina Chimisso (Co-Director)
Much of our talk and thought about the world has a normative character; but what underpins this appeal to norms? There has long been dispute about the source of moral and aesthetic norms. In this project, we would like to focus on the norms to which we appeal in describing and evaluating human minds and bodies – in particular, norms of health and well-being. How should we understand these norms? Can (or should) they be viewed as grounded in very general facts about human biology? To what extent, and in what ways, can they be understood as particular to the individual? Are there parallels to be drawn between these norms and norms of other kinds, for example, the norms of rationality?
This project is convened by Cristina Chimisso and Carolyn Price.
Health, emotions and normality: an interdisciplinary perspective
The Open University in London, Camden Town, 30 April 2015.
This workshop was aimed at promoting an interdisciplinary approach on the themes of health, emotions and normality, and collaboration among different Faculties and departments at the Open University. It addressed two questions: ‘Who is normal?’ and ‘Are some emotions normal and other pathological?’
In the first part of the workshop, which addressed the question ‘Who is normal?’, Cristina Chimisso (Philosophy, OU) gave a paper entitled ‘Who is normal, and how is ill?’; and Lindsay O’Dell (Health and Social Care, OU) gave a paper on ‘Neurodiversity, autism and being "normal"’.
In the second part, which addressed the question ‘Are some emotions normal and others pathological?’, Paul Stenner (Psychology, OU) gave a paper entitled ‘Normal feelings? Or: emotions, rights and norms’; and Carolyn Price (Philosophy, OU) gave a paper on ‘Emotions and mental disorder’.
The aim of the project is to investigate three interlocking questions:
Philosophers since Aristotle have argued that we are not simply intellectual beings: we are constituted, at least in part, by our basic drives, our likes and versions and our emotional dispositions. This view, though can be challenged in a number of ways. It might be objected, first, that there is no such thing as the self – either because we have no stable traits and dispositions of the kind required, or because an assortment of drives, likes and so on does not have the unity required to constitute a self). A second objection concerns the self concept itself: when people talk of the self, do they always mean the same thing, or are there many distinct self-concepts? Again, it might be suggested that to focus on the individual’s emotions and drives is to neglect the social nature of the self. Finally, there is scope for different conception of what the exact relation is between affective traits and the self – is it one of constitution, for example, or of supervenience?
The development question concerns the possibility that the self might change over time, and in particular, that this process can be managed and directed by the self. It might be suggested, even, that the capacity to change oneself is part of what it means to be a self in the first place. But how should we conceive of this process? One possibility is that we might think of it as an exercise of reason or the intellect, intervening to bring unruly motivations and emotions into line with the subject’s considered values. What role, though, might emotions (for example, emotions such as shame or pride) themselves play in this process? What role is played by self-consciousness, or self-understanding? And what kinds of obstacles does this process face? Does the cultivation of new affective dispositions come at the cost of a loss or spontaneity or authenticity?
The normative question concerns the outcome of this process: is there are particular kind of self that we should aspire to be. For example should we aim at an ideal of an evaluative consistency: a self in which values, emotions and likes are in mutual harmony? Or should we value a degree of ambivalence and evaluative conflict? An alternative picture is suggested by the idea of emotional balance or equilibrium. But how might we understand this suggestion? And how does emotional equilibrium relate to other possible values, such as consistency or emotional profundity?
The project is convened by Manuel Dries and Carolyn Price.
2016 Reason and Norms seminars.
3 February 2016
Dr Ema Sullivan-Bissett (University of Birmingham)
‘Epistemic normativity and biological function’
My focus is on epistemic normativity, in particular: beliefs about beliefs. With many others, I claim that our mechanisms for belief production have the biological function of producing true beliefs. However, I also claim that beliefs about epistemic normativity are false. We might say that in virtue of their falsity, beliefs about epistemic normativity are not doing what they are supposed to do, that they are malfunctioning beliefs. Here I argue that in this case we do not have accidental false belief, but rather we have a case of false belief produced by mechanisms doing exactly what they should be doing. Such beliefs are biologically useful, but not as an approximation to truth.
Time & Location: The Open University’s campus at Walton Hall, in Perry C, Meeting Room 07, from 2pm – 4pm.
2 March 2016
Dr Eileen John (University of Warwick)
‘Divided by feeling’
We can be divided in feeling within ourselves—we often have ‘mixed feelings’—and divided from others who feel differently than we do about some issue or situation. The intrapersonal case is interesting because it does not seem that differences of belief could explain the mixed feelings. Perhaps disagreement in belief is also not always the best explanation for differences in feeling between people. I want in part to think about why and how we are able to take mixed feelings on board within our own lives, while divergence in feeling from others can create great ‘distance’ and, sometimes, a sense that we do not make sense to each other. Difference in feeling can make someone feel ‘farther away’, it seems, than sheer disagreement in belief. Is the intrapersonal case helpful in conceiving of how we are divided from others by feeling? Are we responsible for trying to lessen felt distance from others? I will approach these questions in part by considering how they are handled in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals.
Time & Location: The Open University’s campus at Walton Hall, in Wilson A, Meeting Room 05, from 2pm – 4pm.
Contact: Carolyn Price