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Thesis defences

MA Defence: Dean Joseph, Philosophy

Tuesday, April 25, 2023
8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Dean Joseph


This event is free



Dean Joseph

Nonabsolutism and Social Change

Dean Joseph

Supervisor: Pablo Gilabert

ABSTRACT: There has been little to no inquiry into the normative problems involved in social change. Consequently, we lack an adequate normative framework tailored precisely for the guidance of collective action to that end. In this paper, I argue that normative principles for social change should be considered nonabsolute. To demonstrate this, I develop two normative-ethical frameworks, one absolutist and the other nonabsolutist, to examine how they perform in that context. On the absolutist view, normative principles are binding on agents’ behaviour in all circumstances; that is, as absolutes. Another view would be to treat those norms as nonabsolutes, or binding context-dependently. I argue that, in the context of social change, the absolutist framework encounters three problems insoluble for it, and so we should adopt nonabsolutism. The latter position, however, brings forth several problems not faced by the former. Namely, it seems to require a supplementary account of moral reasoning to resolve difficult normative problems such as cases of conflicting duties. In response, I argue that setting out explicit rules for what to do in advance of all complex particular cases is absurd. I then address several normative tasks ethical theories are frequently held to by philosophers to see whether they are necessary desiderata. I conclude by appealing to a novel conception of collective moral reasoning which has the upshot of requiring agents to be guided by plausible substantive principles for social change.

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