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Zhou, Y., Lim, D. and Xi, C, “Motivational Externalism and Misdescribing Cases,” American Journal of Bioethics – Neuroscience Vol.7. (2016): 218-219


Understanding non-robust normativity of aesthetics: why follow the score? –A case study in piano performance of classical music (under review)

For pianists in classical music, correctly playing notes on the score is important. However, pianists do not only follow the notes on the score but other notations as well. In a letter to Czerny about teaching his nephew fortepiano, Beethoven surprisingly indicates that mistakes on notes are “minor mistakes”, but mistakes in interpretation and ignoring dynamics are “much more serious problems” (Gerig 2007, p.95). In order to avoid mistakes in the performance, Beethoven emphasizes strict following the score including marks of interpretation and dynamics on the score. If Beethoven’s insistence on this strict score-following is not irrational, what reasons he could have to support his insistence?

This is about the normativity of following the score as an aesthetic rule, which determines the aesthetic correctness in performing classical music. I set aside the question of a robust sense of aesthetic normativity and assume that this rule is only non-robustly normative. Intuitively, the rules with non-robust normativity are normatively reducible to either internal dispositions of agents or merely correctness-determining norms associated with pertinent roles or practices. However, I argue that even if this aesthetic rule is non-robustly normative, its normative force is non-reducible either to performing a particular piece, to achieve better performance, the performer’s commitment to performing this piece, or to the practice of classical music performance. In this sense, they are different from rules such as chess rules or rules of convention, in which normative force is non-robust and reducible.

In this paper, I propose a new explanation of the normativity of aesthetics that grounds the deontological feature of Beethoven’s insistence on strict score-following.

In the first section, I will introduce how the term normativity is used differently in the literature and try to find a non-controversial usage of this term. I will also locate the central normative question of following the score by a target case. The target case of this normative question focuses on the conflict between getting things aesthetically correct and getting things aesthetically good. Then, I provide a refined characterization for the main question of pertinent aesthetic normativity. In the second section, I will briefly argue against several intuitive answers to this question. In the third section, I will raise my concerns about the most promising answer, the practice-based view, in the current literature. In the last section, I will sketch an account that traces the source of aesthetic normativity back to a special aesthetic experience that is necessarily constituted by following the score. I propose that this account not only can successfully ground Beethoven’s insistence on strict score-following, but also can be a friendly theory in favor of the practice-based view.

The normativity of morality that speaks to the individuals (under review)

My goal is to show problems in the end-relational normativity of morality, explored by naturalist moral realists like David Copp. End-relational normativity locates the normativity of morality in the ultimate end/goal of the society/community. I argue that this normative structure only grounds moral reasons for a society, but not for individuals in the society. Failing to speak to individuals has a problematic implication for a normative system of morality: it annihilates the properly robust normative force of morality for individuals. This contradicts naturalist moral realists’ purpose of naturalizing proper-robust normativity of morality.

In the first section, I offer a characterization of normativity that distinguishes morality from other systems. I propose a novel way to understand the concept of inescapability that reflects different grades and thereby successfully captures commonsensical moral normativity. Then, I emphasize that one kind of account of normativity that some naturalists support, formal normativity, is too weak to capture it. For preserving this commonsensical moral normativity, naturalist moral realists like David Copp rejects formal normativity.

In the second section, I introduce Copp’s project of naturalizing moral normativity. Specifically, I analyze how Copp’s explanation of moral normativity differs from formal normativity and how it preserves properly robust normative force. Copp locates normativity of morality in the capability of morality; that is, a moral system is normative if it enables a society to solve its generic problems of sociality like facilitating cooperation. On the contrary, a formal-normative system like chess does not solve any generic problem that Copp identifies. However, exactly why are generic problems normatively more significant than the problem of chess? To put this question differently, exactly why does the function of solving the generic problem of sociality ground the normative significance of morality, while the function of chess does not? Copp does not answer. Supporters of Copp’s style of naturalistic realism may see my question as begging the question against the special end-relational structure. However, failing to answer this question undermines Copp’s ambition of naturalizing moral normativity. This leads to my objection in the next section.

In the last section, I discuss the main difficulty in Copp’s theory: the ends of a society cannot extend to the ends of individuals. The significance of solving the generic problem of sociality will not extend to every individual, just like the significance of solving the chess problem will not extend to every individual. I conclude that there is an essential feature of moral normativity which is missing in Copp’s theory: speaking to the individuals. To start, I first offer a double-disassociation argument to show that what is inescapable for a society is not necessarily inescapable for an individual: on the one hand, there are cases where morality demands R from an individual, but not in virtue of a generic social problem; on another hand, there are also cases where a generic social problem can be solved if the society does R, but individuals are not morally required to do R. Then, I argue that even if we find an inescapable end of a society that extends to individuals, this end does not generate a moral reason that has a clear direction of action. That is because the reason generated from this end is negotiable. Negotiable moral reasons are problematic, not because there cannot be various prudential reasons that compete with moral reasons; instead, it is problematic because individuals can sufficiently be sneaky about their non-conformity; that is, they can violate moral norms, in a way that doesn’t undermine the role of moral norms as a solution to problems of sociality, as long as most other people conform to those norms. Lastly, I offer a general diagnosis for Copp’s style of special end-relational normativity: it fails to explain the normativity of morality that speaks to the individual. Because certain moral systems would enable a society to better cope with the generic problem, the society is normatively bounded by the moral system. But this does not tell us exactly how an individual in the society is normatively bounded by the moral system that her society subscribes to. It is an empirical fact that a group’s interests are not always in line with the individual’s interests. However, morality is supposed to overcome the gap between the different benefits of individuals and groups. Failing to speak to individuals, not only Copp’s style of naturalistic realism puts some difficulties in moral practice, it also leads to a theoretical difficulty that undermines the attraction of this theory: moral normativity is no different from formal normativity.

The Perils of Rejecting the Parity Argument (co-authored with Rhys Borchert) (under review)

Many moral error theorists endorse the following argument against moral realism.

(M1) Moral realism implies the existence of categorical normativity.

(M2) Categorical normativity does not exist.

(M3) Therefore, moral realism is false. [M1, M2]

Call this the Metaphysical Argument. Moral realists, however, have a counterargument.

(P1) Epistemic normativity is categorical.

(P2) Epistemic normativity exists.

(P3) Therefore, categorical normativity exists. [P1, P2]

Call this the Parity Argument. The Parity Argument attempts to undermine (M2) of the Metaphysical Argument by establishing a parity between moral and epistemic normativity. There are three possible responses for the moral error theorist. First, one could accept the parity between moral and epistemic normativity, but reject moral normativity nonetheless (Cowie 2014; 2019). Second, one could reject the parity between moral and epistemic normativity (Olson 2011a; 2011b; 2014; 2018). Third, one could accept the parity between moral and epistemic normativity, and embrace skepticism for both (Streumer 2013; 2017). 

We aim to demonstrate problems with each of these responses. Streumer defends his position in part by arguing that we cannot believe in a global error theory, but we argue that Streumer’s defense of this claim does not have the philosophical significance that he thinks it does. Olson’s argument fails to remove the problematic relation of categorical normativity from epistemic normativity without incurring Cuneo’s (2007) undesirable results of epistemic error theory: no reasons for belief and/or no arguments for anything. Cowie’s argument weakens the primary motivation for (M2), namely the alleged queerness of categorical normativity, without providing a sufficient alternative motivation for (M2). Highlighting these problems does not refute moral error theory, but it does support the soundness of the Parity Argument by demonstrating the philosophical costs incurred by rejecting one of its premises.

In section I, we address Cowie’s response. In section II, we address Olson’s response. In section III, we address Streumer’s response. We conclude in section IV.

The Credential Problem and Asymmetry Thesis in Moral Testimony (in progress)

Aesthetic Obligation to the Audience (in progress)