Question Forum 3

1. Explain Turner’s argument that normativism and naturalism are both circular, norm-paradigmatic “forms of life,” guilty of “changing the subject” into their own terms and criteria of evaluation and explanation. What is Turner’s solution to circumvent these circularities? You may wish to analyze this in terms of the Zande witchcraft case and/or the notion of Lustral rites. See, especially, pages 110-116.

2. Why does Turner believe or argue that the burden of proof for the existence of normativity lies with normativists and not naturalists (refer back to bottom, p63)? Why should we judge whether to adopt normativism and normativity in explanation based on criteria pre-established by naturalism? Why fear enchantment and “spooky” explanations? See the final paragraph on p148, including: "[Normativity] is not an explanatory distinction found in nature or social reality. It is visible only to those constructing a normative lens.” But is naturalism a "natural kind?" Is it not also "guilty" of being a constructed lens?

3. In what way(s) can legal normativity be an option? Is a criminal who rejects the law still a criminal? (p.95) Are "standards" simply what everyone accepts and can they be altered by one person who is "right" if everyone else is wrong? (p.119-121) How important is having the majority opinion when determining standards?

4. What does Turner believe is the distinction between the sociological sense of legal validity and the genuinely normative one?

5. Given Turner's example on page 105 when he cites Kripke stating '"If the community all agrees on an answer and persists in its view, no one can correct it. there can be no corrector in the community, since by hypothesis, all the community agrees. If the corrector were outside the community, on Wittgenstein's view he as no 'right' to make any correction"' (105), how can a correction be adjudicated when an outsider might not have any right to make a correction for he or she might be seen as manipulating difference or imposing a view upon a culture without imposing a "colonial" agenda?

6. Turner states, "The lesson was obvious enough. Each tradition had the resources to provide explanations of why their view was right and everyone else was wrong, subhuman, in error, and so forth. And the existence of these different cultures, different religions, and different moral standards challenged our own certainties… The existence of alternatives that are not obviously wrong poses a problem for transcendental justifications - they cannot claim to be the necessary preconditions of something that is itself necessary, because the arrangements being justified are not themselves necessary" (198). How does the problem of transcendental justifications also a entail a problem of truth? Is there "Truth" when science could be viewed as a relative and culturally specific enterprise? Does science itself succumb to the problem of transcendental justifications?


Winyard response to question 6:

Transcendent justifications of norms necessarily involve issues of truth because their external reference is outside of normal human experience. The transcendentalist does not regard norms as produced by people; they are instead held by people in a passive sense, for the norm rightfully belongs to the transcendent entity that is held to have authority.

In Reformed Christianity, for example, God’s role in creating the universe came with an entitlement to establish norms for creatures. In their original state, God’s creatures possessed all the qualities they needed to follow the divine norms. As creatures made in God’s image, man had the additional capacity to choose to disobey. As a result of disobedience, man lost any ability to follow God’s norms apart from divine grace. Even his perception of God is distorted by sin, so it is only by grace that individuals come to a proper understanding of God’s revelation, general or special. Science, as a human endeavor, is no different. It is only by grace that scientists, believers or not, come to an understanding of truths in creation.

Does science “succumb” to transcendental justifications? Yes, but not in a negative sense, as if science should be above transcendence. Science has a wonderful epistemic track record regarding natural phenomena, but its human character severely limits the credibility of any claims to certainty. This is especially true regarding its presuppositions, which are always subject to debate. Even solipsism, as silly as it seems to most people (but not to solipsists), cannot be scientifically proven false. Honesty demands that science recognize its metaphysical limits, and this requires that scientific naturalism should not “succumb” to making transcendental claims, such as Carl Sagan’s assertion that “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” That is not a scientific truth, but a theological claim. The norm of scientific practice should be methodological naturalism, not metaphysical naturalism.


Jen Henderson, parts of Q.1

I admit at the outset a certain degree of hesitancy in addressing questions about material that I’m not sure I understand; for example, it’s not clear to how the argument is circular or what is meant by "forms of life." So I’ll focus instead on the notion of changing the subject, which seemed more clear.

First of all, a little about normativity and description. Turner’s work examines various approaches and theories on how we might re-enchant the world of naturalistic description with the meanings that no longer reside in facts: the “surplus value” or “property S” that isn’t explained simply by fact. Or perhaps Turner’s work explores the failure by naturalists to account for the world in demystified terms, and the various ways that normativity continues reinsert itself into the seemingly disenchanted world. I’m sure this is completely absurd, but the image that continues to come to mind is this: how can the scientist explain the existence of the unicorn amid the herd of wild horses? How come that damned unicorn keeps showing up when there seems to be no evolutionary existence for it? Normativity, then, seems to have this supra-natural element to its existence. It’s mysterious, “spooky” and spiritual.

Okay, on to changing the subject.

Turner offers Winch’s example of the Azande and their use of the poison oracles to detect witches as a way of illustrating one of the problems the naturalist encounters with normativity.

The Azande believe that a poison oracle can detect witches. Whatever that means. The nature of this belief is immaterial. Instead, the premises that the Azande attach to this community / individual belief cause all kinds of problems for Winch and his theory of internal relations and normativity. I didn’t quite understand the specifics of this belief, but somehow the nature of the poison oracle and the inheritability of witchcraft should have led the community to believe everyone among them was a witch. Yet, Turner notes, “the system and inferential connections led directly to obvious contradictions that the Azande themselves ignored.” (104)

That is, the internal relations of these two premises of the belief should have produced a “correct” norm. But when the outsiders pointed to the inconsistencies in their internal logic, the Azande remained unconvinced of any possible contradiction. Their beliefs, one might say, made sense to them in spite of these contradictions. Or their actions based on these beliefs (detecting witches) must be accounted for based on some other element outside the description of the belief. In this way, Turner notes, “[the Azande] appeared to be a society that as a whole violated the norms of their own thought.” (104)

But it was only an appearance. The description of the norm had somehow changed the subject, the subject being what the evidence for what the norm actually did/does. It had failed to account for the intent, shared beliefs, etc., of the community that made this norm work. The description, in other words, failed to recognize itself as a mere hypothesis rather than a causal accounting of this norm. And treating this normative model as a hypothesis creates room for right and wrong, it levels the playing field. “There is no privileged description that necessitates the truth of the normative model,” Turner writes. “Description is separated from hypothesis, the circular reasoning of normativism is broken, and the naturalist is entitled to give other hypotheses. (112) So does this mean description is now freed of its attempt to capture norms? That description is now social construction? Did we just move into an explanation of subjectivity? I'm still grappling with the significance

Cook response to the questions in #3
I sat with this set of questions a while, and, in fact, was quite taken with this argument when I read it earlier. A few points come to mind. We can also know the normative as much by what we reject as by what we accept. Further, in the case of the normative and the legal, the normative develops over time, case by case, and in the US, by precedent as much as by acts of law.

This set of questions also brings to mind to me Jean Genet, who purposely broke the law as a celebration of criminal values and as an affront to French bourgeois values. He at least purported these reasons play a role in addition to his need to steal. Thus, if a criminal is cognizant enough to reject the law, we may learn that said law is indeed normative. Can we cognizantly reject something we do not realize?

Turner takes into consideration a second point along these lines that much of our behavior we do not understand. Furthermore, we behave inconsistently. (100-101) Thus, though we may balk at being deemed criminal in our behavior because we can argue we have not always behaved this way or did not intend to, as Turner points out, we have judges and juries who rule on our criminality. Recently, I considered the methods of dealing with criminals in a particular African society; I cannot recall which. When a person has been deemed to have commited something criminal, this person is sat down and everyone in the village comes to him/her and tells him/her all of the good things she/he has ever done. What was illuminating to me in this example was that a person was not branded a criminal through and through due to one set of behaviors; a person also gained credit for all of the non-criminal and honorable behaviours performed. This example and their practice also serves to recondition the person that behaved criminally by reminding him of what is socially acceptable and that he, too, can abide by these expected norms. This may go against Kelsen's concept in primitive societies that retribution is meted out on a whole group, as evil is contagious (119).

With respect to the question of alteration by one person and since Turner introduces the metaphysical, I think of the mystical associations with certain individuals such as shamans or messiahs. If a person is imbued with magical powers by the group, then perhaps that person can be right when everyone else is wrong. This person may then be able to alter what everyone else reacts to or acts within the paradigm of as if normal.

Turner takes to task majority opinion when determing standards as this approach has been deployed by extremist groups. I am unclear by what is meant determining the importance. Do you mean clarifying that which the group holds to be normal or actually sharing the majority opinion? Turner's discussion in “Collective Intentions” holds that sorting out the majority opinion from individual opinion extends beyond semantics to Sellars' “internalization.” (130)


Smith Response to Question 3

Two aspects of the law should be addressed with regards to Legal Normativity: 1) What is the appropriateness and capacity of the law to prescribe and codify our concepts of “right, wrong, and duty” (Spaak, 2003 p.478)? 2) Ought we trust the majority position to establish standards and reason (e.g., reasonable expectations of individuals in law, such as expectations of privacy)?

The law seems an appropriate medium for establishing and promoting near transcendental ideas of right and wrong behavior in society, when restricted to the most critical acts of man and social progress. For example, prohibiting murder (not killing) when defined as intentionally causing the death of another without reasonable or justifiable conditions. Similarly, laws protecting individual property ownership arguable serve universal human needs and society progress. However, legal normativity falters and/or fails when extended into socio-technical arenas. What is the reasonable characterization of hacking (i.e., penetrating private technological systems, without causing damage or committing theft)? Borrowing about form my conference talk material here, should a sixteen year-old be charged with creation and dissemination of child pornography if they send a lewd picture of themselves to another teenage of the same age? We accept that the law and our societal norms strongly prohibit such acts, but rigorous application in such circumstances produces blunt and kludgy outcomes, which seem to lack the ought of justice.

At certain crossroads we see legal systems defer to the judgment of the mob. I contend that faith in the mob i.e., the public, should be limited to the most basic distinctions. My position may contain a certain bias, owing to my experience and knowledge as Technologist, but I contented that we cannot trust the opinion of “the many” for any complex socio-technical issues. How much damage is wrong by someone taking down a personal blog, a corporate website, or a government website? Generally speaking, each can be disrupted using the same techniques, it is (generally speaking) a matter of critical mass. Each system requires a greater number of resources to yield the same effect. The layperson does not understand the lack of complexity in such an act nor do they grasp somewhat childish nature of such an act. Ergo, legal normativity is only useful as a means of expressing the ought of pure i.e., transcendental, norms and rationale.

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