Normative concepts and the return to Eden

Preston J. Werner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Imagine coming across an alternative community such that, while they have normative terms like 'ought' with the same action-guiding roles and relationships to each other, their normative terms come to pick out different properties. When we come across such a community, or even just imagine it, those of us who strive to be moral and rational want to ask something like the following: Further Question: Which set of concepts ought we use—theirs or ours? The problem, first raised by Eklund (Choosing normative concepts. Oxford University Press, 2017), is that on almost any metasemantic theory, Further Question cannot be stated in a way that captures the spirit of what we want to ask. This is because any way of asking the question makes use of our own normative concepts, and thus their reference is already fixed on the properties that our current normative concepts refer to. Any purported solution to this problem must meet two conditions. First, it must capture the spirit of what Further Question is intuitively attempting to ask. Second, it must reframe the inquiry in a way that makes the answer neither trivial nor ineffable. In this paper, I propose a solution to this problem by appeal to edenic representation, inspired by, but not identical to, Chalmers’ (The character of consciousness. Oxford University Press, 2010) notion of edenic content. The rough idea here is that representation is edenic to the extent that the representational vehicle mirrors, in quality and structure, the represented property. I argue that a reframing of Further Question in terms of edenic representation can capture the spirit of the question, without collapsing it into a question with a trivial or ineffable answer. Thus, the realist about normative properties can face the problem of the alternative normative community head on, without collapsing into incoherence or triviality. If correct, this solution is of further interest to any metanormative realist concerned with metasemantic questions, because it can tell us more about how the proper representation of the robustly normative would look.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2259-2283
Number of pages25
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Edenic content
  • Metaethics
  • Metasemantics
  • Moral realism


Dive into the research topics of 'Normative concepts and the return to Eden'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this