What is Normativity?

Normativity is a comparatively recent label for the distinctive feature of whatever should or ought to be the case. Normativity comes in a wide variety of forms that stretches across a broad range of apparently very different phenomena: ranging from natural functions (e.g. the heart should pump blood), instrumental requirements and rules of skill (e.g. coffee should be prepared with clean water), the laws of predicative logic and inference (e.g., whoever knows that A implies B, and knows that A, should conclude that B), to social conventions (e.g. people should address each other in a way that facilitates communication), social institutions and moral norms (e.g. promises should be kept), and the standards of international law (e.g. states should not interfere with people's freedom of speech). These phenomena differ in the nature of the norm in question as well as in the nature of the entity that is held to this standard, and each of these phenomena is the topic of intense current philosophical research.

Substantial progress has recently been made in our understanding of the nature and structure of normativity in every domain. As to the normativity of life, research on teleological notions in the philosophy of biology has led to an increasingly differentiated view on the received and newly developed positions that has a great impact on our understanding of "natural" normativity and thus of the ways in which normativity extends beyond the domain of human life. Concerning the normativity of mind and action, significant strides have been made in the understanding of the normativity of practice, cognition, and volition in terms of such normative notions as ability, skill, and direction of fit. This has lead not only to a more detailed landscape of arguments and positions on the question of whether and how (from the perspective of the holder) beliefs "should" be true and how desires are "aimed at" satisfaction, but also on the evaluative nature of capacities and abilities - the basic level at which mind is normatively guided.

Since Gottlob Frege's and Rudolf Carnap's seminal works, one specific aspect of the normativity of mind has been located in the way in which, in virtue of propositional content, our thinking and reasoning is subject to the laws of logic. The normativity of logic - and, closely connected to it, the normativity of science and mathematics - are further domains of intense contemporary research. As is typical of philosophical progress, the landscape of views has widened with the development of newly refined views and more richly developed inventory of distinctions and arguments concerning such issues as the debated a priori status of logic and its relation to experience and practical reason. In the broad domain of what can be called social normativity - the normativity of informal and formal customs, rules of conduct, norms of language, and moral laws, one of the continuing debates is over the issues whether or not any such rules are social a priori, and how the way in which rules are structures of communal practices should be cashed out. Another issue in this domain is how to understand the normativity of moral laws - is it "ideal", is it an articulation of some tenets of communal practices, or is it actually in a continuum with the "basic" phenomenon of normativity a natural function?

Diverse though these forms of normativity are, it is not uncommon in current philosophical accounts of the nature and structure of normativity to cover several of these subfields with an eye on providing an overall view and a general account. The guiding intuition is that the forms of normativity are integrated in an order that is such that some forms are more basic than others, so that one form of normativity can be understood as reducible to - or at least rooted in - another form. For example, besides accounts in which natural normativity is the basis for the normativity of mind and action, there are accounts which argue that the normativity of morality is based on the normativity of intentional attitudes, while others argue that whatever normativity is to instrumental requirements is actually derived from the normativity of a moral "practical law". Besides broadly naturalistic accounts inspired by evolution theory, instrumentalist accounts, and Kantian approaches, distinctly Aristotelian views have been developed. Looking at the current state of discussion in this important field of philosophical research, the situation presents itself that while the differences between the basic positions persist, a multitude of approaches with more or less integrative ambitions are in the process of rapid extension and further refinement. In other words, there is still progress to be made and research lacunas to be filled.

The FoNTI Project: Specialization in Intersections

The FWF Doc.Funds research project Forms of Normativity – Transitions and Intersections (FoNTI) aims at making substantial advance in philosophical research by introducing a distinctive and unique research design that differs markedly from received approaches. The basic idea is to address the research lacuna between highly specialized research and abstract general accounts in a cooperative scheme of carefully focused doctoral research projects. FoNTI gathers together an exceptionally strong faculty of experts in a wide range of expertise in various forms of normativity, and sets up a research scheme where the internationally selected doctoral researchers are geared towards research at the intersections between established subfields in normativity research. The intersectional approach proposed in this research scheme is guided by the hypothesis that the advances in specialized normativity research, on the one hand, and the general “top-down” abstract understanding of the overall landscape of normative phenomena, on the other hand, should be complemented by exploring the intersections between well-studied research foci in the field in detailed analysis.

  • FoNTI is a tightly knit network of various specific and well-focused research topics which are strategically placed between established research foci and well-studied types of normativity to enable transfers and cross-fertilization between different subfields in the study of forms of normativity. The FoNTI research topics include basic as well as applied aspects of normativity research and are thus geared towards cutting-edge academic research as well as societal impact.
  • FoNTI gathers an exceptionally qualified and strongly committed faculty of supervisors within the doctoral program who are carefully selected, so as to include internationally recognized expertise from the relevant subfields into an innovative and cooperative research scheme. The FoNTI faculty will work closely together with selected national and international collaborators and partner programs.
  • FoNTI includes a carefully crafted curriculum of doctoral colloquia, workshops, and summer schools which ensures internal cooperation and cross-fertilization, strengthen an international network of experts, and provide solid preparation for the participants’ post-doctoral work. FoNTI graduates combine a strong background in the full breath of relevant fields with research excellence in their field of specialization.
  • Stressing the value that is placed in this project on establishing an innovative and cooperative research scheme, FoNTI has three cooperation partners to further this aim: