Max Parish, Ph.D.


Selected presentations

Normalizing Virtuous Character

(2016) 42nd Annual Conference of the Association for Moral Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA (Dec 10)

Reasons, Natural Goodness and Two Types of Normativity

(2016) Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, Univ. of Colorado—Boulder, Boulder, CO (Aug 12)

Human Nature, Normativity and Aristotelian Constructivism

(2016) Saint Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality, St. Louis, MO (May 22-24)
(2016) Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Pacific, San Francisco, CA (Apr 2)

Human Nature, Normativity and the Practical Reason Response: No Cigar

(2015) 32nd Intnl. Social Philosophy Conference, William Jewell College, Liberty, MO (Jul 18)
(2015) Northwestern Univ. Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics, Evanston, IL (May 21)

Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism and the Normativity Objection

(2014) Indiana Philosophical Association Fall Meeting, Fort Wayne, IN (Oct 18)

Is Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism Compatible with Moral Universalism? A Response to Christopher Gowans

(2014) Meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Washington, D.C. (Oct 10)
(2014) 8th Annual Felician Ethics Conference, Felician College, Rutherford, NJ (Apr 26)

Dissertation Abstract

Normativity, Human Nature and Practical Reason:
A New Approach to an Old Problem

Neo-Aristotelian naturalism (henceforth: Aristotelian naturalism) claims ethical goodness is a kind of human natural goodness, where natural goodness is a function of human nature. Call this Aristotelian naturalism’s core thesis. Against this approach, critics have pressed the normativity objection, which claims  ethical goodness cannot be a kind of natural goodness because ethical goodness is normative and natural goodness is not. In this study I aim to cast new light on this objection and propose a new strategy of response.

My argument divides into two main moves. In the first, I side with critics in arguing that Aristotelian naturalism does have a serious problem that concerns the normativity of human nature, although standard formulations of the normativity objection do not quite capture it. The problem is that there is an explanatory gap in Aristotelian naturalism’s account of ethical facts. One of the central features of ethical experience is that ethical facts and claims are normative in the practical sense; they give us reason to respond in some way. I argue, however, that although facts about natural goodness and human nature are irreducibly normative in the evaluative sense, they are not intrinsically normative in the practical sense. Thus, when facts about natural goodness are practically normative, that must be in virtue of something other than their evaluative nature. So, Aristotelian naturalists need to explain what makes facts about human nature and natural goodness practically normative. They have not successfully done this. This explanatory gap threatens the viability of Aristotelian naturalism, for it leaves a central feature of ethical experience unexplained. I call this the normativity problem.

In the second main move of my argument I propose a two-part solution to the normativity problem. The first part consists in a distinctive metanormative account of the source of normativity which I call Aristotelian constructivism. This view is structurally unique in the literature. It provides an objectivist, naturalistic, species-relative account of practical normativity. The second part of the solution consists in a distinctive account of human practical reason, which connects human final ends with human nature. Aristotelian constructivism explains the normativity of human final ends, but without appealing to the intrinsic normativity of human nature. This provides Aristotelian naturalists an attractive way of explaining the practical normativity of facts about human nature and ethical, thereby saving their core thesis.