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The Realist Case for Instrumental and Epistemic Normativity

Political Theory
Critical Theory
Ethics
Normative Theory
Theoretical
Carlo Burelli
Università degli Studi di Milano
Carlo Burelli
Università degli Studi di Milano
Chiara Destri
Sciences Po Paris

Abstract

This article argues that political realists have at least two strategies to provide distinctively political normative judgments that have nothing to do with morality. The first ground is instrumental normativity, which states that if something is a necessary means to a goal we have, we have a reason to do it. In politics, certain means are required by any ends we may intend to purse. The second ground is epistemic normativity, stating that if something is (empirically) true, this gives us a reason to believe it. In politics there are certain empirical regularities that ought to be acknowledged for what they are. Both sources are flawed. Instrumental normativity only requires coherence between attitudes and beliefs, and one can hang on to false beliefs to preserve attitudes incompatible with reality. I may desire to eschew power relations, and as such imagine politics to be like a camping trip. Epistemic normativity, on the other hand, operates critically, striking down existing normative claims. It shows us that politics is nothing like a camping trip, but it doesn’t tell us what we should do about it (beyond abandoning some false beliefs). We conclude by showing that if the two are taken together, they remedy each other flaws and may ground distinctively nonmoral normative judgments. The paper is organized as follows. After introducing the realist conception of politics, we dedicate the next two sections to instrumental and epistemic normativity. The last section outlines how the two operate in conjunction.