Personal Sovereignty, Conventional Norms, and Social Critique
Laura Valentini (Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München, King's College London)

May 29, 2024, 6:15pm - 8:15pm
Institute for Philosophy, University of Bern

Room 120
Hochschulstrasse 4
Bern 3012


  • Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences


University of Bern

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The Anna Tumarkin Lectures in Philosophy are a lecture series dedicated to presenting top women philosophers

This is part 3 of a series of three lectures on normative powers

Abstract If you ask me to borrow my laptop and I answer in the affirmative, I turn what would have been theft into a loan. By promising to meet you for lunch, I acquire an obligation, correlative to your right, to do so. If we commit to each other as romantic partners, we acquire a distinctive set of rights and obligations vis-à-vis one another. And so on. These familiar statements suggest that human beings possess special kinds of powers, namely powers to change normative facts or “normative powers.” A gesture or a word on their part can create new rights, permissions, and prohibitions. The aim of these lectures is to investigate the nature and significance of these powers. The first lecture will seek to dispel the mystery of normative powers, explaining how it is possible for us to create new normative facts seemingly at will. The second lecture will explore the existence conditions of normative powers, and argue that such powers cannot exist—i.e., we cannot possess them—in the absence of conventional norms conferring them upon us. In other words, normative powers are not part of “natural morality.” Finally, the third lecture will illustrate how treating normative powers as convention-dependent—as opposed to “natural”—surprisingly enables us to offer even deeper critiques of morally problematic social practices.

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