Repository logo

Living with ourselves, together



Change log


Horne, Alexander 


This PhD dissertation comprises five chapters on a variety of intersecting topics within moral psychology, metaethics, and epistemology. Broadly speaking, the first half of the dissertation focuses on individual agency, normativity and the self; while the second half explores aspects of our normative lives as social agents. More specifically, the first half contains papers on underdetermination by value, self-improvement, and the problem of self-creation; while the second half contains papers on epistemic angst as a social problem and the normativity of social norms. A theme of the first half is that the internal dynamics of individual agency share more in common with inter-agential social dynamics than is usually thought. A theme of the second half is that the reasons emerging from inter-agential social dynamics are more pervasive and powerful than many working in metanormative theory have allowed. Together, the two halves of the dissertation lay some of the groundwork for a novel account of human agency, together with an improvement on our understanding of the nature of robust normativity. In Chapter 1, I articulate and attempt to solve the problem of rational underdetermination as it confronts idealizing subjectivists. In Chapter 2, I introduce a novel thought experiment designed to sound some skeptical notes about self-improvement and interrogate their significance for our understanding of the relationship between agency, identity and self-improvement. In Chapter 3, I criticise a recent, prominent solution to the old problem of self-creation and propose an alternative I label ‘indirect evaluative voluntarism’. In Chapter 4, I pivot to problems generated by our interactions with other agents. I attempt to establish a claim of a posteriori necessity regarding social norms’ reason-giving power that follows from the best account of what they and we are like. My argumentative strategy for establishing that conclusion is to show that the relevant instrumental normativity is simply contingent on a human agent’s having any desires whatsoever, on the model of a universal hypothetical imperative. In Chapter 5, I articulate a distinctively social, epistemic form of angst and use it to explain some communities’ distrust of experts and one another; identify three structural problems manifesting epistemic angst; sketch a partial solution to it; and explain what remains to be done to solve it. Chapter 1 now appears in Synthese as ‘Too many cooks’.





Holton, Richard
Sliwa, Paulina


ethics, moral psychology, social norms, self-improvement, self-creation, epistemic angst, subjectivism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge