Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Theodore Schatzki


The fact-value distinction has structured and still structures ongoing debates in metaethics, and all of the major positions in the field (expressivism, cognitivist realism, and moral error theory) subscribe to it. In contrast, I claim that the fact-value distinction is a contingent product of our intellectual history and a prime object for questioning. The most forceful reason for rejecting the distinction is that it presupposes a problematic understanding of the subject-object divide whereby one tends to view humans as the sole source of normativity in the world. My dissertation aims to disclose the background against which human ethical praxis is widely seen as a unique and special phenomenon among other phenomena.

I show that ethical norms, as delimited by utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, etc., derive from an originary proto-ethical normativity at the heart of the real itself. Every object, human and nonhuman, presents itself as a bottomless series of cues or conditions of appropriateness that determine adequate and inadequate ways of relating to it. That is, objects demand something from other objects if they are to be related to; they condition other objects by soliciting a change in disposition, perception, or sense, and for this reason are sources of normativity in and unto themselves. Ethical norms, or values, are the human expression of the adequacy conditions with which all objects show themselves.

In the post-Kantian landscape it is widely thought that human finitude constitutes the origin of ethical norms. Consequently, the world is divided up into morally relevant agents (humans) on one side, and everything else on the other. Adopting a deflationary view of agency, I argue that human-human and human-world relations differ from other relations in degree rather than kind. Thus, instead of a fact-value distinction, value is inextricably bound up with the factual itself. The critical upshot of my project is that traditional subject-oriented ethical theories have served to conceal the real demands of non-human objects (such as animals, plants, microorganisms, and artificially intelligent machines) in favor of specifically human interests. Such theories have also been leveraged frequently in exclusionary practices with respect to different groups within the human community (e.g. women and those of non-European descent) based on arbitrary criteria or principles.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)